Para­dox at heart of con­flict

Down­fall: How the La­bor Party Ripped It­self Apart The Stalk­ing of Ju­lia Gil­lard: How the Me­dia and Team Rudd Con­trived to Bring Down the Prime Min­is­ter

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ross Fitzger­ald Ross Fitzger­ald

By Aaron Pa­trick ABC Books, 328pp, $29.99 By Kerry-Anne Walsh Allen & Un­win, 305pp, $29.99

DID Aaron Pa­trick and ABC Books not re­alise Down­fall is the name of a 2004 movie de­pict­ing the last 10 days of Adolf Hitler in­side his bunker? Or do they wish to com­pare the cir­cus-like state of the Aus­tralian La­bor Party to­day with the demise of Hitler’s Nazi Ger­many in 1945? Ei­ther way, the jux­ta­po­si­tion is bizarre. But in some ways Pa­trick’s book of the same name as the movie may seem rather timely.

Sub­ti­tled How the La­bor Party Ripped It­self Apart, Pa­trick’s book at­tempts to an­swer a fun­da­men­tal, but po­ten­tially now some­what am­bigu­ous, if not dated, ques­tion: How did a once great pro­gres­sive party, which at the end of 2007 held power fed­er­ally and in ev­ery state and ter­ri­tory, be­come so tar­nished and go so wrong?

As Pa­trick points out, in 2007 the most se­nior Lib­eral politi­cian in the coun­try was no less than the lord mayor of Bris­bane, Camp­bell New­man, who later be­came Lib­eral National Party Pre­mier of Queens­land — the first Aus­tralian to lead a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal party with­out even be­ing a mem­ber of par­lia­ment.

A for­mer mem­ber of the Young La­bor group that fed­eral min­is­ter Bill Shorten be­longed to — Shorten’s last-minute in­ter­ven­tion re­cently helped in the demise as prime min­is­ter of Ju­lia Gil­lard — Pa­trick is an ex­pe­ri­enced and as­tute jour­nal­ist work­ing at The Aus­tralian Fi­nan­cial Re­view.

Pos­si­bly to give him­self some ad­di­tional street cred, Pa­trick states that he was a mem­ber of the ALP from the ages of 16 to 21. In his most re­cent tome, Pa­trick both can­vasses and con­fronts the gi­gan­tic sea of cor­rup­tion, graft and in­com­pe­tence that so re­cently rav­aged the ALP, es­pe­cially in NSW, and also tar­nished some key trade unions in­te­grally con­nected with the party, most im­por­tantly the Aus­tralian Work­ers Union and the Health Ser­vices Union.

Down­fall fo­cuses in par­tic­u­lar on the role and back­ground of Shorten, who re­fused to be in­ter­viewed for the book. Shorten, how­ever, seems to some pre­scient po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors, if not nec­es­sar­ily to the author of this book, des­tined one day to take over as leader of his once great po­lit­i­cal party.

Ed­u­cated at Melbourne’s Xavier Col­lege and Monash Univer­sity (where he stud­ied arts and law), the seem­ingly worldly and schem­ing yet so of­ten charm­ing Shorten soon joined Young La­bor and, af­ter a brief pe­riod work­ing as a lawyer with Mau­rice Black­burn Cash­man in Melbourne, be­came an en­er­getic po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive, or­gan­iser and lead­ing of­fi­cial with the pow­er­ful right-wing AWU.

Al­most all who knew him at the time tes­tify that Shorten had an ex­tremely high opin­ion of him­self. And de­spite be­ing vis­i­bly shaken shortly be­fore the re­cent bal­lot for the fed­eral lead­er­ship of the ALP, which re­sulted in Kevin Rudd tak­ing over again as Prime Min­is­ter, it is al­most uni­ver­sally ap­par­ent that he still does.

Dis­ap­point­ingly, Pa­trick deals briefly, and in a per­func­tory way, with Shorten’s first mar­riage to Deb­o­rah Beale, the daugh­ter of wealthy for­mer Lib­eral fed­eral MP Ju­lian Beale, and also with Shorten’s sec­ond, and cur­rent, mar­riage to Chloe Bryce — the daugh­ter of Gover­nor-Gen­eral Quentin Bryce.

