It was 24 June 2010. I was the dentist chair watching Kevin Rudd giving his tearful exit speech, played on the TV in the ceiling. Rudd recounted the achievements of his term. Quite a long list, it was.
Peter Brent tries to make sense of what happened after that in Regrets? We’ve had a few.
To leave aside for a moment whether shunting Rudd was a good idea, and how all that worked out, Brent thinks the reason for our quick turnover of PMs is the Senate and our propensity to elect third party senators.
Currently the Coalition needs three out of five from One Nation’s two, Centre Alliance’s two and Jacqui Lambie’s one.
A lot of the time One Nation lines up, after some histrionics, with the Coalition. Which then leaves it up to Jacqui Lambie. I find that just a bit terrifying.
Is Rudd still raw?
We can have different opinions as to how good Julia Gillard was as a PM. Peter Brent thinks not very, but points out that she was very popular before she became PM, even drawing praise from Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtson, Miranda Devine and indeed grumpy old Gerard Henderson professed himself a “great admirer”.
All that changed, of course, when she became Labor PM.
However, Gillard has set a standard for what you should do after exiting the office. Write a book, get on with life, and don’t comment on current politics.
I disagree with Brent when he thinks the Rudd leaks had no effect on Gillard’s standing on the subsequent election campaign.
Just to recap, Gillard initially left Rudd on the back bench. He demanded the position of Foreign Minister. The first trouble came when Laurie Oakes appeared at a National Press Club speech by Gillard just before the campaign launch (normally he didn’t attend). He obviously came to ask a question based on the conversation she had had with Rudd on the fateful night of 23 June. Clearly he had been briefed. She was accused of reneging on a deal to leave her PM ambitions until after the election.
Gillard could not answer without publicly criticising Rudd’s chaotic administrative style, something she would not do.
Then 10 days into the campaign Laurie Oakes delivered an exclusive and blistering report on the evening news that Gillard had opposed both the parental leave scheme and pension rises in cabinet.
She had never opposed these initiatives, but had raised their affordability and timing as a matter of budget prudence when funds were tight coming out of the GFC. Detailed discussion followed, and the decision was to proceed, which she fully supported.
Now here’s the thing. The discussion had not taken place in cabinet, rather in the Gang of Four. Swan and Tanner would not have leaked. It was made known to Gillard that there would be more if she did not promise Rudd foreign affairs in her cabinet after the election. She was reluctant to do so, the more so because Rudd had accused the Chinese of “ratfucking” the Copenhagen climate talks. Gillard did not think Rudd was the one to repair relations with an important trading partner.
The Daily Telegraph had published this story with the photoshopped ‘old Julia’ pic:
Labor shed six points in the polls. Gillard conceded and the leaks stopped but Rudd continued do dominate the front pages, albeit Mark Latham then took a turn in disrupting the campaign.
Gillard never had clear air from that time onwards.
Rudd had another go in his latest opinion piece in the AFR Faceless men want power in Labor, not Labor in power (pay-walled):
Ten years ago, the faceless men of the factions decided to remove Australia’s democratically elected prime minister. In the decade since, they have unsuccessfully sought to construct a narrative that their motives were noble.
They weren’t. It was a crude grab for factional power which Julia Gillard was happy to accommodate to secure the prime ministership. The rest is history
Then he reminds us how well he did – fixed the GFC, cut withholding tax to 7.5 per cent for Australian funds managers to help transform them into a major new export industry, established Infrastructure Australia, launched the NBN, ratified the Kyoto Protocol and legislated a Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, co-founded the G20 Summit, and won a seat on the UN Security Council.
There’s more, including doubling the childcare rebate, launching the National Disability Insurance Scheme on the recommendation of the 2020 Summit (I thought that came later), negotiating a landmark National Health and Hospitals Agreement to reform federal hospitals funding, amending 87 federal laws to end legal discrimination against same sex couples, and advancing reconciliation through the National Apology and the Closing the Gap Agreement.
