Will Australian Labor Remain Principled And Fall On Its Own Sword? – OpEd


Julia Gillard’s Federal Labor Government looks like being totally desecrated in the coming election, potentially leaving Labor with only a small hand-full of seats in the new parliament with an Abbot Liberal National Party Government.

Such a situation could leave Labor in the political wilderness for many years without much hope of regaining power for a generation just like Labor was in opposition for 23 years until Gough Whitlam gained power back in 1972 under a platform of change over a tired Liberal National Party Government. Many Labor members of Parliament have closely examined the latest polling and realize they have almost no chance of retaining their seats under Prime Minister Gillard leading the election campaign. Many pollsters believe that Ms. Gillard’s personal unpopularity maybe generally holding down the potential Labor vote.

Meanwhile Kevin Rudd is wandering around outer suburban shopping malls in marginal seats, being mobbed like a pop star and looking a winner on television. This is in contrast to Ms. Gillard’s appearances which make her look cornered and on the defensive. Rudd has always been able to use the media exceptionally well in contrast to Gillard who prefers the parliament as a forum to her advantage.

At the same time Labor factions are in disarray and contemplating what the political future would be like on the opposition benches under a conservative Abbott Government, capable of becoming a Howard style Government of union bashing. If Abbott down the track of any future government he leads introduces workplace reforms, they might have the potential to destroy the Australian Union Movement as Australians have known it. This scenario has from the Labor perspective brought about much thinking and discussion about how to remedy this oncoming disaster.

Labor senator Trish Crossin who was tipped off from her No. 1 position on the senate ticket by Prime Minister Gillard’s personal intervention, has come out publicly stating that Rudd would be the better person to lead Labor into the election. However as of today, Kevin Rudd has indicated that he will not mount a challenge against Julia Gillard.
At a door-side press conference on Tuesday morning in Canberra Ms. Gillard reiterated before any journalist had a chance to ask any questions that she will lead Labor into the next election.

Trying to change the focus towards school reform, Ms. Gillard went on to say that “a breath spent on that speculation or rumor mongering, is a breath that is not spent on putting the case for improving our schools for our kids”.

The Australian media does not usually invent leadership stories, so obliviously someone within the government is feeding the parliamentary reporters with information as a leverage to try and persuade Ms. Gillard to stand down as prime minister. The “Rudd” forces hope that this move would terminally weaken Ms. Gillard’s position and leave her with little choice but to have a leadership spill once again. This is putting enormous pressure on her with two weeks of parliament to go. This leadership tension is exposing her poor creditability with the Australian people, many who believe she wasn’t ethical when taking the leadership from Mr. Rudd in 2010.

Australian media reports confirm that a number of senior cabinet ministers are now viewing Ms. Gillard’s position as not sustainable and considering a return to Mr. Rudd, who may provide the only chance for labor to perform well in the coming election.

At this point of time, the unions still support Ms. Gillard. However Bill Shorten, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations position vis a vis Ms. Gillard and Mr. Rudd will be crucial. As a former Australian Workers Union leader, he is the powerbroker behind Ms. Gillard’s leadership and was instrumental in installing her as leader in 2010. Should Mr. Shorten change camps, Ms. Gillard’s union support is likely to evaporate, along with at least 1-15 votes in the party caucus room. This would almost be enough to put Mr. Rudd back as prime minister.

The problem won’t go away and Mr. Shorten’s support may be questionable. So the labor Party leadership is now again subject to a standoff for the third time in as many years.

On the surface, this choice looks an easy one with the Government facing almost certain defeat at the coming election. Although popular among many women, Ms. Gillard has a major credibility gap which she has not been able to restore, even with the economy running reasonably well. Her achievement of holding together a minority government for a full parliamentary term holds no respect by anybody within the Australian political scene.

But Mr. Rudd is an enigma, who has been chipping away at Ms. Gillard’s position for the three years since he was disposed as Prime Minister. Former Labor Leader of the Opposition and now media commentator Mark Latham on Monday night of the popular Q&A program accused Kevin Rudd of carrying out a “jihad of revenge against Gillard, going beyond normal revenge but into the realm of evil”.

Many former cabinet colleagues still harbor strong memories of Mr. Rudd’s domineering style of management, his anger, tantrums, some say were bordering on Narcissism. Many stories of his cabinet room antics still roam the parliamentary corridors, and should Mr. Rudd once again get the top job, there will be no doubt some that would refuse to serve him as ministers.

However this time the issue has come down to a matter of principle, or survival. Should Mr. Rudd be rewarded for his continued undermining of the Gillard premiership, or should Labor be pragmatic and try and win this election with the only potential winner they have?

Mr. Rudd as a campaigner would potentially change the whole dynamics of the election. He could distance himself from areas where labor’s performance will be criticized and campaign in a similar manner as to how he did in 2007. It would be hoped from the Labor side, that the Australian people after seeing a wrong righted, may return to Labor, particularly the traditional voters. This is Labor’s only chance of holding onto power according to the polls.

Mr. Abbot knows how formidable Mr. Rudd would be as an adversary and may forgo the short term victory of seeing Ms. Gillard fall on her sword, to prevent his worst nightmare, a “face-off” with Mr. Rudd on the husting. With Rudd, Australians would take more interest in the campaign, increasing the uncertainty of an Abbot victory.

The omens for Ms. Gillard don’t look too good, and her traditional supporters from outside the parliament like former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating are so far silent. The Australian media is prepped up for a good story and frankly speaking an Abbot-Rudd election campaign will be more interesting.

The next week is not about whether Ms. Gillard or Mr. Rudd lead the labor party into the election. It’s about whether Labor survives electorally as a party. The Labor party need to undergo massive reform and rebuilding if it’s going to be relevant in 21st century Australia. The structure of the party is over 130 years old and is dominated by an ever shrinking union movement. Labor’s overall philosophy also requires a review to make it stand out as electorally viable. As opposition frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull said on the same program as Mark Latham on Monday night, these reforms are best made whilst in opposition.

This could be a very significant week for Labor. A week that will definitely go down in the annals of Labor movement history, no matter what the outcome.

Murray Hunter

Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 30 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. As an entrepreneur he was involved in numerous start-ups, developing a lot of patented technology, where one of his enterprises was listed in 1992 as the 5th fastest going company on the BRW/Price Waterhouse Fast100 list in Australia. Murray is now an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, spending a lot of time consulting to Asian governments on community development and village biotechnology, both at the strategic level and “on the ground”. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and regular speaker at conferences and workshops in the region. Murray is the author of a number of books, numerous research and conceptual papers in referred journals, and commentator on the issues of entrepreneurship, development, and politics in a number of magazines and online news sites around the world. Murray takes a trans-disciplinary view of issues and events, trying to relate this to the enrichment and empowerment of people in the region.

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