The Gillard - Rudd comparative scorecard

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Saturday, 25 February 2012 22:52 by Ad astra
Among the countless words that have been written and uttered since the contest between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd for leadership became overt, where have you read a comprehensive comparison of the two? All we have had is brief written accounts, short interviews, multiple sound bites of how the leaders have performed in the role of Prime Minister, and over the last few days several revealing articles, mainly about Kevin Rudd.

Kevin Rudd’s announcement of his resignation has opened floodgates of recrimination against him, much of it from his colleagues, who have suppressed what they have felt for a long while out of loyalty to a sitting cabinet minister in a very senior role. Many have doubted the wisdom of colleagues bagging each other so publically. No doubt that will bring its own reward and penalty, but it was done to counter what many politicians and journalists now openly assert has been a longstanding and continuing campaign of destabilization of the Gillard Government by a member of the Inner Cabinet, Kevin Rudd.

In such a contest, exaggeration is unavoidable as each side presses their points. Cherry-picking points to bolster arguments is the norm. We hear the bad things but not the good from each side.

I hope what follows is a balanced appraisal of the two who would want to be Prime Minister. I have identified a number of attributes that it my opinion a Prime Minister of this country ought to be judged against. You may not agree with them all, and may feel others ought to be added. Use the ‘comments’ facility to express your view. I have ordered them in what I believe is roughly their importance. Under each attribute, I give my assessment of how each of the two candidates has fared. Again, express your agreement or otherwise.

I have placed this attribute first because I believe that without courage no one can survive the travails of prime ministership for long. It is not just having the courage on one’s convictions, but also the courage to implement them against opposition and in the face of adversity.

Julia Gillard
Of all her attributes, courage stands out. She has faced opposition to virtually every reform and every piece of legislation, from Tony Abbott and the Coalition, and in many instances from a hostile media more intent on finding fault than reporting the details of the legislation. Despite having to negotiate every move through a minority parliament, she has succeeded in passing 269 pieces of legislation, some of them major reforms in climate change, minerals tax, health, health insurance, disability, education and so on the list goes. She has had the courage of her convictions and the courage to convert them into legislation, without one failure.

Her courage in facing off the hostility of the media, which in many instances has been more vicious than that coming from the pugilistic Tony Abbott, has become legendary. Her refusal to be intimidated by rude journalists is welcome and lauded by her supporters.

She warrants high commendation for courage under fire and in the face of persistent hostility.

Kevin Rudd
When he became Opposition Leader we were impressed with his convictions, especially about climate change: “the greatest moral, economic, social and environmental challenge of our time”. He began work on this well before becoming PM and then implemented action designed to bring about an Emissions Trading Scheme, about which he successfully negotiated a compromise with the then Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, only to have his legislation frustrated by the overturn of Turnbull and the installation of Tony Abbott, one vehemently opposed to the ETS, elected on a platform of destroying it.

Rudd had plenty of courage then, but this evaporated in the face of resistance from focus groups and opinion polls, so much so that in the wake of the disappointment of Copenhagen, he decided to put an ETS on the back burner, convinced as he was, that it was an electoral liability. There are many still convinced that had he gone to a double dissolution, he would have won the endorsement of the electorate. But his courage failed him, albeit prompted by some around him. That failure is regarded by many commentators as marking the beginning of Rudd’s decline. The electorate seemed disappointed that he set aside, seemingly so easily, this matter of high principal.

Rudd’s courage was on display when he delivered his Apology to Indigenous People. Only those with the hardest of hearts were not moved with Rudd’s sincerity and eloquence.

He exhibited courage and conviction when handling the global financial crisis, which he and his inner team handled with consummate skill and effectiveness, the result of which is there for all to see in the robust state of our economy. He deserves high commendation.

He had the courage to initiate health reforms, but not sufficient to see them through, leaving an incomplete change over which Premiers were left wrangling. Julia Gillard has taken the reforms to their next stage.

He had the ‘courage’ (albeit ‘crazy brave’) to introduce a Resource Super Profits Tax, but he did so with such meagre consultation that it was largely rejected by the resources sector, forcing a major reshaping of the tax. His courage failed him as he tried to push this reform through. He seemed to misjudge the electorate, whom he thought would embrace the idea of levying taxes on wealthy miners and passing it onto the people, and left the reform incomplete and in disarray. It was Julia Gillard who had the courage to renegotiate it and get it through parliament as the Minerals Resource Rent Tax against Coalition resistance and a hostile industry campaign.

