The Rudd phenomenon

I have always liked Kevin Rudd.  I still do.  When he first came to prominence as shadow foreign minister I remember being impressed with his grasp of his subject matter and his articulateness.  I enjoyed listening to him on TV and radio, and occasionally in parliament when he hammered the Howard Government.  Back then I found I understood every word he uttered.  I still do.  Yet it is his ‘poor communication’ that is cited as being a major reason for his downfall.  What am I missing?  More of that later.

How might we assess Kevin Rudd’s legacy?  What is the Rudd phenomenon?

Already there have been many thousands of words written about the events of the last six months and this last week.  I do not wish to bore readers with a repetition of what others have written, but instead to explore some other aspects of how it all came to this.

But first let’s accentuate the positive and give great credit to Kevin Rudd where it’s due.  Many here have developed a deep affection for him, which made his sudden and unseemly exit painful.  We felt his hurt and humiliation.  This feeling was so strong that some felt angry at not just what had happened but the way it happened.  Conflicting emotions made it hard to separate the stark reality of the situation facing members of the parliamentary Labor Party and what seemed to many the brutal remedy they applied.

After a few days of reflection it is easier to see where things went wrong, and at the same time what has been achieved since Kevin Rudd came onto the Federal scene.  

He earned his stripes with his exemplary performance in his shadow ministry.  He was forensic in his dissection of the AWB affair and pursued the Government relentlessly.  That he did not succeed in getting some scalps is a tribute to John Howard’s clever terms of reference of the Cole inquiry.

Historical accounts of Rudd’s rise to power insist that he has always had his eye on the prime ministership, so when the factional heavyweights arranged a merging of interests of right and left factions, a Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard ticket was organized and Kim Beasley was toppled, even at a time when the polls were not too bad for Labor.   This event foreshadowed what would transpire over three years later.  Beasley was considered to be unable to beat Howard at the 2007 election, so he was replaced, just as Rudd has now been, with polls much worse than in 2006.

So what has Kevin Rudd done for which he deserves our eternal gratitude?

First, after over eleven years of Labor in opposition, he challenged and defeated John Howard and his Government.  Whatever the legacy of the Howard era, there was in 2007 a strong desire in the electorate for change and Rudd enabled that to occur.  Thank you Kevin.

Next, he led Labor to do some of the things the Coalition ought to have done – apologize to the Stolen Generations and sign the Kyoto Protocol.  The latter was part of Rudd’s push to tackle global warming, something Howard came to so reluctantly.  His commissioning of the Garnaut Report, the Green and White papers and the subsequent ETS/CPRS legislation were landmark events, all of which came to nothing because of Coalition and Greens’ Senate obstruction, and eventually lead to the removal of Malcolm Turnbull and the rise of Tony Abbott.  Copenhagen, into which Rudd put so much effort, was disappointing, leaving him with almost nothing.  Whatever we feel about the deferment of the CPRS, we thank you Kevin for getting us as far as you did.

All except the most hard-hearted and biased give you and your inner cabinet team great credit and thanks for shielding this nation from the GFC, high unemployment and business failures.  Increasing job opportunities, economic prosperity and consumer confidence resulted.  Thank you.

There are many other things you did for which we are grateful – you insulated a million homes while lessening the chances of fire and injury in the process.  We all know the problems there – the media made sure of that, but thank you for getting so much done.   You have built countless school buildings, but all we heard from the media were the ‘cost-blowouts’, the ‘rip-offs’, the ‘fraud’ that occurred in a few instances, mainly in NSW.  But schools, teachers, parents and their children will be grateful for many years to come.  Thank you.

There are many other things: abolishing WorkChoices, the computers-in-schools programme, the national curriculum, the MySchool website, the increase in funding for education, the health system changes, the tax review, the review of pensions that made life easier for recipients, the PPL scheme, the NBN, the Murray-Darling plan, gaining Australia a place at the G20, and so on it goes in a very, very long list – it would take too much space to record here.  But we are grateful.  Thank you. 

But for many your compassion for the less fortunate, your dedication to making this nation a better place, your passion for getting the job done, your ceaseless devotion to your work, your work ethic sometimes to the detriment of your health and well being, your determination against overwhelming odds, your willingness to stand up against powerful vested interests for the sake of the people, and your decency and fairness will be remembered by a grateful nation, sad that you left us so precipitously after all you had done.  Thank you Kevin – you are a good man.

So how has it all come to this?

Commentators point to communication problems, centralization of decision-making, inadequate consultation, poor political judgement, and lack of anticipation as the prime causes.


There are several elements in communication: the message, the messenger, the recipient and the media.

