Look what they’ve done to my government, Ma…

By Legal Eagle

I’ve avoided posting on Australian politics for a long while because it’s really been a bit farcical, and frankly, I have found the whole thing deeply depressing. For overseas readers, our present Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, came to power in June 2010 after ousting the incumbent elected Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, after Rudd’s ratings fell and he was perceived have become embroiled in a number of controversies. In July 2010, a Federal election was called. Neither party had a clear majority, and Gillard’s Labor Party came to power as a minority government, with support from three independents and the Greens. Gillard’s reputation has subsequently tumbled in the opinion polls to levels well below Rudd’s. Rudd is still around though; he was our Foreign Minister, until about an hour ago. And for the last few months, speculation has been rife that he is going to oust Gillard. It reached fever pitch over the weekend. This morning, it was reported:

Mr Rudd told TV reporters in Washington DC this morning he had no plans to mount a leadership challenge.

“Can I just say, as I’ve said many times before, that we have a Prime Minister; I support the Prime Minister; and I intend to remain as Foreign Minister,” Mr Rudd said.

“I’m fully engaged with being Foreign Minister and there are many things on the agenda at present.”

Then, about an hour ago, Rudd quit as Foreign MinisterHe said:

It is with, ah, great sadness that I announce, ah, that I will resign as Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. I am sad because, ah, I love this job. I’m totally dedicated to the work that we are doing in Australia’s name around the world and I believe that we’ve achieved many good results for Australia, and I’m proud of them. It’s therefore been for me a great privilege to serve our country as Foreign Minister, to represent our people abroad, and I thank the people of our country for their support as I’ve discharged these responsibilities. But while I am sad to leave this office, I am sadder still that it has come to this. The last time I resigned from a position of public office was when I resigned as Prime Minister of Australia. And regrettably, there have been some similar factors at play today.

It’s time for some plain speaking on this. The truth is, I can only serve as Foreign Minister if I have the confidence of Prime Minister Gillard and her senior Ministers. In recent days, Minister Crean and a number of other faceless men have publicly attacked my integrity and therefore my fitness to serve as a minister in the government. When challenged today on these attacks, Prime Minister Gillard chose not to repudiate them. I can only reluctantly conclude that she therefore shares these views. The simple truth is that I cannot continue to serve as Foreign Minister if I do not have Prime Minister Gillard’s support. I therefore believe the only honourable thing, and the only honourable course of action, is for me to resign, and I do so with a genuinely heavy heart and after much personal reflection.

There are other factors, too, that I have had to take into consideration today. The truth is, the Australian people regard this whole affair as little better than a soap opera, and they are right, and under current circumstances, I won’t be part of it. It is also, I believe, a distraction from the real business of government. I also believe it’s affecting the business community and I agree with recent statements by peak bodies to this effect. It is important that business confidence is maintained in Australia. The economy and jobs are core to what any responsible government is about.

I also believe that this ongoing saga is bad for my good friend Anna Bligh as she fights the fight of her life in Queensland. She’s a great Premier; she’s a good friend. And I believe the good people of Queensland deserve some clear space over the coming month as they make up their minds on a very important decision on the future of Queensland, my home State, a State I’m very proud to be from. The truth is I also feel very uncomfortable doing this from Washington and not in Australia, but I don’t feel as if I have a choice, given the responsibilities I have before me over the days ahead here in Washington, in London on the future of Somalia, and piracy in, ah, the Indian Ocean, and in Tunis on the future of Syria. These are important challenges for the world, where a responsible Australian voice needs to be heard, a voice which I have sought to inject in my period as Foreign Minister on these core challenges. And under no circumstances do I want Australia’s international reputation brought into disrepute because of this ongoing saga.

Therefore Ambassador Beazley will discharge my functions here on my behalf in Washington tomorrow and the Permanent Secretary of my Department, Dennis Richardson, will represent me in London and in Tunis. I will return home to Brisbane tomorrow, arriving back there on Friday morning. Over the days ahead I will be consulting openly and honestly with my family, with my community, and my Parliamentary colleagues, taking their counsel on what I should do next, and what my next step should be. I will then make a full statement to the Australian people on my future before Parliament resumes next Monday. I deeply believe that if the Australian Labor Party, a party of which I have been a proud member for more than thirty years, is to have the best future for our nation, then it must change fundamentally its culture to end the power of faceless men. Australia must be governed by the people, not by the factions, but I can promise you this: there is no way — no way — that I will ever be party to a stealth attack on a sitting Prime Minister elected by the people. We all know that what happened then was wrong, and it must never happen again. I would like to thank very much the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Their Secretary, Dennis Richardson, Australia’s former Ambassador here in Washington, is a first class Australian diplomat, and through him I would thank the Department’s executive and all the Deputy Secretaries I’ve worked with, day after day, week after week.

