24 June 2010 – There were so many ironies in last night’s lightning move against Kevin Rudd – and his dumping this morning as Labor Leader in favour of Julia Gillard – but one stands out like a sore thumb: his rolling was in large measure the result of listening to the very people who moved to unseat him.
And it signals bad news for climate action.
In his final press conference as Labor leader, Rudd laid out clearly and simply why he was a better choice for Prime Minister than Tony Abbott or an alternative leader backed by the factional warlords who moved against him.
He outlined the policy positions his opponents were fighting to instate: a swing to the right on asylum seekers, further delays to a carbon pricing scheme and potentially an accommodation with the mining industry on the Resources Super Profits Tax.
The parallels with Malcolm Turnbull’s defiant November showdown are clear. As much as National Secretary, Australian Workers Union Paul Howes might like to prefer otherwise this wasn’t simply a matter of Rudd’s leadership style or media messaging – alienating and ineffective though they might be – the remedy prescribed by the factional warlords who led this coup wasn’t better messaging but backtrack, triangulation and delay on major reforms in the lead up to an election.
It was Mark Arbib who counselled Rudd against an early election on climate change after the Coalition’s spectacular summer implosion over the Emissions Trading Schem. This was a decision which contributed to Labor’s serious message and policy drift this year and culminated in the deep-freezing of the legislation until at least 2012.
It’s instructive to note that for the arch-strategist of the NSW Right a central policy platform, potentially one of the most crucial economic reforms of the century, was just there to be dumped along with a pledge to build 240 childcare centres- non-core, just an electoral promise.
In the wake of Copenhagen and Senate deadlock over the ETS, Rudd was therefore left with former Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson’s justly-ridiculed position on climate change: “wait and see, tinker around the edges, don’t move unless everyone else does.”
With the latest decision on the ETS the electorate saw full confirmation of all its suspicions about Rudds announcement-heavy, low-result governing style. It was a nightmare and the polling slide that followed eroded his only cover against the factional bosses.
The main carbon reduction policies of the government likely to be assembled after today’s ascension of Julia Gillard remains to be seen.
But going by the main movers of the coup it seems almost certain that it will put an ETS deep on the backburner to better fight the Coalition on service delivery issues, health, education and industrial relations, with a hard swing to the right on refugees.
In taking this course it will resemble nothing so much as a state government – short termist, placatory and unwilling to tackle thorny, long-term issues or engage in serious reform; administrators, rather than governors.