The message 

Too often the message was seen to be confusing.  Personally, as mentioned earlier, I have had no difficulty in understanding Rudd’s messages, but journalists became irritated by the repetitive phrases – ‘working families’, ‘in the national interest’ and so on; annoyed by his use of old-fashioned words such as ‘balderdash’, ‘bunkum’, and worst of all, ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’, which it labeled as ‘fake’ ockerism.  Having lived in Queensland including a stint in Nambour, I know these expressions were used there and at Eumundi where Rudd grew up.  But the media didn’t like them so it revolted, made them the issue and wrote about them endlessly.  There’s no accounting for the mindless infantilism of some journalists.  

Of course the central message was at times unclear to some.   On this blog site some of us have expressed the view that a specialized media unit was needed to craft easily understandable messages the public could and would assimilate, as the Government’s messages were not ‘cutting-through’.  Rudd’s inexperienced staff was not up to the job. On this blog site we suggested how the CPRS might be ‘sold’.  Yet not one journalist who wrote about lack of ‘cut-through’ suggested what messages would ‘cut-through’ – they just kept harping that they weren’t. I’m still wondering what these cut-through messages would look like, and asking if we’re talking about some fictional notion of ‘cut-through’ that nobody has much idea about.  The media is well and truly capable of talking about a non-existent entity as if it was as plain as a pikestaff.  It also had the temerity to say that the messages about the good things the government was doing were being ‘starved of oxygen’ by the Government’s ongoing travails, most recently the RSPT, when IT was deliberately doing the starving.  Talk about media hypocrisy! 

Early on, the media criticized Rudd endlessly for the lack of narrative in his message, but then turned round and criticized him for hyperbole, over promising, setting expectations too high – presumably that was too much narrative.  As argued in another piece on The Political Sword: The folly of putting a politician on a pedestal, we the public placed unrealistically high expectations on Rudd and became disappointed when the sheer weight of partisan politics and self-interested opposition crushed some of them.  It is generally accepted that a turning point for Rudd’s decline in popularity was when he deferred the CPRS until the end of the current Kyoto agreement in late 2012.  This was branded as a serious betrayal of trust after his ‘greatest moral and economic challenge of our time’ rhetoric, a theme the media pounded relentlessly until everyone had been indoctrinated with ‘Rudd’s broken promise’.  There was little mention of Opposition obstruction or that he had been let down at Copenhagen – only trenchant condemnation – it was clearly Rudd’s fault he had not delivered.

The messenger
The media labeled Rudd as robotic, endlessly spouting focus group-generated phrases.  By the time they had indoctrinated the public into thinking likewise, any substantive messages were easily overshadowed by the language Rudd used, language that the public had been programmed to despise and eventually ridicule.  It was a classic instance of media scapegoating which worked brilliantly for them. Every time Rudd spoke, the listener homed in on the language the messenger used, not the message.  Intimidated by shock jocks and the likes of Kerry O’Brien, in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophesy, Rudd became even more ‘robotic’, and when he showed some spirit in standing up for himself was accused of a ‘meltdown’.

The recipient

Although much of the repetition was designed to impact the busy homemaker and the tired worker who might catch only a fragment on TV at the end of a long day, because the media made such a noise about it, the repetition became the focus of the recipient, a classic example of media brainwashing and manipulation at work. 

The media

This blog site has as one of its prime aims the exposure of the pernicious influence on public thinking of much of the media, particularly the Murdoch outlets.  The media went out of its way to condition the mind of the electorate that Rudd did nothing but waffle, that he spoke gobbledygook, that he talked spin instead of substance, and that he had become a laughing stock.  That accomplished, is it any wonder that the people stopped listening, the ultimate death-knell for a politician.  And if they hadn’t done so already, the media’s repetition of ‘the voters have stopped listening’ ensured that those still doing so wondered why they were.  

Scapegoating is powerful.  We see it in families.  Once started, it is very hard to stop it escalating, let alone reverse it.  The media’s scapegoating of Rudd has been deplorable.  It would argue that all it did was expose Rudd’s weaknesses and foibles.  That is a cop-out.  No matter what defects Rudd had and still has, the media’s role in Rudd’s downfall cannot be underestimated.  It has been as shameful as it has been successful.  When will it start on Julia Gillard?

Of course the media would counter that Rudd did not show them due deference, but exploited them to his own advantage.  That has an element of truth but Rudd has found out the hard way that the media is powerful and punishing, and has contributed substantially to his political demise.

The media message was so persuasive that Labor members found that people in their electorates had stopping listening to Rudd, and had turned away from him so profoundly that they were no longer prepared to vote Labor.  They fled to the Greens, the Labor primary vote in the marginals as well as federally fell to levels incompatible with re-election.  A rout was looming, and no sign of it reversing was to be seen.  The only solution these members could see was to replace the one identified with this desperate situation – the Prime Minister.  This is what they did with clinical precision.