[I should note that this is my personal transcript of Rudd’s speech, taken from the ABC website, not an official version.]

What now?!? I note that Rudd does not definitively rule out any challenge to Gillard; he merely says that he will not be party to a stealth attack, and that he will consult fully with his family, his community and his colleagues over what he should do next.

In a way it’s a relief to have it all out in the open — the whole thing has been bubbling away under the surface for so long now. I would not be surprised if there were a challenge on Monday; but I’m no political expert — let’s just watch this space.

Update:

Wayne Swan has attacked Rudd in a rival press release:

…for too long, Kevin Rudd has been putting his own self-interest ahead of the interests of the broader labour movement and the country as a whole, and that needs to stop.

The Party has given Kevin Rudd all the opportunities in the world and he wasted them with his dysfunctional decision making and his deeply demeaning attitude towards other people including our caucus colleagues.  He sought to tear down the 2010 campaign, deliberately risking an Abbott Prime Ministership, and now he undermines the Government at every turn.

He was the Party’s biggest beneficiary then its biggest critic; but never a loyal or selfless example of its values and objectives.

For the interests of the labour movement and of working people, there is too much at stake in our economy and in the political debate for the interests of the labour movement and working people to be damaged by somebody who does not hold any Labor values.

Julia has the overwhelming support of our colleagues. She is tough, determined, forward-looking, and has a good Labor heart.  She has a consultative, respectful relationship with caucus while Kevin Rudd demeaned them.  She’s cleaned up a lot of the mess he left her and has established a good, Labor agenda.  She’s delivering major reforms, and getting things done that her predecessor could not.  Colleagues are sick of Kevin Rudd driving the vote down by sabotaging policy announcements and undermining our substantial economic successes.

Gosh. The knives are out on all sides.

Meanwhile, Gillard is going to call a ballot.

20 Comments

  1. TerjeP
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Lots of people seem worried about the government neglecting the country but the reality is the country can do just fine without the government. In fact given who the government is we should probably be pleased they are preoccupied with other things. That way they have less time to do anything silly. Now let’s make some popcorn.

  2. paul walter
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I remember it being said a while back that Rudd should have been given a serious domestic portfolio, health say or education; somewhere where his native instincts and better nature involving empathy with working folk may have been drawn back to the fore. I thought it sounded right.

    FA is the sort of portfolio that only would have encouraged his flaw, his ego. Everyone rubbished it; no, FA was his metier. Yesterday it was suggested that he was making a leadership run, but he and his forces had mistimed the run; much later would have been better. I can’t help but agree, it would allowed us more time to see how Gillard performed “kicking with the wind”, rather than against it – had she not been able to perform better under more favourable circumstances than she’s experienced previously, she would not have had a leg to stand on, had the time for her removal then palpably arrived.

    Am glad to see he is occupying himself trying to help Anna Bligh. An ex-leader or leadership rival camped fulminating away on the back benches is some times unhelpful, as Latham proved for Beazley, or Peacock and Howard back in the eighties and nineties with the other mob (or Turnbull and Abbott). But who’s king of the castle is an irritant, it bespeaks an abandonment of ideas, principles and the sense of common cause that ought to be the hallmark of soc dem social reform party. It’s hollowed out and all that’s left is conflict over the spoils of defeat, one title against another.

    If selective leaking from the different factions doesn’t stop, today’s solution will remain only temporary, what ought to happen is a coming together based on ideals, so the run up to the election will demonstrate whether Labor politicians are blessed of any real consciousness, or not. I can see a spell on the opposition benches that would make the Howard years a mere blink of the eyelids by comparison, if some of them don’t grow up and cooperate more with each other.

  3. FelineCyclist
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    And yet Gillard has gotten lots done, despite leadership speculation. Over 200 bills passed, including big reforms like carbon price, means testing health insurance rebate – things KRudd couldn’t do, Gillard has done, despite not holding a majority in either House. It’s a pity that no one looks at what Parliament is actually doing and instead focuses on this political nonsense.

  4. Posted February 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    From where I sit (ie, a long way away and not having been in Australia since mid-2007), the whole business seems farcical, but without the humour. I hope there isn’t a spill, for the simple reason that it will make the BBC and I will be expected to explain. And it’s just tedious.

    Clearly high school never ended for some people.

  5. Patrick
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    somewhere where his native instincts and better nature involving empathy with working folk may have been drawn back to the fore

    Your correspondant presumably has never even met Rudd let alone knew him.

    I think for my part the current government is doing a shitload, unfortunately most of it hastily railroaded and appallingly executed with minimal apparent forethought or genuine consideration.

