Another instalment in the phoney war between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard has now taken place. The Australian foreign minister has resigned his post and is coming home. Over the weekend, he will consult friends and relations before mounting what may well be a leadership challenge. Whatever will happen next week, Rudd will be spending time warming the backbenches. How he intends using that time will be another matter.
He chose the point at which to position his assault as Washington. This is hardly surprising – foreign affairs is Rudd’s strong suit; Gillard comes a distant, stumbling second. His rationale: attack from authority; attack from a position of strength. ‘In recent days… a number of… faceless men have publicly attacked my integrity and therefore my fitness to serve as minister in the government.’ Rudd then implicates the prime minister. ‘When challenged today on these attacks, Prime Minister Gillard chose not to repudiate them. I can only reluctantly conclude that she therefore shares these views.’
Gillard’s next chess move is to make sure that support for Rudd is minimised – an earlier caucus ballot would do that before the party’s tender and impressionable minds are changed. According to Rudd’s sources, 40 members will back him at a leadership ballot. Gillard’s supporters will be concerned that Rudd may well unleash a series of purges should he win. Monday looks like the day pencilled in for the blood letting.
In the broader context, Rudd would be better off waiting on the sidelines, only to then march in and rescue Labour from its own worst prejudices, the scythe-wielding ‘faceless’ men he mentions with a certain degree of venom. They, after all, were the ones who, in a fit of hysterical self-doubt, removed him. Communications Minister and Gillard supporter Stephen Conroy is relieved ‘that we’re finally going to resolve this’ accusing ‘the Rudd camp’ of incessant, clandestine ‘sniping’ (Daily Telegraph, Feb 23).
Conroy, wanting as ever to sink the foot in, felt that Rudd was lucky to have resigned before being sacked – after all, it would have been ‘un-Australian’ to have done so when he was overseas. ‘Sacking someone overseas would have been very, very rude.’ Unlike other members of the human race, Conroy’s Australians like to resolve their differences on local soil, a more daft statement if ever there was one. Whether Gillard would have had the gumption to do so, given her rather spotty record, is another matter.
The French novelist and essayist Flaubert had a striking suggestion: ‘Everything must be learned, from speaking to dying.’ The latter is particularly important for the Australian Labor Party – to actually learn anything, a suitable disaster must befall them. While one Labor MP has observed that a ‘messy divorce’ is effectively taking place, harming the ‘innocents’ in the form of ALP members, the analogy is fatuous. Rudd was ambushed and has been essentially left to his own devices to redeem his cause. The members, had they seen sense, could have clamoured, agitated and protested. Deluded compliance, however, is the name of the game.
Rudd may have undertaken this latest move in order to avoid seeing his party massacred at the next election. The danger in doing so is that it openly signals the ill-suited nature of the governing party to govern. Brawls, disputes and guerrilla wars should be the stuff of venal opposition parties, their bread and butter. Opposition leader Tony Abbott need only watch as Australian Labor happily disproves that assertion.