It is seen by many as ruthless and unfair – those responsible were convinced that to do nothing would have given Australia an Abbott-led Government, an alternative too horrifying to contemplate.

Centralization of decision-making

It is now established that Rudd’s modus operandi was control of all aspects of Government.  Although ministers did their work individually and have acknowledged that they were allowed to do so, the requirement was that every move had to be signed off in Rudd’s office even if it was going to Cabinet, and often that process was inadequate.  There was not enough sharing of responsibility, enough delegation, enough sharing of information and decision-making.

How did this occur?  Studies of Rudd’s past show that he has formidable intelligence and an uncommon capacity to assimilate vast amounts of information and come to a reasoned conclusion and a plan of action.  He has unbridled faith in his ability and brainpower.  So he sees no need to consult with others, as he believes he has the answers.  The matters which a Prime Minister has to deal with are so profoundly complex that no one person can possibly encompass all the facts, figures, wisdom, experience and foresight needed to fashion a rational plan and achieve a successful outcome.  This defect in Rudd seems to be longstanding, going back to his days as chief of staff for Wayne Goss.  It may not be remediable.  Rudd’s reaction to failure in any policy area was simply to ‘work harder’.

The upshot of this approach was alienation from colleagues who felt their work was not valued.  They felt anger at being overlooked, ignored or exploited.  The end result was the slowing of the process of governance.  There have been many media reports of the torpid process in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, something aptly described recently as chronic constipation of governance.

The same self-belief, coupled with disdain for Labor’s factional system, led Rudd to insist on selecting his own Cabinet ministers, and subsequently paying little attention to his backbench who found it difficult to engage with him.  It was those backbenchers, even more than factional heavyweights, who toppled Rudd, although the latter were involved in organizing the coup.  He found himself friendless among the wider parliamentary party.  The Abbott attempt to raise the spectre of ‘faceless’ men in Sussex Street running the show – who will forget the ‘36 faceless men’ mantra of forty years ago – will not succeed.  It is not the case; only we oldies remember that era.

Another outcome of centralization of decision-making, especially if the staff involved is inexperienced, is that anticipatory actions are stultified.  There are many who assert that many of the problems Rudd encountered in selling his policies resulted from lack of anticipation of the reaction of those affected.  The CPRS is quoted as a classic example. In his piece Thank you, Kevin, Bushfire Bill makes the telling analogy of ‘Rudd as engineer’ – if you make your product well enough, it will sell itself – but that is a delusion.  He also suggests that Kevin Rudd is an example of The Peter Principle: namely that: “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence."  There seems to be much evidence to support that.

In his Quarterly Essay: Power Trip, David Marr asserts that anger is Rudd’s most powerful motivating force.  This psychoanalysis is suspect, based partly as it seems to be on Rudd’s explosive reaction to what Marr had written about him.  If he had written that about me, I think my reaction might have been the same!  Therese Rein corrected Marr when she said, with tears in her eyes on that awful 60 Minutes interview by Tara Brown, that the one thing that motivated her husband was compassion.

So there is my assessment.  Many thousand words more could be written, but enough is enough.

So what do we say now?

What is the Rudd phenomenon?  

Although difficulty in communicating messages the Government wanted the people to hear was a major problem, and the centralization of power and control in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was debilitating, the role of the media in bringing about the downfall of our Prime Minister was as ugly as it was overpowering.  We shall never forget the disgraceful role of the Murdoch media and particularly The Australian, the paper that nominated Kevin Rudd as its Australian of the Year in January and then proceeded to relentlessly and shamelessly tear him down thereafter.  

While acknowledging his shortcomings, those of us who admire his many attributes and achievements, his passion and his compassion, pay tribute to him for all he has done for the people of Australia.  

To me, that encapsulates the real Rudd phenomenon.  Thank you, Kevin.

What do you think?

Thank you, Kevin

Well, after a good night's sleep and a bit of a think, count me in on the Julia side.

It seems Rudd isolated himself, and treated the caucus and the cabinet with seeming indifference.

Why this is so, I don't know. 

Could this have been his personal nature? 

Maybe he thought the parliamentary party needed training wheels until the government matured enough to look after itself? (He did have a very good record of not shedding ministers, after all). 

Maybe he knew what the factions would - and still might - get up to once in power and, in a reversal of the usual secularizing process, tried to put God-Rudd in place of the Party in MP's hearts. 

Or maybe he just never learnt anything from his time with Goss, or perhaps learnt too much from studying Whitlam (who in Rudd's mind might have been not frantic enough).

Perhaps he worked too hard and lost his judgement, losing sight of the forest for the trees.

Perhaps he was an engineer who wanted to make his product so perfect it'd sell itself (like a Cham-Wow! wunda-wipe). Then he, not a great spruiker with ability to talk in sound grabs, wouldn't have to.

