Rudd and Abbott: saviour of their parties

Two of the three ex-prime ministers who were deposed by their own political party have been in the news in recent weeks. Kevin Rudd requested backing from the Coalition government to bid for the Secretary-General position at the United Nations and Tony Abbott claimed there are factional divisions in the NSW Liberal Party. On face value, both men are using the media to further their own ends. To observers of Australian politics, this really shouldn’t be a surprise. 

While Rudd’s campaign was probably always going to be unsuccessful according to others, on the face of it he does offer the UN some demonstrated leadership ability in trying circumstances — such as the GFC when Australia was the only developed economy that continued to expand during the late 2000’s. Certainly he also has some less redeeming character traits as well — some of which were aired in public when the ALP deposed him as prime minister.

Abbott made a number of claims about factions and backroom lobbying in the NSW Liberal Party, despite Prime Minister Turnbull’s claim to the contrary.

In spite of Abbott probably airing the ‘dirty linen’ in public for his own perceived advantage, he is correct. In any organisation there is usually a difference of opinions on a host of issues, with some being convinced that policy and practice should change to reflect current society/meet differing expectations and so on, while others will suggest that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sometimes the discussion on a combined position is amicable; mostly it isn’t. It also stands to reason that if you can influence parliamentarians — a benefit of being a member of a political party — you could have a better chance of ensuring a particular law of the land reflects some advantage to your business or personal position — so the stakes can be pretty high. Abbott, to his credit, did ban lobbyists from holding organisational positions in the Liberal Party (suggesting there could be a conflict of interest) early in his prime ministership:
One of Mr Abbott's first acts as prime minister was to rule that party officials could not lobby his government, a move mirrored by then-NSW premier Barry O'Farrell.
Rudd too changed the rules of the ALP after he was brought back to the prime ministership in 2013. Effectively he ensured that there was only a small number of opportunities to change the leadership; the Daily Telegraph claimed at the time that it was an attempt to shore up Rudd’s leadership; probably a pretty good assumption.

In a similar way, Fairfax Media claims Abbott’s statement:
… comes as Mr Abbott's conservative-right faction struggles with increasing irrelevance in NSW, where the moderate faction has become dominant, led by key figures such as party president Trent Zimmerman and lobbyist Michael Photios.
So the rule changes orchestrated by both men could also be construed as attempts to maintain or increase their personal longevity and power within their respective political parties. On the face of it, there is nothing new to see here. However, lets dig a little deeper, there are almost certainly unintended consequences in play here. Rudd and Abbott really are pretty similar. Both men were ruthless as opposition leaders. Rudd was seen as being in touch with the majority of the population and an example of generational change from the days of John Howard and his long term government. ‘I’m Kevin from Queensland and I’m here to help’ went down in folklore and contrasted sharply with Prime Minister Howard’s last term where his ideological position on workplace rights lost him a lot of support.

Abbott became opposition leader during the initial debate around a mechanism for the pricing of carbon emissions. While later demonstrated to be completely false, visions of $100 lamb roasts and entire cities being shut down due to the impacts of the ‘carbon tax’ that Abbott would rescind on day one certainly grabbed the mind of the public.

On top of that, both men were ‘stop gap’ leaders. Rudd was ‘unaligned’ according to the ALP’s system of factions and took over from Kim Beasley who is often cited as the best prime minister Australia never had. Beasley accepted the position of ambassador to the United States when offered the positon by Rudd and survived the transition to an Abbott government seemingly unscathed. As he was ‘unaligned’, Rudd really didn’t have the support of any of the established factions of the ALP, having arrived in federal parliament via the Diplomatic Corps and some time as Queensland ALP premier Wayne Goss’ Chief of Staff. (Goss was the person who led the ALP to victory after a number of decades of predominately National Party rule by Bjelke-Petersen and others). Rudd’s time as prime minister commenced late in 2007; his popularity ratings sank to a position where the ALP decided to remove him from power in June 2010. Some of the reasons for his drop in popularity were supposed to be because of his management style, the actions he took during the Global Financial Crisis, refugee processing and the lack of progress on emissions trading legislation. The ALP reinstated Rudd into the prime ministerial role in 2013 and he lost the subsequent election to Abbott.