In Down­fall Pa­trick of­ten wears his po­lit­i­cal heart on his sleeve. While he con­demns the English-born Vic­to­rian La­bor se­na­tor for Vic­to­ria, Stephen Conroy — a lead­ing mem­ber of the La­bor Right and con­tro­ver­sial, now exmin­is­ter for broad­band, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and the dig­i­tal econ­omy — for his ‘‘ oily charm’’, he is lav­ish in his praise of the Left’s NSW se­na­tor John Faulkner, who he rightly de­scribes as a highly eth­i­cal politi­cian ‘‘ re­spected for his in­tegrity on both sides of pol­i­tics’’.

Pa­trick also sup­ports Faulkner’s wish to end ‘‘ the re­quire­ments for [La­bor] MPs to vote in line with what their fac­tion de­cides’’ — a prac­tice that re­mains the dele­te­ri­ous foun­da­tion of fac­tional con­trol that so be­dev­ils the ALP.

In this well-writ­ten and clearly ex­pressed book, Pa­trick makes the some­what du­bi­ous claim to be able to re-cre­ate both per­sonal con­ver­sa­tions and po­lit­i­cal events. More­over, it seems sur­pris­ing that when he deals with the his­tory of the ALP from its ori­gins to the present day, Pa­trick makes no men­tion of the Queens­land MP An­der­son Daw­son, who in De­cem­ber 1899 led the world’s first labour govern­ment and who then in April 1904 was de­fence min­is­ter in Aus­tralia’s first national La­bor govern­ment, led by the Chilean-born Chris Wat­son.

Yet in light of Rudd’s re­cent top­pling of Gil­lard, Pa­trick’s sum­ma­tion of their po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences seems re­mark­ably pre­cise.

Af­ter ex­plain­ing that the Gil­lard-Rudd con­flict was a para­dox, Pa­trick points out that Gil­lard was ‘‘ well liked by most La­bor MPs and dis­liked by most vot­ers’’. On the other hand, Rudd was ‘‘ loathed by most La­bor MPs and vastly more pop­u­lar with the pub­lic’’.

Pa­trick then con­cludes the par­lia­men­tary La­bor Party ‘‘ had to choose be­tween elec­toral star power and unloved de­pend­abil­ity’’.

Aided by Shorten’s last-minute back­ing, fed­eral La­bor has turned again to the much more elec­torally pop­u­lar Queens­lan­der.

How much pub­lic ap­peal and star power is pos­sessed by the born-again, Bris­bane-based Prime Min­is­ter will not be known un­til the night of the now fas­ci­nat­ing, forth­com­ing fed­eral elec­tion. IF ever the deck was stacked against a prime min­is­ter, it was stacked against Ju­lia Gil­lard. So goes the the­sis of for­mer The Daily Tele­graph press gallery re­porter — and, be­fore that, Bob Hawke staff mem­ber — Kerry-Anne Walsh.

More a per­sonal pro-Gil­lard diary than an ob­jec­tive anal­y­sis of re­cent events, Walsh’s The Stalk­ing of Ju­lia Gil­lard does not pre­tend to be a de­fin­i­tive ac­count of the govern­ment that was routed last month.

Rather, it is a se­ries of ob­ser­va­tions about a politi­cian who, Walsh be­lieves, ‘‘ was never given a fair go: not in the me­dia, not by Rudd, not by some in cau­cus’’. The un­am­bigu­ous sub­ti­tle — How the Me­dia and Team Rudd Con­trived to Bring Down the Prime Min­is­ter — makes it clear this is a par­ti­san tome. It needs to be ap­proached as such.

From the be­gin­ning Walsh, too, wears her po­lit­i­cal heart on her sleeve. For ex­am­ple, she main­tains that, among the press gallery dur­ing the three years of Gil­lard’s mi­nor­ity govern­ment, there ‘‘ seemed to be a lack of ap­petite for rig­or­ous as­sess­ment of Rudd the man and Rudd the politi­cian, and of his mo­tives, and the dev­as­tat­ing im­pact he was hav­ing’’.

