This week must surely see the end of speculation as to whether Kevin Rudd will unseat Julia Gillard as leader of the Australian Labor Party. Labor ranks and just about everyone else believes the matter will come to a head on Wednesday or Thursday, if an attempt at change is made. Commentators in the media seem to be leaning towards the notion that nothing is going to happen, but no-one knows. Rudd himself has been careful in choosing his words. As Laura Tingle comments:
In one version he talked down any chance of returning to the prime ministership. In the other, he left it open, by saying he “believed” there were no circumstances in which it would happen.
The first version provoked Julia Gillard’s supporters to emerge to put pressure back on Rudd, after a week in which his supporters have been trying to get the prime minister to clear the way for a leadership change.
The second version caused Gillard supporters to argue Rudd’s change of rhetoric was the first clear indication he himself was leading the leadership speculation and, as a result, clearing the way for a fightback.
Tingle points out that it was actually Bill Shorten Shorten who started the latest round of leadership speculation, putting out signals he was ‘wobbling’ in his support for the PM after polling showed Labor in trouble in Victoria. Shorten on Friday confirmed his continued support for Gillard, but how long will that last?
Phil Coorey, also in the Fin Review, points out that several unions have now come out in support of Gillard. Coorey says:
While union bosses do not strictly bind caucus members, such strong public statements are often viewed as tacit directives.
Politicians do not always follow the union line. Doug Cameron, for example, supports Rudd although the AMWU, where he was national secretary, supports Gillard. But Coorey thinks Shorten can’t afford to abandon his union base. Besides Howes says he and Shorten have spoken about the matter.
Geoff Kitney has an interesting perspective on the unions’ position on Labor leadership. Rudd would seek to break union power within the ALP:
Were Rudd to return and lead Labor to a respectable result (if not win) he would be certain to use the authority to attempt to force through internal Labor Party reform.
A brutal internal battle for power would follow, a lot of people in the Labor Party would commit to helping Rudd win.
Some of the party’s most respected elders believe this is an existential challenge for Labor, as vital to the future as Gough Whitlam’s breaking of union power in the Labor Party in the late 1960s.
Some, in fact, believe that the reform challenge is so great that neither Gillard nor Rudd is up to it.
It is being seriously argued by these insiders that it will take a crushing defeat for Labor in September and the rebuilding that this would follow under a post-Gillard-Rudd leadership team to bring about the modernisation the party needs.
The unions, says Kitney, would rather see Abbott as PM than Rudd.
The problem with the ‘crushing defeat’ scenario is that most of the worthwhile talent would be gone. This is the Abbott strategy to decapitate the ALP. Tingle says there is another worry. The ALP now relies almost entirely on public funding, which is tied to the size of its vote.
Cabinet ministers Stephen Smith, Stephen Conroy and Brendan O’Connor came out backing Gillard on the weekend. This is taken to indicate that Gillard will not step down and prizing her out may get ugly. Rudd is being urged to break his word and challenge. Such a breach of promise would be a five-minute wonder, it is alleged.
Rudd has always said he has no interest in leading a divided party. A completely unified party is not possible, but he would need to avoid a situation where die-hard Gillard supporters were not undermining him from within. Some irony there! In the interests of maximising unity the deputy leadership may have to go to a strong Gillard supporter, such as Penny Wong.
In any case the LNP has an anti-Rudd advertising storm ready to greet him. Then there is the constitutional issue of whether Rudd could be commissioned as PM. My understanding, without any legal knowledge, is that Gillard is only there because she had letters of support from the Greens and the indies. Since then she’s lost the Greens and Wilkie, but she has the commission and continues to demonstrate that she commands the House of Representatives. The GG is a lawyer, and I’m sure she will do what’s best for the country.
In this post I have not been concerned with the rights and wrongs as to how we’ve arrived at where we are, nor the relative merits of Rudd and Gillard. Phil Coorey pays a tribute to the effectiveness of Tony Abbott, who, he says, has turned both Gillard and Rudd into tired veterans. I thought I’d finish with this photo by of the alternative PM with a photo by Alex Ellinghausen in the Fin Review. It comes from a story about development of the north, which Tingle nails as pretty much a stunt. We already have a Northern Australia Ministerial Forum.