Abbott won a party room leadership showdown in 2009 by one vote over his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull. The leadership contest was opened due to differences over climate change policy — Turnbull was prepared to support the Rudd government’s Emissions Trading Scheme; Abbott wasn’t.

The Coalition under Abbott and the ALP under Gillard obtained 72 seats each in the 2010 election. According to contemporary media reports, Abbott begged the three independent cross-benchers to allow him to become prime minister – even his opposition to emissions trading was negotiable according to Tony Windsor, one of the independent MP’s involved in the discussions:
"But ... Tony Abbott on a number of occasions said that he would do absolutely anything to gain government - anything," Mr Windsor told Sky News.

"One could draw a conclusion from that that if we pulled a tight rein and said 'Well, you've got government if you put a carbon price on' he would agree with it - that was the inference from his statements."

Mr Windsor said he had made a "character judgment" about Mr Abbott after the discussions.

"He actually begged for the job ... (he said) 'I will do anything to get this job'," Mr Windsor said.
It seems both Rudd and Abbott are the personalities who will do anything to reach a goal or shore up a position. Now let’s look at why this is relevant in August 2016. When Rudd achieved victory over Howard and Abbott achieved victory over Rudd, they were in the pantheon of glory within their respective political parties. As the opinion polls went south (and the other side was suddenly looking like a winner), there was a reassessment of their capabilities; the respective party rooms came to the conclusion that their leadership was untenable in the long term.

Potentially a believer in the axiom to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, Rudd was kept in the Cabinet by his successor Julia Gillard. History suggests that Gillard didn’t keep Rudd close enough, leading to a challenge in 2013 where Rudd was re-installed as prime minister. One of the things Rudd did to the ALP rules subsequent to his re-installation was to institute a requirement that the parliamentary leader of the ALP be elected by polls of not only those in parliament, but the broader ALP membership. Rudd claimed he decided to: ‘
“. . .democratise the party for the future.

''Each of our members now gets to have a say, a real say in the future leadership of our party. Decisions can no longer simply be made by a factional few," he told reporters in Balmain.
While the statement is true enough — all ALP members now have a vote on the leadership of the Federal Parliamentary Party — subsequent to the 2013 election Anthony Albanese won the ‘ALP members’ vote and Bill Shorten won the ‘parliament’ vote which was held due to an election defeat. Obviously, while all ALP members are equal, Caucus has more say.

As we all know, Abbott was rolled by his party room in 2015 (it couldn’t be because it seemed to work so well when the ALP did it, could it?) and for a while Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition’s approval figures, according to the opinion polls, were stratospheric. Accordingly, Shorten and the ALP’s polling figures went down by a similar level.

The benefit Shorten inherited from Rudd was that it would have taken his resignation, an election loss or a 75% vote of no confidence by the ALP Caucus to topple Shorten. If there were any ALP ‘bedwetters’ (to coin a phrase) in late 2015, they probably realised the hurdles required to change the opposition leader were almost insurmountable and decided (publicly anyway) to grin and bear it. It’s now also history that Shorten went on to lead the ALP to the 2016 election, suffering a narrow loss which was a better than expected result.

Abbott’s recent disclosure regarding factions in the Liberal Party probably didn’t surprise anyone. Turnbull’s claim last October that the Liberal Party in NSW was one big happy family was treated with the ridicule it probably deserved by those that should have some idea of the reality (the video above was published widely when it occurred). In the words of The Guardian:
“Tony Abbott has warned that lobbyists holding positions as power brokers in the Liberal party creates the potential for corruption.”
“Some of these factional warlords have a commercial interest in dealing with politicians whose preselections they can influence,” Abbott said.

He said this created a “potentially corrupt position”. “The best way to see off the factionalists is to open up the party — the more members we’ve got, the harder it is for the factional warlords to control.

“There are people not on the state executive who caucus regularly on the phone and face-to-face with people who are on the executive to try and get pre-cooked outcomes.”

