Politics Gets Personal in Australia (Page 2 of 3)

With his R2-D2 demeanor and slightly awkward, slightly pompous manner of speaking (a manner not entirely unknown, in your correspondent’s experience, to the Australian foreign policy community), the common touch wouldn’t seem to be one of Rudd’s strong suits. But he’s a highly effective campaigner and extremely adept at using the media, evident in the last several days when he provided images of him being “mobbed” in his local electorate, which the media obligingly ran repeatedly. And he’s a master at getting the public involved in his personal narrative.

This popularity protected Rudd, until in 2010 it began to slip. Policy missteps, most notably a decision to defer action on a previously pledged carbon tax, saw his government take a hit in the polls. Still, this was a dip, not a collapse. So it came as a shock to most Australians when on June 23 of that year, Rudd was deposed in a remarkably brisk and ruthless coup. Deputy Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female prime minister.

That was Act I. This week was Act II: Rudd’s Revenge. Apparently, Labor Party powerbrokers in 2010 decided that the less said about the abrupt leadership change the better. Rudd’s alleged failings were not at the time convincingly presented to the public. Nor was an explanation given as to why an unprecedented removal of a popular first-time prime minister was the only possible course of action. (Nor indeed why someone allegedly so flawed would be permitted to represent Australia as foreign minister).

That left the Australian people baffled and angry that their overwhelming choice for prime minister had been fired. And it gave Rudd cover. The fact that his replacement Gillard has struggled to connect with the electorate gave him an opportunity. Gillard is the anti-Rudd: popular with her colleagues, consultative, not afraid to make the tough decisions (she passed the unpopular carbon tax legislation), but also profoundly unloved among the broader Australian population. Undoubtedly, this is partly because of the way she came to power – many Labor faithful haven’t forgiven her. In a country where men like to think they are real men, there’s also more than a hint of misogyny in many of the criticisms. But she has also made her own policy missteps and awkward reversals, and some of her public performances – say, during the Queensland floods last year – can most generously be described as wooden. Yet, she has effectively managed a minority government, the best that Labor could manage in the 2010 elections that followed the coup.

So we have a classic case study in parliamentary democracy. Australian’s prime minister isn’t directly elected by the people, but is chosen by his or her colleagues in the party room. Rudd can – and did – call for “people power,” but if you can’t work and play well with your parliamentary colleagues, your popularity doesn't count for much.

Comments
11
website
December 3, 2012 at 15:22

Must. Not. Comment.

kazzm
February 28, 2012 at 21:21

CIA was also active against the Whitlam government when he seemed to threaten Pine Gap (a major co-run Australia-U.S signal intelligence gathering facility) and sent a cable to ASIO (equivalent to NSA), a day after it was sent the Governor General dismissed Whitlam government on a parliamentary technicality. So there is already precedence for a CIA backed coup to defend U.S military interests.

Saying that, it’s not much of a coup. Noone likes Rudd so a leadership challenge was expected, it didn’t need CIA help. His appointment as foreign minister also goes against that theory.

Kazzm
February 28, 2012 at 16:38

Here are three reasons for a CIA backed leadership coup.

Rudd wanted to drawdown Australian troops numbers in Afghanistan.
Rudd was pro-china (although wary of their annexation of Australia) and probably wouldn’t have agreed to the 2500 U.S marines in Darwin. Or at least not in the grand public fashion in which it was announced, co-opting Australia as a partner in the U.S military encirclement of China strategy.
This was followed in 2011 by a U.S-Australian agreement that allows almost unlimited access to some Australian military bases.

So perhaps Rudd’s more nuanced views on China meant his agreement over the even closer U.S-Australian military relationship was under question. Instigating a push by the CIA and which Gillard responded to by overthrowing Rudd. The U.S threatened the U.K of severing their military intelligence sharing agreement over some minor political spat, they might have threatened something similar to the Australian politico’s if they failed to agree to the closer military alliance.

Gillard consider Australia ‘blind’ overseas without this intelligence sharing agreement. And recently she forbid taking handnotes in discussions, some called her ‘paranoid’ for this but perhaps she knows better, mainly that the CIA is a busy bee downunder.

There are alot of doubts about U.S military strategy, especially when when it comes to China and involves Australia. Australia now, is such an important partner they have power in affecting U.S strategy and that will cause understandable backlash from the U.S intelligence community.

Craig
February 28, 2012 at 15:05

Paranoia?

Fu Man-chu
February 28, 2012 at 11:17

What nonsense is this and what relation does it has to someone’s else comments? nutcase!

Charles
February 28, 2012 at 07:05

As mentioned in the article, Gillard may not be likeable, but at least she gets things done – nothing worse than an indecisive leader. Personally, I don’t like either of them (I’m a liberal man).

Also, the fact that Labor has held power for ‘nearly half’ of the post Whitlam era isn’t a bragging right; it’s a two party system, so someone had to be in power when the public wanted a change from the Liberals or the Coalition.

Chris B
February 28, 2012 at 05:35

Could we please stop repeating this fabrication that Kevin Rudd spent 5 years learning mandarin. He was coached for a week with an translator before a press appearance, this was “preserved” on tape, and I’m led to believe that there was quite a lot of swearing berating the Chinese involved.

ari
February 27, 2012 at 19:55

Why do I have the niggling feeling that Washington was behind Gillard’s coup de’tat and Kevin Rudd’s downfall?

keith
February 27, 2012 at 16:40

labour members today have just voted for the destruction of the labour party just because the didn’t like there boss that put them in power well grow up labour get with the times well at lest enjoy the little time you have left before you all get voted out this is just plain not acceptable i look forward when tony wins next election and watch all you labour scum cry of home i will never vote for labour again the only way i will vote for labour is if they reinstate kevin rudd he out as out of the financial crises i would be very pleased to see that the only seating labour candidate in next election was kevin rudd

Joel Petley
February 27, 2012 at 15:22

Excellent analysis of the situation. Either the ALP reforms, or they will see their power as a political force in this country fade away.

thomas dufy
February 27, 2012 at 13:39

Truly labor has lost the most honest and scrupulous leader they could have. A bitter blow to both Australian politics and the labor party. The caucus have done away with the only clean member of the party, the faction system that has dominated party politics for so long has become so obviously odorous to the public. Evidence by this failure to re-instate a prime minister who was capable of standing aside from the factions [as cited in the article he was never attached to a union, having entered via way of foreign correspondent].

Share your thoughts

Your Name
required
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment
required

Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief