EDITORIAL FRIDAY 29.07.10.
As the second week of the election campaign draws to a close, it’s incredibly ironic that the Gillard Government finds itself struggling to retain control of the agenda. In the past week much discussion has been focused on Kevin Rudd, asking whether he was behind the infamous Cabinet leaks alleging that Julia Gillard opposed last year’s pension increase and the paid parental leave scheme. Much was made of Mr. Rudd’s campaign posters failing to include any reference whatsoever to the Party which dumped him from the leadership, prompting speculation that he might be deliberately distancing himself from his successor. Even in the first week of the campaign much media attention was focused on Mr. Rudd not making appearances, and when he finally did show up in public to simply launch his own local campaign in Brisbane the media coverage overshadowed the national campaigning of the new Prime Minister.
The Sydney Morning Herald has today reported that the ALP is now desperately pleading with the former Prime Minister to actively campaign for the Party outside his own electorate to help it shore up support on the national stage, especially in his home state of Queensland. The Herald reports that the Party is worried about a Queensland backlash against they way “their” Prime Minister was treated. In 2007, Labor won more seats in Queensland than they ever had before, largely on the strength of a campaign based on the “home town boy”. Three years later and the very same sentiments in Queensland could very well be working against Labor. But it’s not just Queensland that Labor has to worry about. Right across Australia there remains a lingering disquiet about the way in which Kevin Rudd was removed from his position, along with continuing concerns about the competency of a Government which managed to take a series of good ideas, like home insulation and a school building program, and turn them into perceived disasters.
It’s easy for people to arrive at the conclusion that the Party has tried to fix the poll results rather than fix the policies, by simply changing the leader rather than changing the approach. The opposition is right when they say that it might be a new leader but it is still the same party, with the same policies, and the same problems. But really, it’s worse than that because the process of brutally beheading the Party in the effort to cure the disease has revealed it to be far more focused on the pursuit of power itself rather than the purposes to which that power should be directed. And that is driven by the so-called faceless men who orchestrated the leadership change, responding to poor opinion poll results by scapegoating a leader who relied upon them for the very policy advice which led to the poor polls in the first place.
The accepted wisdom is that Kevin Rudd’s popularity collapsed after the decision to delay an emissions trading scheme until 2013. There were other factors, but this is seen as the turning point. After having told us that climate change is the “greatest moral challenge of our time”, many people were left wondering just what Mr. Rudd believed in when the suddenly became something that we could afford to put off for three years, and possibly indefinitely. But the truth is that the decision came from the Party not from the then Prime Minister. As reported previously, and confirmed again today in the Sydney Morning Herald, it was the tow Labor powerbrokers Senator Mark Arbib and Party Secretary Karl Bitar who insisted that Mr. Rudd must delay the emissions trading scheme. They clearly based their decision on what they thought the electorate wanted to hear rather than on any moral imperative to address the national interest. It’s enough to make you think that the wrong bloke got the sack.
As an unnamed source is quoted in the paper today, “Mark and Karl were absolutely insistent that Rudd had to dump the ETS. They pushed, prodded, cajoled and would not take ‘no’ for an answer. That was the big turning point in Kevin’s standing with the voters. It’s breathtaking now for Mark and Karl three months down the track to say, ‘Well, you’ve lost the people, you’ve got to go.’” Voters are entitled to feel not only that Kevin Rudd has been cheated by this shabby treatment, but more importantly that the voters themselves have been cheated too. That alone is enough for many people to feel that the Labor Party should be punished, regardless of any qualities that Julia Gillard may or may not have. The net result is that, at the end of the second week of the campaign, it appears that the opposition is not only gaining ground, but is also benefiting from a free ride. The constant focus upon the foibles of the Labor Party has meant that Tony Abbott has been able to get away with blatant inconsistencies without being subjected to the sort of scrutiny we might normally expect.
On that basis, Tony Abbott has won the first two weeks of the campaign, and is a hot contender to finish the job and win the election. Perhaps then Mark and Karl might see the error of their ways.