In summary, while Julia Gillard has shown, and still does show outstanding courage in going about her work, Kevin Rudd’s early exhibition of courage left us with high hopes, but disappointment when he seemed to lose his nerve.

This attribute is related to the first. If we define ‘character’ as ‘a disposition to express behavior in consistent patterns across a range of situations’, it can be taken to include honesty, integrity, loyalty, and good behaviors or habits.

Julia Gillard
It may be an oxymoron to talk about an ‘honest politician’, so let’s settle for shades of honesty and integrity. In my opinion, Julia Gillard strives to be honest. She is often accused by the media of dishonesty, of being shifty, of looking guilty, especially during media appearances when confronted unexpectedly with leaked information that embarrasses. The recent Four Corners program is an example. In these situations, it falls to the observer’s judgement; those who wish to read dishonesty do so with conviction; others are prepared to see things in a more charitable light.

Her enemies in Opposition and in the media have applied the tag ‘liar’ to her. Who in this country has not heard Alan Jones’ ‘Ju-liar’? Once applied, such a label sticks, and is reinforced every time it is repeated, which is nauseatingly often. For those who mindlessly accept this label as true, almost every utterance she makes is heard through that filter, and confirms it.

She is accused by Kevin Rudd of lying to him in that fateful conversation the night before his removal, by reneging on what he saw as a promise to give him until October to recover his stature. As only three were at that conversation, we may never know what the truth really was. Those who see her as a liar will believe Rudd; others will believe her. We can but leave it at that.

Similarly, loyalty seems oxymoronic when applied to politicians, but we do see it in varying degrees. It appears that it was loyalty to a sitting senior Cabinet minister doing important international work that inhibited Rudd’s colleagues from exposing his bizarre work patterns and his non-consultative and at times dismissive behaviour towards his colleagues. So we were left with generic phrases such as ‘the Government has lost its way’ or ‘was paralysed’ to ‘explain’ why Rudd was ousted. Only now do we hear the extraordinary way in which he worked, frenetically rushing from one task to another, seldom completing any of them, always late, disrespectful of others’ time and opinions, and demanding of staff while discarding or ignoring their efforts. It was only the loyalty of colleagues that shielded Rudd from exposure; only now when he has resigned as Foreign Minister and he is clearly out to regain the prime ministership, have we been told the facts.

Kevin Rudd
In contrast, if one can believe the stories emanating from close Cabinet colleagues and from journalists, Kevin Rudd has been consistently disloyal to his party since he was deposed. While his supporters will justify his actions as reasonable after Julia Gillard’s ‘betrayal’ of him, how can they justify the treachery against his own beloved Labor party that emerging stories portray? There seems little doubt now that the leak to Laurie Oakes that derailed Julia Gillard’s 2010 election campaign came from Rudd or one of his associates. The leak was designed to seriously damage the PM, but Rudd must have known it would damage Labor’s re-election chances, as indeed it did, to the point of Labor not having a majority. Did he want Labor to lose so as to demonstrate that they couldn’t win without him, an assertion he is now putting about as his rationale for trying to wrest leadership from the PM?

There are many other instances of Rudd’s white-anting of the PM. He has backgrounded many journalists and editors that he would make a bid for leadership and a second one if he failed, something that has not been denied by them. Journalists exaggerate, but they don’t fabricate such stories. He is reported to have sabotaged legislation the Government is proposing. One example is his alleged negotiation with representatives of the pokie industry to water down the Government’s proposed legislation. When a senior minister from inner Cabinet is actively eroding his own party’s legislative program for his own ends, it is gross disloyalty and betrayal. He does not deny that he has been in touch with journalists but says that he will not reveal what dealings he had with them. This weekend he refused to authorize them to reveal the existence of such meetings if they had occurred, tantamount to admitting they did. His supporters will deny the validity of these accusations, but there seems little evidence to dispute their authenticity.

Such disloyalty and treachery is reprehensible in the extreme - such actions in wartime would be considered treason.

On the loyalty front, Kevin Rudd scores very poorly. In my opinion, Julia Gillard does much, much better.

This attribute is important in this leadership contest, as Kevin Rudd has nominated the issue of ‘trust’ as the key element in his announcement that he will contest the leadership. He said: "Rightly or wrongly, Julia has lost the trust of the Australian people. Starting on Monday I want to start restoring that trust.” It is a reprise of Howard’s tactic that worked so well for him in 2004; no doubt Rudd hopes it will for him too.