Perhaps he's shy, or arrogant, or too modest to speak up (why wasn't he giving yesterday's speech every Thursday afternoon at 4 o'clock for the last 2 years?).

Or perhaps he just wasn't a politician, in the 'fully-rounded' sense of the word.

There are a thousand cliches that come to mind.

When he took over from Beazley I was about as disappointed then in losing Beazley as I have been over the past few days, losing Rudd. I'd personally gone into bat for Kim - as would have many here - for over three years. I worried that Beazley had been dealt a raw deal, that Rudd didn't have the oratorical skills to be a perfect attack dog, or the experience to get a drifting Labor Party behind him. In the most positive way possible, in turn I worried that Rudd was a nerd, more for his sake than testosterone's. I thought the macho Press Gallery (and that's just the women!) and cruel Labor hacks would tear him apart. Come to think of it, it all came true, of course, but with a famous victory to make it seem alright.

Rudd put iron discipline back into the Party, but the passion went AWOL. He used to tell us of the things he was passionate about, and he was, but it didn't come across as passion. It came across as bureaucracy, structure and politics by the numbers. Everything Rudd said - well, almost everything - sounded like someone had coached him, provided him with talking points. I know he was decent, hard-working, and yes, passionate. But towards the end we saw more of the former, and not enough of the latter. When David Marr wrote his piece I grabbed at it like a starving man. I thought to myself that at last someone else has seen what I wanted to see and had seen in Kevin Rudd: the anger, the fire in the belly. Maybe I wasn't fooling myself after all about Kevin, I thought.

But ultimately Rudd was someone whose passion was kept - had to be kept - always in check, almost as if he was scared to let it go off the leash. I'm the same with one of my dogs. If I let him go he'll get run over by a car for sure, in some mad terminal frenzy of street-crossing, trigged by seeing a cat (or thinking he does). He's his own worst enemy... as was Rudd.

Loyalty to the King is no bad thing. Loyalty, blind, excuse-making loyalty, where you argue until you're blue in the face for your man and his character... that's what politics should be about, or partly so. If we dumped our leaders as easily as we disposed of yesterday's newspapers, there'd be no continuity and no decency in politics, or in life. Perhaps Rudd was well-past his usefulness to the Party, but the Party owed him some momentum, some chance to get it right. I [i]do[/i] think they gave it to him. But it didn't do any good. As Kevin retreated into the PM&C [i]bunker[/i], access to him, advising him, imploring him to see what was happening, became next to impossible.

I agree with Marr that the most signal part of his now famous essay was where Rudd declared he would just "have to work harder" to achieve a victory in the election. I groaned when I read that sentence. I thought to myself that Kevin really didn't get it. No-one was questioning his work ethic. It was his direction (or rather lack of it) that worried them. He was leading Labor in grand circles, and when they arrived back where they started, they were more exhausted than when they started out. Labor MPs and ministers, unable to get to the boss to find out what was happening, had to finally get rid of him.

Rudd would have had a favourite anecdote, one where he illustrated the benefits of determination, grit and punishing attention to detail as helping him out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Perhaps it was in the 'off the record' section of Marr's piece, in that last conversation where Rudd let go at the essayist and told him what he really thought. We may never find out what it was. Whatever Rudd's favourite story about himself, one set of circumstances doesn't necessarily apply to all others as the ex-PM has just found out. Hard work when you've lost your direction doesn't always help. Sometimes it just means you've gone a little bit crazy. Over-work can do that.

Kevin should go home for a month and get a lot of sleep, reconnect with his family and with life and only then come back ready for whatever action Julia wants to give him. She shouldn't give him a task that will allow him to indulge himself too much. He'll only work himself to death, and in the process fail in the task. I don't know what the task will be but it should be simple and possess clear targets. That would be best for everyone, but most of all for Kevin.

In the end Kevin Rudd was the living embodiment of The Peter Principle: a person promoted beyond his level of competency. This doesn't mean I think he was an 'incompetent' person. It just means his skill set was no longer appropriate to the task. Whatever me might say today, of one thing I am sure... there was nobody else at the time - 2006 - suitable for the job (what would they have done to Julia if she had been elected leader in 2006... the thought is almost too awful to contemplate). 

Kevin had all the bullet-point attributes in spades - intelligence, charm, popularity, a good policy head, but came to lack a sense of perspective and a tolerance for other ideas. The more success he had the more he, and those in the immediate circle of staff around him, came to believe he was infallible. Still, despite the events of this week, there was no-one else more suitable in 2006 than Kevin Rudd. He got Labor over the line, despatched the hated Howard and all but one or two of his most egregious subordinates, and set down his Party's roots for the future.