On the other hand, she says at the same time Rudd and his so-called min­ions in the press and the La­bor Party were de­lib­er­ately un­der­min­ing her, Gil­lard was ‘‘ con­tin­u­ally cast as a liar and pol­icy char­la­tan, and lam­pooned for her hair, clothes, ac­cent, arse, even the way she walk[ed] and talk[ed]’’. Hence the stacked deck premise. Yet a prob­lem with all of this is that Gil­lard ar­guably ran the most in­com­pe­tent fed­eral govern­ment since that of Wil­liam ‘‘ Billy’’ McMa­hon, who was Lib­eral prime min­is­ter from March 10, 1971, to De­cem­ber 5, 1972. And that re­ally is say­ing some­thing.

Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est is Walsh’s anal­y­sis of Rudd’s aborted putsch on the af­ter­noon of Thurs­day March 21 this year, and its af­ter­math.

Af­ter Rudd and some mem­bers of his team had egged on that thor­oughly de­cent politi­cian Si­mon Crean to or­gan­ise a lead­er­ship chal­lenge to Gil­lard, at the last minute Rudd an­nounced he had al­ways said that he wouldn’t chal­lenge the Prime Min­is­ter and he wasn’t go­ing to now: ‘‘ I be­lieve in hon­our­ing my word . . . Oth­ers take such com­mit­ments lightly, I do not ... I have been very plain about that for a long pe­riod of time . . . I have given that word. I gave it solemnly in that room af­ter the last bal­lot and I will ad­here to that word to­day.’’

Ac­cord­ing to Walsh, Rudd’s last-minute an­nounce­ment that he wasn’t stand­ing for the lead­er­ship was ‘‘ an act of mam­moth self­serv­ing po­lit­i­cal bas­tardry, and an ex­er­cise in de­luded spin and non­sense’’.

Crean cer­tainly thought so: Rudd not run­ning, he said, ‘‘ was never part of the dis­cus­sions we had’’. An in­dig­nant Crean told Can­berra re­porters: ‘‘[ Rudd] re­neged on our deal, it was gut­less.’’ To top it off, Crean then told this news­pa­per: ‘‘[ The] ar­gu­ment that [Rudd] had said he wouldn’t chal­lenge, in my view is a non­sense.’’

Yet the day af­ter what Walsh de­scribes as ‘‘ the great­est piece of theatre of the ab­surd ever to play in Par­lia­ment House’’, a seem­ingly breezy and un­af­fected Rudd called a press con­fer­ence in Bris­bane to say that he would ‘‘ never, ever seek the lead­er­ship of the La­bor Party again’’.

The most re­veal­ing words in The Stalk­ing of Ju­lia Gil­lard come out of Rudd’s own mouth. Here are three of his state­ments to con­sider, and to savour.

On Fe­bru­ary 22 last year, Rudd said: ‘‘ There is no way, no way, I would ever be party to a stealth at­tack on a sit­ting prime min­is­ter elected by the peo­ple.’’ On Fe­bru­ary 27, af­ter los­ing 71 to 31 in his chal­lenge to Gil­lard, Rudd com­mit­ted him­self to putting his ‘‘ ev­ery ef­fort into se­cur­ing Ju­lia Gil­lard’s re-elec­tion as La­bor Prime Min­is­ter at the next elec­tion’’. Then, af­ter the coup of March 21 this year that never hap­pened, Rudd was absolutely un­am­bigu­ous when he stated there would be ‘‘ no cir­cum­stances’’ un­der which he would ever lead La­bor again.

Pol­i­tics is a strange and du­plic­i­tous world in­deed and Walsh’s read­able book high­lights this — al­though it needs to be un­der­stood in the con­text of her Gil­lard-loving, Rudd-hat­ing par­ti­san and per­sonal per­spec­tive.

Ju­lia Gil­lard lis­tens to her then for­eign min­is­ter Kevin Rudd in fed­eral par­lia­ment early last year

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