Kevin Rudd: Master of disaster
So Kevin Rudd reckons he’s a better bet to captain the Brisbane Broncos than run for Prime Minister again.
Julia Gillard, who once laughed off her Lodge aspirations by claiming she was more chance to play for the Western Bulldogs, could be forgiven for taking that as a declaration of war.
From earthquakes and tsunamis to violent insurrection in the Middle East, 2011 has borne witness to enormous devastation – which, while tragic for those involved – has certainly enabled Rudd as Foreign Minister to suddenly become more ubiquitous on Australian television than the Daddo brothers.
One minute he’s issuing ultimatums to Hosni Mubarak; the next he’s waist-deep in wellies hoisting furniture through the Queensland floods.
Look again and he’s almost organizing the resistance to Gaddafi single-handed, corralling Arab League leaders and tweeting furiously about the importance of a no-fly zone – while simultaneously popping up to offer consular assistance to displaced victims from Christchurch to Miyagi prefecture.
Rudd is clearly a dux of the Anna Bligh school of crisis management; mumbling off numbers of injured and missing to the sixth decimal place, knowing which emergency supplies and sniffer dogs are departing from which RAAF base.
Combine with anecdotes of rapturous Rudd receptions from Fremantle to the Woodford Folk Festival – on one Sydney street walk, a lapse into Cantonese reportedly sent passers-by nuts – and it raises the question whether Labor was wrong to dump him in the first place.
Certainly, former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie now says Rudd’s home state retains a “soft spot” for him and his “stocks are as high as they ever were”. It’s a curious shift from his previous effusive endorsement of Gillard.
Rudd has a right to feel aggrieved. Labor lopped him off in a panic when Newspoll had Labor ahead of the Coalition 52-48 per cent on two-party-preferred terms (and Rudd still led Tony Abbott on the “Better PM” measure).
Now, Newspoll has Labor trailing 46-54 per cent under Gillard. With Labor’s majority at the time built almost entirely on the Queensland marginal seats it won in 2007, it was a very big call to cut down Rudd in favour of a candidate who, for a variety of reasons, was a worse fit for that state.
Now, post-election, Gillard is trapped. The hung parliament has sapped her of the normal authority that accrues to a prime minister. She’s forced to curtsy for every last vote on the floor of parliament.
Even Rob Oakeshott sudden decision to grow a beard – then shave it off again – is enough to make Labor fret over the pivotal independent’s psyche.
Best of all for Rudd, Gillard desperately needs to keep him on side – or risk a by-election in his seat of Griffith. As the past few weeks have shown, he can destabilize her just by doing his job insufferably well.
Last week’s US trip allowed Gillard to rise above the fray. Even though joint sittings of Congress, no matter who addresses them, tend to rise to their feet more often than a Hillsong congregation – she undeniably impressed.
And again, on Monday night’s Q&A, she showed a far superior touch to Rudd’s appearance before a group of stony-faced students in Old Parliament House the year before.
Still, selling a carbon price will be tough. On the program, Gillard made a good fist of explaining how a price signal will enable consumers to preference low-pollution products “in the shops”.
But she got into a word soup over the difference between a carbon tax and an ETS; how she had always favoured the latter (hard to square with reports she urged Rudd to ditch the ETS pre-election), and how, under the government’s latest plan, one would eventually morph into the other.
She’ll need the communication skills of a Tony Blair or Bill Clinton else the issue may yet fatally ensnare her.
Rudd, of course, had his own advocacy problems as prime minister, struggling to explain either the ETS or mining super profits tax. But Beattie put the best argument for his revival – namely that the next election will be “won or lost” in Queensland.
Labor’s primary vote presently nudges 30 percent not just because of defections to the Greens but also dungeon-like levels of support in Queensland and Western Australia.
Gillard may get a slight polling reprieve when the Keneally government goes under, but otherwise, Labor’s vote is maxed out in the “blue states” of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. (The Liberals, incidentally, face a similar question: could a switch, say, to Joe Hockey, hold the line in the “red states” of Western Australia and Queensland but pick up votes in the socially-moderate, non-resource-sector states?)
For Labor, there’s also the question of how the independents who successfully negotiated with Gillard would react to a Rudd coup – until one remembers Bob Katter’s ramblings last year that he would have backed Rudd over Abbott for sure.
No wonder the Foreign Minister, while ostensibly buried under piles of DFAT disaster communiques, is keen to bring up the Brisbane Broncos.
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