Abbott said he wanted to empower the membership by letting them choose Liberal candidates for parliament. The call for more democratic preselection is likely to re-open a debate between moderates and conservatives over how candidates are chosen.
Abbott’s opinion seems to be that if the process of preselection within the Liberal Party is opened up, and dare we say made more ‘democratic’, the party will preselect those whose opinions are shared by the majority of the Liberal Party members in the electorate. He may believe that more ‘conservative’ people would be elected but there is no guarantee that outcome would occur, just as Rudd’s changes to the ALP rules didn’t save his leadership.

Rudd was probably trying to cement himself as the parliamentary leader of the ALP in 2013. Abbott is probably trying to ensure that more ‘conservative’ Liberal Party members are given a chance to enter parliament ensuring that he has a greater number of like-minded people around him, improving the chances of a second ‘Abbott era’.

Both interventions, however, have the effect of opening up both major political parties in areas where they have been accused of pandering to sectional interests. While Abbott obviously thinks he can influence ‘conservative’ Liberals to a greater extent than the more numerous ‘moderate’ faction, it is not a fait accompli that the ‘moderate’ majority would send more ‘conservatives’ to Canberra.

Rudd’s ‘reforms’ to the ALP leadership have made it more democratic (all members have some say) and made it easier for a new leader to develop and implement a strategy designed to improve the position of the ALP at the next election. As the leader is not judged on instant results (because the bar for changing leaders is set at a high level of discontent), a new leader and the party organisation have a reasonable expectation that the strategy will, if somewhere in the ballpark, be implemented in full. Shorten and the ALP’s opinion poll popularity certainly played a part in the demise of Abbott, who went from hero to zero in about two years. The election results also demonstrate the success of the ALP sticking to one leader and strategy for a considerable period of time.

Wouldn’t it be a delicious irony if Rudd and Abbott’s seemingly self-serving interventions into the operation of their respective political parties make the two major parties more democratic and ensure rank and file party members have a genuine say in their respective party’s destiny?

Rate This Post

Current rating: 0.4 / 5 | Rated 14 times


18/08/2016Greetings Comrades! It’s been months now since I wrote on The Political Sword. That makes me feel awful. I know am letting the side down, where “side” means what I mean it to mean. But it certainly centres on Ad astra’s calm wisdom and political leadership, and the followership this site collected during the last nearly-a-decade. Ad astra has been writing since far before then and continues to contribute almost daily. He is a phenomenon, but I knew that almost immediately I started reading TPS. I have referred to him as Sage since then, the only person I have ever thought of so. His continued energies not only extend his phenomenality in time, it is all the more impressive that he can keep writing ever-new work in the bitter winter of Abborted Australia. I salute you Dear Ad. But Comrades I’m not keeping up with the reading here, and that makes me feel guilty, and that in turn feeds into my mood which I have to say is – well not real sanguine shall I say. Since well before the election I have had this grim certainty that no matter what happened then, Australia has turned its back on a decent future, instead of inclusiveness and equality opting for social privilege based on wealth and religion and fuelled by greed. Competitive consumerism reigns supreme, nearly all Media is either RW or trivia or mostly both; religiomanes are everywhere, how can we ever talk sense to people who believe in an Omniscient Omnipotent Being? It is as ridiculous as Santa’s Reindeer Trip, but that’s only for kids – Can you imagine people’s reaction if in my adulthood I openly professed a belief that Santa Claus & his Elves & all were literally true?! It’s so utterly irrational, yet piety is resorted to as a shield by the most evil people of all for their actions. Everywhere. It allows everything to be turned on its head by its essential fallacy. “The Devil quotes Scripture for his own.” And you can’t argue with a Happy Clapper, a Mormon or a Catholic or any other convinced theist of any stamp about any matter of faith, and they will do anything to ingratiate themselves with their God. And of course, many only pretend to be pious using their influence with others to hide their sins & excesses. I did think when I was much younger that we would surely have Religion on the run by my late middle age, as Education and Science and consciousness-altering substances opened people’s minds to the essential irrationality of belief in God, or gods. How wrong I was! And I did too have some hope that Military Madness would abate as global intercourse facilitated intercultural relations. And instead we have Israel, and North Korea, and cripplingly expensive sabre rattling everywhere. I did hope that Whitlam’s gesture to Vincent Lingiari would usher in a new beginning in making some attempt at restitution to our First People. And instead they are the most incarcerated of people on the planet today, and we have the horrors of Don Dale. Read this eyewitness account of Gough’s gesture through to the end, and see if your eyes are still dry.,-sand,-and-a-new-beginning/5829316 Then there’s all the global degradation in which Australia is a leading player, with the kelp forests of the West, the Mangroves of the North and the Great Barrier Reef to the East all suffering unprecedented damage. With no expectation other than that they will all get worse. And Oh Dear everywhere. Especially the Middle East. And Pacific islands. And extinctions of the lovely interdependent species of Life on Earth. I take all this stuff very much to heart. But in doing so, I acknowledge that I am doing nothing useful about anything myself. And I feel I have nothing to say that will help anything. * * * It’s been weeks since I wrote the above, I haven’t had the heart to post it yet. In the meantime though we have seen the most impressive display of stupidity ever with the exposure of new Senator Malcolm Roberts. I mean, what’s to be done when such as he, with 77 personal votes under the banner of Pauline Hanson’s so-called One Nation Party, can be critical to the shaping of our future? Professor Brian Cox, cringe-inducingly pitted against him on @QandA on Monday last, echoed my own despair at the impossibility of dealing with anti-scientific deniers such as Roberts and his ilk. Happy-clappers, transsubstantiators, fundamentalist Muslims, self-righteous Zionists, what’s to be done with them? Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. So, I’m pretty despondent these days. And I’m sorry not to be contributing to TPS, Dearly Beloved. But I honour those who remain productive Comrades. You are staunch.