In many ways, tremendously important ways, Rudd has been a successful Prime Minister. He won the election. He has preserved his ministry and seen it mature. He saw off a gaggle of Opposition Leaders and hangers on. He initiated ground-breaking policies, heading the country towards the 21st century and away from the backwards-looking Howard fantasies of Queen and Cricket. Indeed, many of these policies have succeeded and are now in place, functioning well. I won't list them. Anyone reading this will know what they are, the GFC triumph right at their head.

But there is someone suitable to take over now. Most importantly Rudd has prepared the ground for Julia Gillard. We have seen her blossom into a formidable politician. The rough edges are off her and she is a hard, tough, steely machine more than a match for any of her opponents... and more than a match for the Labor hacks who might think they have sway over her. 

Kevin Rudd held the line until the party caught up with him, morphing it from a loose rabble into a government. His mistake was to hold on too tightly and too long. I for one can forgive him easily and say to him, with love, "Kevin, job well done". It is up to him now to forgive us. 

I believe he's man enough to do it. There's an important bonus to it too. In doing so he will of needs be completing the most important task any person can possibly undertake: forgiving himself as well. 


Greetings fellow Swordians.  Today I'd like to report on a worrying trend which I have noticed creeping into political reportage of late in this country.  I am not quite sure how extensive it is yet across the country, only that I have noticed it increasingly here in Sydney on Channel Nine.  So I'd also like to know if anyone else has perceived it in their neck of the woods, and I'd also appreciate it if fellow Swordians could keep a Watching Brief to look for more examples of it, because there's one thing I do know, and that is the manifest nature of the Australian Press to behave as a herd, and once one outlet debuts a new idea for them all to follow it and push it to further extremes.

So let me just start by outlining one particular incident in this new trend, which I have christened: 'Gotcha! Politics'

On Thursday night on Channel Nine 6 pm News the newsreader, Peter Overton, in his initial summary of the night's top stories, referred to an upcoming 'Channel Nine Exclusive', “that exposes another one of Kevin Rudd's 'Broken Promises'”.  That teaser led me to expect that the Nine media organisation had done the hard yards of investigative journalism and had a scoop that exposed a heretofore unknown broken campaign promise.

With trepidation I sat and waited for the story to unfold.  I thought to myself, if it's such a big deal as to be bringing to light another broken election promise which Channel Nine have uncovered, they'll come out all guns blazing with it as their top story.  So with bated breath I waited.  It wasn't the top story.  Or the 2nd, or the 3rd.  It was the 4th story, and after an ad break!

Well, I thought, they must be going to prop Laurie Oakes up in his chair from Canberra to make the announcement of this momentous 'Exclusive'.

Thus it was to my ultimate bewilderment when, after the ad break, I, the viewer, was informed that this new 'Broken Promise' of the PM referred to the fact that Kevin Rudd had said to Dr Richard Phillips of Hornsby Hospital in NSW, in January this year, that he would visit the Public Hospital which Dr Phillips administers, and check out its dilapidated state of repair. Well, now for the scandalous part. By gum, it's June already and the Prime Minister has failed to keep his 'promise' to visit the run-down hospital, which we were shown in graphic detail, down to the last dust bunny in the corner of the wards.  We were then breathlessly informed, with a disapproving and disappointed tone in the voiceover from Peter Overton, that Dr Phillips had tried to contact the Prime Minister seven times already and had, as yet, not had the courtesy of one reply!

Now, this is where this story gets really interesting, and shows to me the extent to which media organisations in Australia are now attempting to manufacture the news and the political narrative, rather than simply reporting it.

As I said earlier, I was fully expecting this story to have been broken by Chief Political Reporter for Channel Nine News, Laurie Oakes.  He was nowhere to be seen.  Instead, this story was 'broken' by Ben Fordham, who, until as recently as last fortnight, had been a foot-in-the-door and ambulance-chasing 'journalist' (and I use the term advisedly), and fill-in compère of 'A Current Affair'!  Which is not to say that he doesn't have what it takes to be a serious political journalist, just that, looking at this specific example, that is not how his role is being developed by Channel Nine with respect to his political reporting.  Instead, what his presence on the federal political scene has heralded is the era of ‘Gotcha! Politics’, and the appearance on the scene of the ‘Gotcha!’ political journalist.

To see exactly what I mean I'll take you through the rest of the timeline of how this story unfolded.  So we started with the groundwork being laid by the newsreader, Peter Overton, creating, to me, a false impression that probably in parliament that day Kevin Rudd had been exposed by the Opposition, through forensic questioning in Question Time (well, you never know), as having broken another campaign promise.

