Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Buck Stops At The Top

Yesterday I suggested that the growing disconnect between Kevin Rudd and the Australian public was perhaps reflected by a similar disconnect between the Prime Minister and his own colleagues. In recent weeks it has increasingly appeared as if the Prime Minister and a substantial chunk of his own government have been at cross purposes. When senior Ministers have attempted to promote a more conciliatory approach to the mining industry, the Prime Minister has maintained his bluster about not backing down. Yesterday I mentioned Wayne Swan, Craig Emmerson, Martin Ferguson, and Simon Crean all, to one extent or another, having spoken in favour of a meaningful process of consultation, while the rhetoric of the Prime Minister himself seems to be firmly opposed to giving any ground whatsoever.

Today, it has been reported that the Trade Minister Simon Crean, a senior Cabinet Minister and a former leader of the party, has in effect asked his own bureaucrats to keep him informed of government policy because the Prime Minister has displayed a tendency to keep him in the dark. Last month, he addressed a gathering of executive officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and urged them to establish closer connections with their colleagues in other departments so that he could be kept better informed. It was reported that this request had been prompted by the embarrassment of learning of important policy decisions from the media rather than from his own Cabinet colleagues. “Little surprises”, such as the decision to put the emissions trading scheme onto the back burner, or the response to the Henry Review of taxation. It has been reported that Simon Crean has asked for no more such “little surprises”.

Amidst ongoing speculation about Kevin Rudd’s leadership, admittedly much of it driven by the media more than anything else, such an admission of the lack of communication and consultation between the Prime Minister and his Cabinet Ministers is hardly reassuring. And let’s face it, some of those Cabinet Ministers have a lot more experience in government than Mr. Rudd does, so at the very least it is unwise to ignore the benefit of their collective wisdom, not to mention just plain rude. The fact is that Simon Crean’s experience, his level headed approach to policy, and his well proven negotiating ability probably make him better qualified to be Prime Minister than anyone else in his party. Keeping him out of the loop can only result in the sort of policy screw ups that have destroyed the Prime Minister’s once unassailable popularity.

Mr. Rudd has long had the reputation for micro-managing, to the point of being considered a control freak. Such things are tolerated in politics as long as they are successful, but the downside is that when everything starts to crumble, as it is now, there is really only one person to blame. As Mr. Rudd was once so fond of saying, the buck stops with him.

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