The caucus will need to assess the validity of his assertion and the plausibility that he could restore trust. He has pleaded to the people of Australia to press their local members to support him on this basis.

While initially Kevin Rudd was seen as a visionary, a fresh new face with an abundance of ideas, it gradually dawned on even his greatest admirers that the vision, though high sounding, was not being translated consistently into outcomes. In his later years, he found a way of deferring action, sometimes seemingly paralyzed by indecision. We noted how in his last year as PM his confidence waned when confronted by tough interviewers like Kerry O’Brien. He seemed intimidated. The lucid speaker morphed into a hesitant one with cliché-ridden talk. Was that because he had so little to show to back up his rhetoric?

In contrast, Julia Gillard has been pilloried by the media for having no vision. ‘What does she stand for’ became the catch cry. Yet over and again she has spoken of her vision – a fair and prosperous country with opportunity for all, a great education and skills training to equip everyone for a rewarding job, a robust economy, support for small business, fair workplaces, a reformed health system, action on climate change – need I go on – you have heard it over and again.

Julia has a vast and thrilling vision for Australia and all its people; if only the media would facilitate its promulgation instead of tearing it down, everyone would know about it.

Competence and management style
Competence is expected from anyone in high office. Competence is related to management style and pattern of work. It is here that one of the crucial differences between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd is obvious.

Julia Gillard
She has a reputation for hard work, persistence, a methodical work pattern characterized by purpose, stability, consistency, discipline, and tenacity until the job is done. Her record for getting things done and getting legislation through a minority government is legendary. Her performance speaks for itself. Her negotiating skills have enabled her to get through legislation in parliament that has previously been impossible – means testing of the health insurance rebate is a recent example.

Two hundred and sixty nine bills passed, many encompassing historic policy reforms, is a laudable achievement.

Kevin Rudd
His accomplishments in handling the GFC and in initiating work on climate change have been acknowledged. His Apology will remain one of his supreme achievements. His expertise in international relations is accepted; he has been a fine Foreign Minister. What a pity he has resigned from this post; we can ill afford to lose such talent.

But these accomplishments have been overshadowed by his way of working and dealing with others. He is supremely intelligent, but every description of Rudd’s work pattern reveals chaotic, dysfunctional, unstable, unpredictable behaviour. He is a control freak. His documentation was said to be disorderly and often incomplete and his manner of dealing with it erratic. His disdain for most of his colleagues, his unwillingness or incapacity to involve them in decision making, his habitual lateness for important meetings and his disregard for those he kept waiting, his irregular hours, the demands he made on his colleagues and staff, yet his indifference to their response to his demands, have earned him a reputation for being an unremittingly difficult colleague, and an almost impossible person with which to work.

He seems to have a boundless capacity for work and can live with just a few hours sleep. This was seen as a laudable trait until it was gradually realized that it was not accompanied by a steady flow of work completed on time. Rhetoric abounded to coincide with the media cycle but there were disappointingly small outcomes. Soon the slogan ‘all talk, no action’ was coined and repeated endlessly by both the Coalition and the media.

When it comes to productivity, the product of competence and management efficiency, Julia Gillard wins hands down.

This is where Julia Gillard reigns supreme. Her cabinet colleagues tell of the smoothness of her Cabinet meetings, her capacity to include all who can contribute, her skill at fruitful relationships, her willingness to listen, the warmth of her personality, her friendliness.

These attributes are in stark contrast to those of Kevin Rudd, who seems afflicted with virtually the opposite of all of these. The result in his later years was a dysfunctional and at times a paralysed government, an ineffective Cabinet system, and an impotent PM.

Communication skills;
Julia Gillard
Our PM has been lampooned for ‘not being able to get the message across’; more charitable journalists concede that she has many good messages to sell, but insist she fails continually. Why is this so? Is it her ocker drawl, or her frequent repetition of some phrases that grate, or her non-verbal signals, or her schoolmarmish approach to questions, or her dress? Is it what she says or how she says it? To me all this remains a mystery – I have never had any trouble understanding every word she utters. If I were speaking, I would use less repetition, but that simply reflects my style, and who is to judge what is the best style. Journalists certainly think they can and mark the PM down.