Very impressive, but I think Rudd was clapped out after the Copenhagen climate summit, essentially in a more or less permanent state of shock. The Chinese, he said, had ratf*cked the conference. His management style which was always chaotic became to many insufferable. Each of these factors was sufficient to remove him. However, if you think otherwise, nothing I say will change your view. Nor will anything Rudd says, so he should just let it be.
Phillip Coorey found that The faceless men who started it all have no regrets. They were hardly faceless. Rudd says:
- The core public argument of the faceless seven (Mark Arbib and Karl Bitar, NSW Right; David Feeney and Stephen Conroy, Victorian Right; Don “the Godfather” Farrell of the SDA; Bill Ludwig and Paul Howes of the AWU) has been that my government could not have won the 2010 election.
My impression is that it was Arbib, Bitar, Feeney and Farrell. I don’t think Bill Ludwig or Paul Howes had anything much to do with it. I also think Shorten was mostly concentrating on doing his job.
‘Tis true that Newspoll, inconveniently published just before the putsch, put the ALP under Rudd ahead 52-48. Bitar says that national polling was massively over-inflated by Labor’s vote in Victoria and inner Sydney and that Labor’s marginal seat polling was absolutely dire, showing Labor destined for electoral wipeout in Queensland and Western Australia.
That sounds a bit familiar! Remember, the one big thing Rudd did in the previous six months was to introduce a mining tax.
- “This was the federal Labor parliamentary party rising up against a man using absolute power erratically and punitively and not governing well, and saying ‘he must be removed’.”
It was not a coup but “a popular uprising”.
“Support for making this change was spontaneous and it was overwhelming. When a tyrant falls, it is usually swift, spectacular and unstoppable,” Feeney continues.
“The notion that a handful of ‘faceless men’ could so decisively manipulate over a hundred men and women comprising the federal parliamentary Labor Party in a matter of mere hours is absurd.
”It is a myth perpetuated by Mr Rudd and others to de-legitimise Julia Gillard and avoid some uncomfortable home truths.”
More could be said, but I agree with Bill Shorten, who said:
- Kevin and Julia are both distinguished Australians who worked their hardest for the fair go for all Australians.
Tony Burke says:
“When he received life membership [of the ALP in 2018], Kevin said it was time to put the disagreements of the past behind us, and I agree with him.”
It’s interesting to see where some of the players are now.
Paul Howes joined KPMG, where he is now national managing director of its enterprise division. Mark Abib became an advisor to James Packer and a board member of the Australian Olympic Commission. Karl Bitar heads corporate affairs at Crown Resort. David Feeney, forced out because he couldn’t prove he was not a Brit, became an academic. Don Farrell continues as a right-wing power broker in the Senate.
Joshua Black has done an even more insightful piece Bringing order to chaos:
You can see that Nicola Roxon was relaxed and pleased with Gillard in the chair on 25 June 2010. Rudd had driven her mad in the previous six months with an idea for the Commonwealth to take over hospitals via a referendum. He dragged her around the country for 100 photo ops, but would not, could not shape up the ideas sufficiently to make an actual decision.
Black points out that the Rudd dissenters in writing their books had collaborated and shared texts. I’ve read a couple, and the case against Rudd is quite compelling.
What comes through in Black’s account is that Rudd was not governing by cabinet, he was governing autocratically using the Gang of Four – Rudd, Gillard, Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner. Gillard says that towards the end even the Gang of Four was breaking down with chaotic meeting times, lack of a proper agenda, meandering and aimless discussion etc.
Black sees four lessons:
- First, cabinet remains the central institution in Commonwealth administration. To misuse or abuse that institution in the 2010s was to create a large vulnerability for one’s leadership. The removal of Tony Abbott in September 2015 was equally premised on the need to “restore” cabinet government.
- Second, bad process breeds bad policy.
- Third, though it never pays to be naive in politics, spin is rarely a sound substitute for substance. Rudd’s quest to control the media cycle was central to the story of the dysfunctionality of his leadership.