18/08/2016Welcome back, T.T. I come here regularly, hoping for a glimpse of you! Ad Astra is always here, either posting articles himself or supporting his team who come up with some good stuff. Now here you are at last! And yes, you are letting the side down! No matter where you are in the world you can drop us a line. I agree with you there is much to feel glum about, but somehow expressing our rage helps lift the mood! And we did agree there, didn't we? About maintaining rage....... Though I haven't found it easy to comment with any passion since Labor ratted on Julia. I can't really get excited about anything said by Bill Shorten, nor Tanya Plibersek. for that matter. It's a relief that Malcolm Turnbull is such a disappointment to almost everyone though. A couple of lines ran around this old head of mine.......about his letting us all down and that.......... ....."Turnbull is a hollow man.....a very hard to follow man...... Haven't got very far though. And why doesn't TPS take italics?


18/08/2016Patriciawa - use square brackets around 'i' tags for [i]italics[/i] Replace the curly brackets in the following with square brackets: {i}italics{/i}

Ad astra

19/08/2016Talk Turkey What a joy to have you commenting again. After a day off yesterday attending to medical matters, I'm catching up today, and have just now read your comment, written from the heart. I share your feelings, your dismay, your frustration, your anger at the state of the world, your despair as the likes of Malcolm Roberts utter their inanities, deny the validity of what our finest climate scientists are saying, ignore the dire warnings they issue almost every day, and cling to their entrenched beliefs in the manner of religious zealots. Our minds are in tune across the distance that seperates us. In recent days, my mind has turned to the senselessness of so much of what we see and hear around our troubled world. What does it all mean? Indeed, we ponder the meaning of life for so many that we meet through our television screens. Where are we headed? Where is our nation headed? Where is the world headed? What can we do about the anguish, the inequality, the unfairness, the cruelty, the pain that afflicts our society, and the world's society? In the next week or two, I will try to put together a piece that addresses these issues, these questions. Give me time to think. Thank you again dear friend for your complimentary remarks. You have been a true supporter over many years. You are not alone in your concern, in your despair about the state of our nation's affairs. Together we can make a difference, however modest.

Ad astra

19/08/2016Patriciawa [i]Turnbull is a hollow man.....a very hard to follow man...... [/i] is a great start!


20/08/2016Great to see you here TT. Please do not feel upset or guilty as you are not the only one that is commenting less. We all have 'real world' issues to overcome. I hope to see you next comment really soon. Cheers
T-w-o take away o-n-e equals?