Then, left to sit through the ad break we were left  on tenterhooks to reflect upon and reinforce to ourselves the meme of 'Rudd Government broken promises', which, to my mind, serves to build on the sense of resentment the electorate feels towards the PM and his government because of this.  At which point, after the ad break was over and the suspense had been built up sufficiently, the political ground tilled and fertilised, we were finally made privy to the story.  However, instead of a story from Canberra, we were dished up one which had been totally confected by Channel Nine News, their 'Exclusive', as they would have it styled, in cahoots with a doctor from Hornsby Public Hospital, and, I would not be surprised one bit to find out, with the federal Member for Berowra in the House of Representatives which covers the area in which Hornsby Hospital is located, one Phillip 'The Cadaver' Ruddock, and the Liberal Party of NSW.  For, as it turned out, this 'Exclusive' was a total tabloid current affairs-style beat-up, and Ben Fordham (son of media industry veteran and heavyweight, John Fordham), was just the man for the job, as the story mirrored exactly the confected outrage that 'A Current Affair' and 'Today Tonight' specialise in.  Except this time they weren't just attempting to scandalise over a dodgy Used Car Salesman, they were attempting to ensnare the Prime Minister of Australia in a totally contrived controversy of their-own mischievous making.

But Wait. There's more!

Following the Tabloid TV-esque wonky and gloomy and shaky hand-held camera shots of the dust bunnies and Band Aids holding together light switches above walls with crumbling painted surfaces, we had the extended interview with Dr Phillips himself, which, we were told, Channel Nine was 'privileged' to have been given (!?!) by the good doctor. Cough.

In exasperated tones, with appropriately stern and concerned expressions on the face of Master Fordham, we were informed by Dr Phillips that he had contacted the PM seven times since January about keeping his 'promise' to visit the hospital, and he had not yet received one reply from the PM or his office!

So, now we had not only the magnification of the 'Broken Promise' meme, but also the 'Imperious PM and Non-Responsive Office' characterisation tacked on for extra effect.

Guess what happened next?

Ben Fordham popped up in the Canberra press pack at the PM's Presser to announce that Paid Parental Leave had finally been passed by Parliament.

Guess what Ben Fordham asked about?

You got it.  Nothing to do with PPL, and everything to do with the PM's 'Broken Promise' with respect to Dr Phillips!  Groan. 

However, and thank goodness for the PM and his very smart 'Junior Woodchucks', they had come forearmed with the facts to this particular fight.  When Master Fordham, who seemed to have a camera team all to himself in tow, asked why the PM hadn't responded to the seven!!! requests from Dr Phillips to keep his promise, made back in January, to visit Hornsby Hospital, the PM calmly explained back to 'Master of the Universe' Fordham, that six of those seven communications had been via Twitter(!!!), and one by E-mail, which was the most recent, and which had been responded to promptly, with a visit having now been tee'd up to go and take a look at Hornsby Hospital.

Well, you'd think that that would've been enough to put Master Fordham and Channel Nine back in their boxes, the shallowness of their case having been exposed for the sham it was.  Well, you would be wrong.  This is the foot-in-the-door brand of political journalism that is being worked up here.  No backward steps are ever to be taken.  Instead, you take the response you have been given by the PM and develop a new line of condemnation and censure out of it.  'If at first you don't succeed...', and all of that.

I tell you, I sat there gobsmacked in front of my TV, as all this played out in front of me, on what is supposed to be the 6 pm NEWS Bulletin.  Because, as I said, Channel Nine weren't going to be satisfied here for one minute with their 'get' of the PM 'failing' to keep his 'promise' to visit Hornsby Hospital, and the implication that he had been dodging it because he would rather be seen only in neat and clean hospitals, as opposed to being filmed in a run-down hospital. No, it was onwards and upwards with the next condemnation to be heaped upon the 'beleaguered Prime Minister'. 

Wait for it.  This one is a doozy.

Channel Nine heaped outrage on top of scorn, due as a result of the PM's 'Broken Promise', because Kevin Rudd does not personally reply to every Tweet he gets on Twitter from twits like Dr Phillips!

Well I never!  The Prime Minister should be sacked forthwith!  I mean, the Premier of NSW, Kristina Kenneally had just the other day participated in a Twitter Debate, doncha know?  Ergo, communication by Tweet has now thus been legitimised, and the Prime Minister of this country ought to therefore be held to account for not responding to each and every one of his importuning constituents Tweets in real time.

How patently absurd and contrived!  But instructive, as it should, and probably has, put up in neon lights in the PM's office, just what lengths media organisations in this country are prepared to go to to trip up Kevin Rudd, using the tools of the new Web 2.0 media, and also the depths to which they are prepared to sink, in order to lay a trap for our good and kind-hearted, reformist PM, and to give the Press Gallery's pro forma anti-Rudd memes and mischaracterisations credence.

We therefore need to be alert and alarmed (ha, ha) about the new 'Gotcha Politics'.  Thus I put out a 'Call to Arms' to fellow Swordians to monitor this new development in their own media backyards and join with me in documenting each and every instance of this new type of political journalism, as I fear we haven't seen the last of it, and I doubly fear that the Liberals are behind it as well, as they seem to have vacated the floor of parliament in order to take their battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate four square into the media, with the media's help and complicity.

