The Pettiness of Australian Politics


The stumbling of the Australian Labor Party into a realm of dark psychosis is being affirmed on an hourly basis.  With the party being torn apart in true civil war fashion (the enemy, in such wars, is always within the household), the blood is flowing onto the streets.  No one is caring to mop up as yet, though there are many willing to take snap shots.  The coverage of this entire bonanza began on many news networks at 5 in the morning.  Oh, the waffle!

The Rudd-Gillard drama has come to its predicable conclusion – at least in terms of numbers.  Rudd garnered 29 votes to Gillard’s 73, a significant prod, but only a prod. Australian citizens will retain its unpopular, error-ridden Prime Minister.  Bodies will have to be buried.  Ministers who claimed they would not serve under a Rudd ministry will continue under Gillard’s leadership.  Pity, given the fact that they should have never served in any ministry.  Dissenters will be vanquished. Supporters will be rewarded.  In that sense, the ALP, far from a democratic organisation, resembles a squalid tribal collective, a heaving, puffing cosa nostra in action. Favours are factional and distributed accordingly.  Those who refuse to worship the party totem are ostracised.

Rudd’s avoidance of that genetic tendency in the ALP doomed him from the start.  ‘I know I’m up against it in terms of the combined horsepower of the factions of the ALP. I knew that from the beginning’ (Nine News, Feb 26).  His politics was clever and futile – playing to stalls outside the party; charming the non-partied electorate.  He has repudiated the blood line, the tribal line, in favour of the demos, the ‘people’.  As the Labor Party is not, by its nature, a democratic entity, such talk not only seems anathema, but dangerous to the members.  After all, they, not the broader electorate, select their representatives to be elected.  It’s a fact they reminded the Australian electorate when Rudd was knifed – democracy is too dangerous to be left to the public.

His defenders, while they are unlikely to write sonnets for democracy, see Rudd as the only way to keep their party in government. This views would not have changed, even after this ballot.  Amongst them are the Emergency Management Minister Robert McClelland and the virtually unintelligible Resources Minister Martin Ferguson.  ‘We will rue the day, just as is occurring now, with respect to some of my colleagues and how they have conducted themselves over the last week’ (ABC Online, Feb 27).

Not only is Rudd not popular with the party machine, he is disliked by his colleagues for an assortment of personal characteristics that seem to violate the Australian book of behaviour.  The sense of the brute, the slave driver, the ruthless, flawed leader who rarely sleeps, does not fit well with the Australian character.  His work regime is fanatical, and no one wants it.  He is not ‘laid back’; he seems incapable of hedonistic excess.  He is also, at heart, a philistine.

All of these characteristics have been subsumed under one title: ‘psychotic’.  In June, 2009, the Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce ventured, in the vernacular, to call the then prime minister a ‘psycho chook’. ‘Who in their right mind gets onto a plane and because he doesn’t get the right colour birdseed has a spack attack?’ (Sydney Morning Herald, June 1, 2009).  His colleagues and Gillard’s supporters have milked this for all it’s worth.  Wayne Swan, who was Rudd’s not so loyal deputy and Treasurer, claimed the former prime minister was responsible for ‘dysfunctional decision making’.  Then, the telling remark that Rudd ‘does not hold any Labor values’.  (Where’s the knife, comrade?)   All of this has made the shock jock columnist Andrew Bolt ask the question why they made a lunatic a Prime Minister to begin with.

In the past, the ALP has won elections in spite of its factional handicaps.  This time, it’s defeat in the federal polls will be richly deserved.  Rudd, even in defeat, will still be there in the wings to be called upon as the Gillard machine approaches the cliffs.  This story of blood letting is far from done.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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