  6. Patrick
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Sorry LE I missed your comment. From a tax perspective I can guarantee you it isn’t, it is more farcical than it has been since the 1970s.

    They appear to have very little idea how tax law works, and to think that they can just ‘fix’ it to raise more money and ‘catch’ more ‘greedy’ taxpayers ‘exploiting’ ‘loopholes’. I will bet a large amount of money that their attempts will largely fail and the legislation will operate very differently from what they hope.

  7. Posted February 22, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Patrick’s suggestions @8 do not surprise me. The UK’s tax law is completely potty, and while it was never great before New Labour, it was turned into an irrational mess between 1997 and 2010. I have handled some small tax issues of late, and I’m hoping incumbency will gradually buy me immunity from them. Horrid nasty business.

  8. Posted February 22, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    “The Prime Minister elected by the people.” He is after the people’s pity vote come election time, no? Should it come to that, Rudd-the-dud’s previous grievances will have surely been forgotten. Compared to Ju-liar. Sorry for such an exasperated attitude, but I’ve lost faith in the Australian people’s ability to chose their representatives.

  9. Posted February 22, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Grumpy Wayne Swan is grumpy.

  10. paul walter
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Since you are all so well-informed, you have probably enjoyed the dry run for Australia under Abbott: Greece. A marvellous example within the Eurozone of, “four legs good; two legs bad”. Rowson’s Guardian Cartoon of a few days ago, with Merkel as a sort of Elizabeth Bathory, slicing the last sliver of meat off the Greek corpse to feed to the Pigs of global high finance demonstrates how things are really done and why.

    And the idiot public will eventually put in exactly the sort of government here that has plagued ordinary Brits under Cameron and is represented by Wall St, the TParty and its sponsors in the US pol-economic system.

    What’s the first thing Abbott wants to do in government? End means testing for health rebates? Never mind the needy, he’ll serve the greedy!

  11. TerjeP
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    Paul – far be it from me to defend Tony Abbott or the Liberal / National coalition parties but the problem in Greece stems from excessive government borrowing and excessive regulation, especially in the labour market. Based on recent track records the coalition seems more likely relative to the ALP to get debt down and to cut labour market regulation. Although they probably won’t cut spending or regulation nearly as much as I would like to see.

  12. Posted February 23, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    [email protected] There is no prospect of anything like Greece because, unlike the European Central Bank, the RBA is not mad. (And we have nothing like their public debt issues.)

  13. paul walter
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Terje, we both know that’s way too reductionist.

    Lorenzo is closer, in questioning the terms under which Greece was encouraged to operate, how membership was sold to the Greek public and what set of obligations and benefits were actually sold in Greece. I seriously doubt whether the average Greek worker drives a Porsche and lives in a penthouse, on the wages they are used.

    Goes back to the original prospectus, the small print and the likelihood that the geniuses behind global neoliberalism who advised the Greeks were so incompetent themselves as not to anticipate the bubble and its side effects: A selling point with the Eurozone would have been strength and security in numbers, against the consequences of staying out of Europe.

  14. Patrick
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo, where do you start? We aren’t ending up like Greece, full stop.

    Besides, pw, you seem to have missed the part where the Greek bailouts are designed to deliver ‘haircuts’ to the private sector bondholders but NOT the government-sector bondholders.

  15. Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Lots of people seem worried about the government neglecting the country but the reality is the country can do just fine without the government.

    Yes, the public service generally do a good job of keeping things running despite the circus going on above them.

    …the problem in Greece stems from excessive government borrowing…

    To fund things such as welfare payments for those who clearly don’t need them (like say, a non-means tested health insurance subsidy?).

  16. Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    [email protected]

    the geniuses behind global neoliberalism

    Way too broad a target. Plenty of pro-market folk thought the euro a bad idea. Even with the euro, while a crisis sooner or later was likely, this crisis came from specific policies of the ECB.

    The crisis fell hardest on Greece because its political economy was the most dysfuncrtional. But someone was going to be the weakest link.

One Trackback

  1. By Skepticlawyer » The Labor Schism on February 26, 2012 at 8:33 am

    […] Since my post on Rudd’s announcement that he was resigning as Foreign Minister, Australian politics has now become a bear pit, at least on the Labor side of politics. No sooner did Rudd resign than the Labor MPs started aligning themselves as pro-Gillard or pro-Rudd (Gillard appears to have the numbers). A number of Ministers in the pro-Gillard camp immediately launched into character assassinations of Rudd (including Wayne Swan, Nicola Roxon and Gillard herself). Rudd announced that he was going to take a tilt at the Prime Ministership. […]

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