I don't like it!

And this woman knows all about the skullduggery, with the aid of the media, that the Liberal Party is capable of: I don't like it!  


Who cares about the next Newspoll?

Certainly those at The Australian newspaper do.  After all, they own Newspoll, and say they understand it better than anyone.  But there’s more – they value it as a heavy political weapon with which they flail this nation’s Prime Minister even when the poll shows only a modest decline in his popularity or his party’s polling, or even if his opponent has gained some ground, or even if the poll figures haven’t changed – then he is not making headway.

Does anyone else care?  Yes, political journalists, and not just those at News Limited, find excitement at any hint of an adverse movement.  It gives them an eagerly seized opportunity to critically analyse the meaning of the movements and the reasons behind them.  For this it seems they require little knowledge of statistics as evidenced by some of their innumerate and illogical conclusions.  Fortunately we have competent statisticians such as Possum on Pollytics who can put us straight.  Apart from their statistical analysis though, it’s their notion of what the stats mean that gives them free rein to put whatever interpretation on them they wish – in Alice in Wonderland style, ‘stats can mean whatever they want them to mean’.  Dennis Shanahan, The Australian’s commentator-in-chief on Newspoll, has a well earned a reputation for that.

Of course, as far as News Limited is concerned, no other poll can hold a candle to Newspoll.  Although their outlets will publish Nielsen poll results and its other favoured pollsters – Galaxy and Westpoll – so long as the results are adverse to the Government, it is rare for any News Limited outlet to mention Morgan polls, which have been around for much longer than the others, and the newer poll, Essential Media.  They get a guernsey only when their results are bad for Kevin Rudd and the Government.

But Newspoll is now being used in another way – as an anti-Rudd warhead to prospectively strike at him.  Take a look at what Peter van Onselen had to say in The Australian on June 14 in Rudd has a week to shape up: “Next week opens with another Newspoll and its findings - Labor's primary vote as well as the Prime Minister's personal ratings - will determine whether passive concern about Rudd's performance turns into active lobbying for Gillard to take over. So far, the powerbrokers are unmoved, but they will closely watch Newspoll before re-evaluating their positions.”  He concludes confidently: “Although Rudd does have options to remain master of his own destiny, he must face up to the disempowering reality that his survival until the next election is largely out of his hands.  Rudd's future is beholden to the decision his deputy makes, and the way the polls fall. That is a far cry from the all-conquering hero who beat Australia's second-longest-serving prime minister less than three years ago.”  Note the phrase ‘the way the polls fall’.  Don’t be taken in though, Vex News puts paid to van Onselen’s predictive brilliance in Peter van Onselen: political scientist or quack Read it for a sobering laugh.

Dennis Shanahan makes this comment on June 12 in The Australian in Change in the air as Labor thinks defeat“Rudd is not the only Labor MP contemplating a first-term loss. The polling universally has Labor's primary vote in the 30s and desperately relying on an unrealistically high Greens vote of 16 per cent to deliver enough second preferences to ward off defeat. There is ample polling to suggest Labor could lose enough marginal seats in Queensland alone to lose the election.” and “Another Labor MP summed up the Newspoll surveys in nine Labor-held marginal seats in the resources states of Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia, showing a 26 per cent shift in the way people were likely to vote at the next election: ‘Those numbers give Rudd about a month as leader…before he's replaced’." 

In both these instances Newspoll is quite extravagantly being given stature it cannot deserve.

The problem Labor has is that News Limited, and indeed journalists generally, have elevated opinion polls, and particularly Newspoll, to the status of reliable predictors of political outcomes, despite the fact that their predictive consistency is questionable.  So they dwell breathlessly on each new Newspoll and immediately make judgements about what it means for the Government.  All other factors, such as past accomplishments, current policy initiatives and plans for the nation, have been relegated to insignificance against the power of Newspoll.

So what should we, who have no vested interest in Newspoll, react when it arrives?  How much credence should we give it?  How much predictive power should we attribute to it?  In my opinion, we should ignore it.  It's just another opinion poll.  That is easier said than done, as we know those who have a vested interest in it will ascribe great significance to it. 

What should we expect it to say?  Given the Nielsen poll of last week where Labor was well behind, and the modest leads Labor has in the latest Morgan and Essential Media polls, can we expect the next Newspoll to be significantly different?  No.  So let’s not get exercised if it looks much like the current run of polls.  Don’t be put off by the van Onselen assertion that the next Newspoll will have profound implications for Rudd’s future.  Knowing that there is unlikely to be any great improvement in Rudd’s or Labor’s ratings by next week, he is setting the scene for another article – ‘Rudd makes no headway’ ‘Labor bogged down with record low primary vote’, or ‘Rudd continues to slide’; certainly not ‘Rudd rebounds’.  We can see it coming Peter and know you will use it to polish your guru status.  Remember though that you’ll have plenty of competition for top guru position from Dennis Shanahan, Glenn Milne, Andrew Bolt and a bevy of like-minded writers.