- Finally, the political class’s obsession with opinion polling — an obsession confirmed and reiterated in most of these accounts — was a key part of the structural weakness of Australian politics in the 2010s.
Please note, we currently have a prime minister who, having won the unwinnable election, has asserted his primacy over cabinet. However, he does not control the National Party, nor the senate.
Philip Chubb’s neglected research
I have had the pleasure of reading Philip Chubb’s excellent 2014 tome Power failure : the inside story of climate politics under Rudd and Gillard. Peter Christoff did a summary in The Monthly.
Chubb did 107 interviews with 74 people in and around the scene of action, including senior politicians, bureaucrats, other key players, plus a few citizens. Christoff says:
- The book reads like a Greek tragedy. It is, mainly, the story of how hubris, madness, malice, political misjudgement and misunderstanding bring down an enterprise forged in common sense and goodwill. A series of compounding disasters seems almost fated to lead to the Abbott government’s assault on global warming action.
It actually supports Gillard’s side of the story almost down to the last detail. However, the true story he reveals is more gruesome than she and others have told. The accounts by Rudd and especially Maxine McKew are found to be in many instances false or misleading.
To backtrack to 2009, the CPRS failed in the senate because the Greens did not support it. In truth none of the stakeholder groups like the green groups and business was onside, and Labor had done nothing to convince anyone. They had focussed on undermining their one true ally, Malcolm Turnbull.
Penny Wong, although popular, inclusive and able, had been selected as climate minister precisely because she had no background in the issue. Rudd, according to Chubb, was a leader-centric politician, where every solution of a difficult problem had to come from him. Personality-wise this was so important that he actually at times withheld information, undermined or outright abused people who threatened this ego-centric position. The big exception was the young public servants who worked in his political office, who were preferred to the PMs Department. Yet they too suffered from his chaotic personality.
There would be cabinet members with a different view, including Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen, I think Jenny Macklin. You can see them here on that fateful morning:
It’s just that there were another 100 or so not behind him.
In Copenhagen Rudd had been appointed as one of six Friends of the Chair to help facilitate an outcome. He thought that international success would allow Australia’s plans to advance in its wake. Chubb says there were various groupings of nations, notably the ‘climate culprits’, the industrialised countries which had become wealthy by burning fossil fuels; the 131 developing countries, including China and India, who insisted that the culprits should do the heavy lifting and pay the developing countries to help them meet planetary climate goals; plus the island and other states in imminent mortal peril from climate change.
The Chinese had withdrawn their main negotiator from the conference. Obama went looking for him and found him shacked up in the Indians’ hotel room, with I think Brazil, South Africa and a few others. Obama cut a deal in the absence of the EU and the main assembly which allowed talking beyond Copenhagen, but there was no deal for the planet.
China and India maintain their right to pollute the planet if they wish, and the USA, no matter who is POTUS will never pay to help China on climate change. That is the reason for the phrase “common but differentiated responsibility” which will always be a feature of UN climate deals.
Rudd worked night and day at the conference. Before he had to give Australia’s status report, he retired at 2am with the text prepared for him. At 6am he appeared with an entirely hand=written revised version.
When Rudd returned he looked like a ghost and appeared to have lost grip on reality. He rallied sufficiently to agree to a double dissolution election early in the new year. However, he tried to fire up on health and hospitals, at short notice demanded briefing papers to be prepared, promising to read them on Christmas day.
He never did, nor did he, like Swan, read Ken Henry’s 1100 page tax reform tome. He wrote a children’s book.
Over the break, the ALP office prepped an election, policies, media strategies, the lot.
However, when Rudd returned in late January, Gillard couldn’t get him to decide anything, least of all whether Labor should maintain or abandon the CPRS. He still seemed detached from reality. Gillard worried whether his mental health was up to carry a campaign.
Rudd contemplated a replacement climate policy, which was Abbott lite, planting trees and such. Gillard and Swan found it embarrassing.
At one meeting on the CPRS (carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) he actually hyperventilated and froze. His head of staff, Alister Jordan, had to take him for a walk in the garden while Gillard took over the meeting.
