“Politics is war by other means.” Foucault
The soap opera that is Australian politics entered a new phase last night. Three years after being deposed by Julia Gillard, in a coup led by ‘faceless men’, Kevin Rudd has been returned as leader of the ALP and Prime Minister. Back then it was about polling, as it is today.
In the months before Rudd lost the leadership, I had been very annoyed, even angry with him. I was not alone as it seems he alienated many of the cabinet, caucus and others he was supposed to be working alongside. I cheered the historic moment when an atheist woman, in a de facto relationship, rose to the highest office in our country. Her education reforms were worrying but clearly, a new force was taking the reins and it was going to be interesting to see what she could do.
She did a great deal but communicated these achievements poorly. Managing a minority government for three years, with all the attendant challenges, was a great, and unexpected, achievement. A Royal Commission into the abuse of children by the Roman Catholic Church and a scheme to assist disabled Australians are particularly important but the slow-moving, neutered Gonski reforms, championed by the union movement, are potentially as frightening as they are positive. A managerially obsessed curriculum, with increasingly centralised testing and measurement, scored on a website, is not the answer for the 21st century child or nation. Julia Gillard met Joel Klein and we are all the worse for it.
The spectre of Rudd’s axing, which Australians felt uncomfortable with, never left her side. Australian political struggles, in my lifetime, have see many leaders ousted by their own parties. The Keating and Hawke or Howard v Peacock struggles being the most memorable. However, Rudd being deposed, after defeating Howard so comprehensively, smacked of a kind of bastardry that seemed illogical. Many Australians feel Rudd should have contested the 2010 election, not Gillard. In recent times, Julia Gillard’s polling has been consistently much lower than when she replaced Rudd, ostensibly due to his inability to win the upcoming election. One suspects it was more to do with his lack of a factional base and the politics of ambition, than actual strategy to win the next election. No doubt, there is more about the ‘mining tax’ imbroglio that will surface in years to come too. Some very powerful forces were arrayed against Rudd (and of course, he mis-managed the situation, or rather, inappropriately micro-managed it).
The hypocrisy Julia Gillard showed on important social and moral issues was stunning. The most unbelievable was her inability to support gay marriage equality whilst decrying the sexism rife in our country. On the day that she made her historic ‘misogyny’ speech in parliament her government enacted legislation that slashed financial support to 60 000 (mostly woman) single parents. These families, often the most vulnerable in our society, lost between $40-$156 per week. The symbolism of the most powerful woman in the country defying her caucus to make these cuts, while her speech went ‘viral’, was the both the most memorable, and lowest point, of her prime ministership.
Her government funded chaplains in schools and found no money for counsellors or to continue the Digital Education Revolution, a Rudd initiative. It was hard to believe that this was done for any other reason than the program was associated with the previous Prime Minister. Often, probably due to Rudd’s inability to accept his defeat, she was unable to acknowledge his achievements, especially in high profile ALP celebrations where he was conveniently left out of the Labor narrative. Ultimately, the unions, no friends of Rudd, were Gillard’s power base and unwilling to accept that polling indicated the government would be wiped out, as it was in NSW, at the next election.
The ‘ALP family’ may well decide to add ‘Lear’, as a political primer, in their post-election analysis of what went wrong. Julius Caesar, I’m certain, is already on the list.
They have not learned too much in three years.
Many would encourage Australians to broaden our democracy by voting for anybody, who represents their ideological outlook, other than the two major parties. If you are interested in education, public transport and the environment, there is a pretty clear choice. In fact, there are choices for most viewpoints, other than the main parties.
We will discover when the next election will be held shortly. It is unlikely to be on September 14th. There does not seem to be too much to look forward too, either way, unless our parliament changes for the better and becomes a wiser, more humane place.
Featured image: cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Threthny: http://flickr.com/photos/threthny/4932290828/