It is plain as a pikestaff that there is in progress a slow but unremitting political assassination of this nation’s leader by large sections of the media – the Murdoch media, the Murdoch influenced ABC, by some independent journalists, and by a horde of venomous anti-Rudd bloggers who inhabit sites such as those run by Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Glenn Milne and the like.  Even moderate journalists attract the same vitriol to their own sites.  The level of antagonism, hatred and malevolence is frightening.  They are determined that Rudd must be defeated, and Labor defeated with him and exiled to the opposition benches for a decade.  One has only to look at the daily media to see this in abundance. On Gutter Trash, reb asks: Is The Australian running The Country? and cites some evidence that it thinks it is or believes it ought to be.

For a man who has enjoyed record levels of popularity ever since he became Opposition Leader, why has there been this dramatic turn around?  Most observers attribute this largely to Rudd’s deferral of the ETS until the end of the current Kyoto agreement that expires at the end of 2012.  Others believe his suspension of processing of Afghan and Sri Lankan refugees has been a factor.  Those are plausible explanations for the loss of support of a group of Labor voters who hold those actions as reprehensible and who have fled to the Greens.  In a May 10 piece: The folly of putting a politician on a pedestal I suggested that high, sometimes unrealistic expectations have been placed on our leader and that when circumstances result in these expectations not being fulfilled, understandably there is bitter disappointment.  But this doesn’t explain the extreme venom, hatred and ridicule that is being heaped on Rudd’s head.  Disappointment, even disillusionment is understandable, not hatred and loathing.  I believe there is an entirely different reason for this.

Those who exhibit these unpleasant attributes will quote as justification for their position what they see as Labor’s many failings – insulation and BER problems plus a long list of misdemeanours that they have collected as boilerplate to trot out on every occasion.  But there’s more to it than that.  Misdemeanours, even incompetence, do not warrant hatred and loathing.  These wholly unworthy attitudes do not result from mistakes no matter how grievous they are painted to be. 

I believe they result from Kevin Rudd’s refusal to comply with the media’s narrative that a leader, while entitled to a brief honeymoon, is definitely not entitled to a prolonged one, one that goes on at near stratospheric levels for almost three years.  Repeated predictions from the likes of Dennis Shanahan, Glenn Milne, Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt that the Rudd honeymoon was over, or almost over, or about soon to be over came to nothing for three long years.   Rudd orbited high above them, defying their predictions and showing scant respect for their judgements, for them as journalists, and for their media outlets.  He incurred their intense wrath for showing them to be repeatedly wrong, and for showing well-earned disdain for them, their editors and their papers.  There are few situations that evoke as much anger, even loathing, as being shown to be wrong again and again, and being treated with contempt in the process.  Now that the honeymoon has at long last come to an end, revenge is what they want.  They want to rub the nose of this loathsome Rudd in the dirt and keep doing so until they smother him politically or until their desire for retribution is satiated, whichever is sooner.  They show no sign of relenting.  They are going in for the kill – they must, for should Rudd rise phoenix-like once more, should he defy their predictions of and desire for his political annihilation, that would be a supreme affront to them.  It would heighten their anger and frustration and intensify their loathing.  Life would be intolerable.  So it is a fight to the death.  Someone has to lose.  Fearful it may be them, they are determined it will be Rudd and Labor.

To return to “Who cares about the next Newspoll?”, we know who does, who desperately want it to be poor for Rudd and Labor, who want it to confirm the narrative they are creating of a decaying, incompetent, useless, do nothing Government with a hopeless leader that must be removed for the sake of the country; but most of all they want at long last to enjoy the retaliation and the vengeance they have for so long waited.  

Let’s not be sucked into the vortex they are creating.  Let’s not expect much from the next Newspoll, and let’s anticipate a continuation of trenchant criticism and prophesies of doom and gloom for Rudd and Labor from the usual suspects. 

But let’s rise above the clamour and look to the future when the RSPT is settled, the election campaign is under way, the Government’s achievements and plans are there for all to see, Tony Abbott’s policies are on display and his extreme views exposed, and well prepared ads are appearing to inform the electorate.  To use expressions journalists so enjoy, let’s wait for that ‘circuit breaker’ which will change the ambience, give some ‘clear air’, provide some ‘oxygen’ and set a path for the re-election of the Rudd Government that has still much to accomplish in reforming and rejuvenating our nation that was let down during the Howard years when the reforms in health, education, industrial relations, infrastructure and tax that were needed for the growth and prosperity of our country, were ignored.

What do you think?