She is said to be charming and personable among small gatherings, and the TV clips we see bear this out. But in more formal settings and press conferences she is different and according to the pundits, ineffective. At her recent Adelaide press conference to announce the ballot for leadership, I thought she spoke very well, almost entirely off-the-cuff, and answered many questions, some quite rude, with clarity and laudable brevity. What else do journalists or the public, want?

Kevin Rudd
The contrast with Rudd is stark. He is a brilliant communicator, whether in supermarkets or on the big stage. He has a pleasantly resonant voice, a good turn of phrase, a capacity to write good speeches for big occasions – remember his ‘Apology’ speech – and a sense of place and timing that makes him popular with his audiences and the people at large. He wins hands down over Julia Gillard on public speaking.

I believe this is why he rates so well in the polls as the preferred PM. People at large like him. He is a ‘hail fellow, well met’ who is thronged in public places. People want to touch him and talk with him. He is almost messianic, something not lost on Kevin himself.

Poll addiction
I consider the addiction of political parties, journalists and the media with polling, a pox on our political system, and wrote about this in How opinion polls poison politics. Much of the contemporary turmoil is the direct result of polling, polling which shows Kevin Rudd consistently ahead of Julia Gillard, and Tony Abbott, as preferred Labor leader. There has been a spate of them this weekend showing the same thing, but not all that different from previous polls. But what do they signify? In my opinion they signify approval of the Kevin Rudd they know, the one they have seen in shopping centres, in the street, waving as he gets into cars, in hospitals, outside church, with his lovely family, in arranged ‘pressers’, or in celebrity TV slots. But there is another Kevin Rudd that they don’t know, because little about the other Kevin has reached the general public, kept hidden by his colleagues and media somewhat reluctant to expose some of the nasty side. Now that Rudd has challenged though, the veil has been lifted, and colleagues and journalists feel liberated to tell all. And it’s not pretty.

David Marr in his Quarterly Essay: Power Trip. The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd says: “Rudd had sold himself to the Australian people as a new kind of leader: a man of intellect and values out to reshape the future. If he isn’t that, people are asking, what is he? And who is he? … Millions of words have been written about him since he emerged from the Labor pack half a dozen years ago, but Rudd remains hidden in full view.” That Essay powerfully details Rudd’s pattern of work and behaviour. I could scarcely bring myself to believe it when it appeared in June 2010, such was my faith in Rudd, but sadly what Marr said has turned out to be the case. He repeated his claims in Friday night’s Lateline. Read the transcript here. Malcolm Farr too had much to say on the same show, confirming Rudd’s backgrounding of journalists and business people against Julia Gillard’s legislative program, describing her to a senior businessman as an ‘f bomb (inaudible) bitch’. There are now strong suspicions he or his agent leaked the story to Laurie Oakes, who incidentally, perhaps feeling somewhat chastened about what his leak did to the Gillard 2010 election campaign, has featured an unflattering secondhand story about Rudd’s behaviour in his regular column.

Then there was an exposé by James Button, who was Rudd’s speechwriter for a while, in The Age National Times of 25 February that painted a most unflattering picture of his chaotic patterns of work in We need to talk about Kevin . Here’s just one paragraph: “..Rudd's prime ministership failed, and the failure was, above all, his own. The story of his government, and of its end, has still not been fully told. The consequence has been deep damage to Australians' faith in politics and in government.” He goes on to describe the chaotic Rudd – the Mr Hyde. Anyone still needing to be convinced of this should read the whole article.

Finally, can anyone explain to me why intelligent politicians believe that Kevin Rudd can lead them to victory based on contemporary popularity polls, taken eighteen months out from an election, and reflecting only the public’s opinion of the Kevin they know. What would they say if they really knew the other Kevin, the one who found himself incapable of governing? In my view, these polls are meaningless as predictors, and to base voting for a leader on them is grotesque and stupid to boot. And what is the point of victory under Rudd if he is incapable of governing because of his personality, which he cannot change? These polls are simply personality contests; Monday’s ballot is about who can govern best.

Where does that leave us?
As a strong supporter of Kevin Rudd from the outset, I for one found it difficult to accept the emerging stories of his dysfunctional behaviour, especially after he started so well. I did not want to believe them. But believe them I now must. Was he like that all along? I suspect so; it just took us two years to find that out.

From what I hope you will see as an objective analysis, it is my unavoidable conclusion that Julia Gillard is the only one properly equipped to govern this nation. Kevin Rudd is not. I hope caucus agrees.

What do you think?