It seems like only days ago when people were proud to call Kevin Michael Rudd their Prime Minister; when people were ever thankful of Rudd’s efforts to condemn the Liberals to the political wilderness; when people were proud to finally have a ‘compassionate’ leader in the Lodge.
And yet after only 2 and-a-half years, Australia’s most popular Prime Minister has been vanquished to the political underworld in the most callous circumstances; so vicious the events of the last 48 hours even the Mad Monk, Tony Abbott is horrified. It, of course leads to the inevitable question of how could Australia’s most self-conscious Prime Minister be ousted before his first term has even finished?
To examine Rudd’s fall from grace we must first examine his meteoric rise.
Within 3 years of his election to the seat of Griffith, Rudd joined the front bench in 2001 serving as shadow minister for Foreign Affairs. As one of the ALP’s few shining stars during the reigns of Simon Crean and Mark Latham, Rudd’s ever growing image remained intact while those around him succumbed to the brute force of the Howard machine and of course the ‘Howard battlers’, thwarting any attempt by the ALP to win government. As Rudd’s image only grew; aided by his weekly appearances on Sunrise with the charismatic Joe Hockey in which he was able to showcase the other side of Kevin Rudd, that of a highly witty, down to earth guy, so did, funnily enough Julia Gillard’s. It thus came as no surprise in December 2006 the joint ticket of Rudd/Gillard, a ticket that unlike that of Beazley/Macklin, besieged by past electoral misfortunes was able to seize leadership.
The process that worked for Rudd, on the surface seemed rather straight forth; I know it did to me in 2006. You build yourself a credible image within an institution forever on the brink of chaos; you in turn aim to gain as much media exposure as you can and when opinion polling shows you have enough support within the electorate you then grab power. But, of course Rudd’s acute planning went further than that.
When Beazley assumed the Labor leadership for a second time in January 2005 he did so at a time when the Liberals had an enormous mandate. For the first time since 1981 the government, regardless of its political affiliation had won control of the Senate – an impossible achievement. The Howard Government used its rare opportunity to implement the now infamous IR laws – its Achilles Heel. Beazley’s leadership, in spite of strong union backing proved ineffective. ALP heavyweights became nervous. How could a party based on the rights of the working class not challenge the government on a matter that would dramatically alter Australian industrial relations law? How could the ALP be animated in ‘29 but not ‘06? Rudd, despite no affiliation with either the left or right deemed late 2006 his moment. He therefore sought the support of the influential NSW Right and was, in turn able to secure the support of the Victorian and Queensland Right. The Socialist Left eventually followed suit (due to Gillard’s support) and victory was assured in the early afternoon of December 4, 2006. A marriage of political convience was declared; and yet Rudd’s position, in spite forming a ‘grand coalition’ was based on his own standing within the electorate. If it were to deteriorate so would factional support, thus the basis of his own political obituary.
Rudd’s support among the electorate, much to the delight of factional heavyweights prospered throughout 2007. His portrayal as a Howardesque, albeit a more compassionate candidate worked and the Australian people fell for Kevin from Queensland; he was here to help and the people believed him.
Rudd continued to go from strength to strength throughout 2008 when he apologised to the Stolen Generation, signed Kyoto, entertained the Chinese; even seeing off political foes Brendan Nelson and Peter Costello. His handling of the global financial crisis was praised, many excited at the prospect of an additional $942 come Christmas time and aptly adopted the title of Super Kevin by almost all. Some, by early 2009 called upon Rudd to call an early election to capitalise on his electoral fortunes but refrained; after all, he didn’t want to appear to egotistical in the eyes of the amazed electorate. Yet by mid 2009 the political climate had changed and Rudd’s honeymoon was on the brink of imminent conclusion.
No sooner had Rudd accumulated such support did he lose it. His ease within the public eye ceased and the real Rudd, by mid 2009 was showcased. The stalling of his legislative agenda meant his nerdy facade was replaced by that of a control-freak, embodied by cabinet decisions made exclusively by the ‘Gang of Four’. He roused collective characterisation of himself by swearing at staff and colleagues alike and, of course flip-flopping on the issues that resulted in his election; most importantly climate change which he had deemed months earlier ‘the greatest moral challenge of our time’ only to give up on his ETS scheme after its third rejection by the Senate giving rise to voter cynicism.
But if not for Tony Abbott, the events of the last 48 hours could have well been prevented.
Abbott’s assumption of the Liberal Party had an immediate effect. He was no Turnbull, politically and characteristically and was well liked among the electorate. Rudd could no longer escape the unnerving howls of the electorate demanding sufficient action on asylum seekers, the economy and climate change; Rudd could no longer ward off the Liberals on the grounds of previous idiocy when he was pursuing similar economic and foreign policy; Rudd became a political dead man walking. And the announcement of the Super Mining Profits Tax all but ended his political capital within caucus, even though the likes of Gillard, Swan and Tanner, all involved intimately in recent events were unequivocal backers, firmly standing behind their leader.
And so, the factional heavyweights went into overdrive on Wednesday evening, in spite of Rudd holding an apparent 53-47 over Abbott. The new generation of the ‘faceless men’: Arbib, Shorten and Feeney convinced the Deputy Prime Minister to challenge the Prime Minister under the guise of ‘national interest’ (in other words the ALP’s electoral fortunes in marginal seats crucial to its 2007 success). She was the only one who could save them from Abbott, internal polling said and she heeded to their advice. Rudd, in spite of imminent defeat called for a spill in an address that, for the first time in his prime ministership showed raw emotion. He may have sounded pissed off but it was clearly not enough. By early morning, the same forces that had brought Rudd to power in 2006 were bringing him. And by 10 it was confirmed – he was the master of his own undoing. An overtly self-conscious man who acutely worked his way to the top only for the electorate to lose faith upon successive damaging failures tarnishing whatever remained of his integrity; Super Kevin’s kryptonite. But most importantly, it was rather his lack of political base, and of course, a far superior sparring partner in Tony Abbott that proved to be his hemlock.
Indeed Rudd is the master of his own undoing but, nevertheless, the installation of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister is one of the most callous acts in recent political memory and continues the longstanding Australian tradition of thrusting female leaders into power to revitalise a deteriorating brand. While I do believe the electorate will be that naive to believe such changes; not to mention the Liberals inability to combat the likability of Gillard; it will not cover up the fact Kevin Rudd was politically executed by a gang of ‘faceless men’ concerned only of their own political fortunes rather than the ‘national interest’ as the new Prime Minister and Deputy endlessly reassure the media was in their interest. Rudd might have been a hapless Prime Minister, but does anyone deserve such a callous end, initiated by a group of faceless men?