Chubb notes that some present did not notice what happened, but insists that the evidence is strong that it did. I can only surmise that strange behaviour from Rudd had both become normalised, as had Gillard taking over at short notice. It was not the only time Rudd froze during this period, unable to speak.
One urgent meeting was called on a Sunday, involving a number of pollies and support staff. Then Rudd decided he wanted to work with a smaller group. The others were not allowed to go home, so they played handball in the yard.
Gillard could see that he was in no shape to run an election campaign, and could also see that the public support for real action on climate was shallow and fickle. At this time, it should be noted, that any significant climate action would be at noticeable expense to the economy. However, Gillard absolutely supported proceeding and said she would back Rudd 100% if he did.
Meanwhile Penny Wong, who was sent off to negotiate with The Greens, found she could not negotiate because she didn’t know what Labor’s position was any more.
Chubb says the future of the CPRS was decided by drift. By the time the Gang of Four decided to can the scheme at a meeting in Brisbane on 11 April 2010, it was too late to make any plans to implement it or go to the people. Swan had already written it out of the budget because budget preparation wouldn’t wait, and he could see the CPRS was going nowhere.
After the April 11 meeting it was assumed that Rudd would tell the people. In fact he did not know how to, so he procrastinated. Someone, we don’t know who, leaked to the press that Labor had dumped the CPRS. Lenore Taylor, who was working inside the government at the time on gathering information for her book Shitstorm with David Uren on the handling of the GFC, was the recipient of the leak and reported it in the SMH.
Rudd, caught on the hop by journalists, fluffed his answer. Newspoll on 4 May showed Labor had lost a million votes in a fortnight. The Nielsen showed Rudd’s approval rating dropping from 59 to 45%.
At this time Rudd, as he realised the horror of what he had done in abandoning the “the great moral challenge of our generation”, started to blame Gillard for what had happened. As Swan pointed out, you can’t simultaneously behave like an autocrat and blame your deputy.
Rudd never did read the Henry report, but chose to implement a mining tax, whereupon the mining barons mounted a countering publicity campaign, which did not stop until he was removed, a blight on our democracy.
In early June Mark Arbib arranged four times to meet Rudd to revamp Labor’s strategies, and effectively save Rudd’s PMship. Four times Rudd agreed to meet and failed to show.
Gillard’s biggest worry about Rudd was that he had stopped talking to ministers, or to the people.
Gillard insists she did not decide to challenge Rudd until Peter Hartcher wrote in the SMH that Rudd’s staff were checking her loyalty, and she was convinced that was true.
Her big mistake, says Chubb, was not to tell the real reasons for dumping Rudd. Instead she said that a good government had lost its way. This sounded as fake as it was, and allowed Rudd to caste himself as a martyr, and write history as he chose.
Chubb says Gillard was a fine administrator, who delegated appropriately, communicated and negotiated well. However, she did not, as it turned out, communicate well with the people, and found that there was a lot of residual support for Kevin 07. Gillard had an enormous capacity for work, and doing Rudd’s job for him came easily. Repeatedly when Rudd was away, as on a trip, she slipped in and emptied Rudd’s bulging in tray. Ministers waited for such moments before submitting documentation.
However, when in the PM’s chair for real, the manner of her accession poisoned the whole enterprise.
Rudd started out with loads of policy vision, but after Copenhagen was effectively an empty vessel. Gillard was in a sense policy lite. She had a passion for education (mainly schooling) and the dignity and personal rewards that come with work, all in a context of maximising opportunity and a notion of fairness.
Her commitment to cabinet government was crucial, in that it allowed policy development right across government
On climate Gillard wanted political bilateral consensus and wanted to bring the people with her.
Rudd was an intelligent man, committed to socially worthy goals, but tied up in an impossibly eccentric personality. He loathes the factional system, but never could have risen to the pinnacle without Gillard’s numbers in support.
Now, I think he believes he has won the history wars about what happened in 2010. Superficially, I think he has. However, the documentation of an alternative version is now such that if anyone seriously looks at the evidence, his story does not stand up.
For a long time, I did not believe Rudd leaked in a way that effectively sabotaged the 2010 election campaign for Gillard, and poisoned her standing. To me such an act of disloyalty and putting self interest above the party is unforgivable. However, the evidence assembled by Chubb is compelling.
Accepting that Gillard was justified in acting as she did does not mean that she should have done so. History may show that the ALP at that point started a decline from which it may never recover.
As to whether Rudd would have won the 2010 election, or what Gillard’s prime ministership would have been like if Rudd had given her clear air – such speculation is pointless. History would have been different, that is all we know.
The main lesson to be learnt is about political leadership and the role of cabinet government. Gillard’s style made cabinet central, as, I think, would have been the case in a Shorten government. What Albanese offers is similar to Paul Keating in style, but with less rhetorical pungency. It was said that ministers brought a proposal to Keating, then Keating would have a view, but be open to being convinced. I think Albanese is similar.
The advantage is that he owns his policies and can better advocate for them.
So on climate change, Albanese knows in broad outline and considerable detail what he wants to do. He will advocate his position in the ALP Party conference, and will prevail, making his views democratically kosher.
That does not mean that the rest of us are wasting our time. There are multiple paths of influence, in the states, for example, and every leader has an inner group, less formal than the Gang of Four, which often became five with the inclusion of Panny Wong, but nevertheless real. In Albanese’s case it includes Mark Butler, Tony Burke, Penny Wong, Richard Marles, Jim Chalmers, probably Tanya Plibersek and a few others.
For now, I’ll leave you to contemplate how Scott Morrison works, but his ‘national cabinet’ meetings with state premiers have no legal or constitutional standing. And when he told Leigh Sales that he would decide the policy priorities, we have to assume he meant it.
Update: Gillard says in her own book My Story, she says she had:
- deep unshakeable beliefs in the power of education to change lives and nations, the benefits of work and the need for human beings, individually and through policies of government, to show each other decency and respect.
That succinctly sums up what drove her in politics. She also said that she had the luxury of having brilliant policy staff.
Chubb points out that Gillard as deputy was carrying three large portfolios of employment, workplace relations, and education, and as such did not have time to organise Rudd’s political office, which by 2010 was suffering from Rudd’s chaotic style of asking for things to be done urgently, then changing direction and not using what they produced.
Gillard says that in fact trying to give them some direction by convening diary and media-planning meetings with key staff, as well as supporting Rudd to the extent of editing his speeches.
The closeness and degree of trust between the two had to be extraordinary. However, Peter Hartcher was also close to Rudd, and when trust was broken there was nothing left. In her account she conferred with Tony Burke and John Faulkner, and saw her options as challenging or resigning to the back bench. She had the impression that if she chose the second, Tony Burke would follow.
When she went to see Rudd that evening Chris Uhlmann spotted it and came to the conclusion that a challenge was on.
She says that even then it wasn’t. She was trying to find a way forward. As the evening dragged on, and the pollies and media fired up, Anthony Albaene came in and told them bluntly that while they were talking the Labor Party was dying.
A little later her head of staff Amanda Lampe asked to see her. The message was that the TV channels assumed the spill was om and the Lampe was being swamped by pollies calling to support her.
She said that brought Albo’s words to front of mind. With her pulse pounding in her ears, she asked Rudd for a ballot, they shook hands and she left.
By her account she said Rudd had 14 supporters. My understanding is that Albo told him in the early hours of the morning that he couldn’t get much past 20, and to throw in the towel.
All I can say is that Gillard’s account has a feel of authenticity about it and lines up with Chubb’s findings. Here’s a review if Gillard’s book by Natalie Mast:
- The lucid presentation of Gillard’s case ultimately provides a cogent defence of the reasons for the challenge to Rudd, the difficulties her government faced, both internal and external, and an insight into Gillard herself.
The UK Independent saw a woman of substance.