There’s a board game, whose name momentarily escapes me, where every time you land your counter on your opponent’s square he (or she) has to return to the start, no matter how close to their goal they might happen to be. And that’s what comes to mind right now, as the Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd returns to the Prime Minister’s office after three years in the wilderness.
It was in June 2010 that Mr Rudd – a sincere, talented, but hopelessly unfocused polititician – had first been bumped right back to the baseline by his Labor Party rival, Julia Gillard, during one of the most dramatic political coups in the country’s history. She had simply gathered the party’s bigwigs together and voted him off the job because he’d broken just about every promise he’d made to the electorate, and nobody thought he could do anything but lose the next election for the party.
And so now it’s that same Ms Gillard who Rudd has banished, because this time it’s Gillard’s leadership that was looking set to lose the next election on 14th September. And this time she’s not just returned to the start line, but has left the board completely. Ms Gillard has sent herself to political jail by vowing that she’ll stay out of politics for a 15 year stretch in the cooler.
First Chances Wasted
This is all good family entertainment, but what’s a poor puzzled Pom supposed to make of it all? Well, there isn’t much point in denying that Rudd had made an amazing mess of his first 30 months in office, starting in 2007.
He’d signed the Kyoto protocol but had then scrapped a clean air programme and a promised emissions-trading scheme. He’d promised an improvement in relations with Asia but had actually presided over a series of nasty spats with everyone from China to East Timor. His broadband programme (the “NBN” scheme) hadn’t really happened – that job eventually fell to Gillard’s premiership instead, although even she has struggled with it.
And then he’d capped it all by declaring that Australia’s biggest mining companies should be forced to pay a 40% levy (snappily known as a “resources super-profits tax”) on their corporate profits – something that was 100% guaranteed to frighten foreign investors away from Oz.
At which point Ms Gillard had ousted him. But three years on, Gillard has run into the political sand while Rudd has been brushing up his (excellent) Mandarin and making a big impression on the international circuit with his intelligence and awareness. These days there are few politicians so well versed in international affairs as the ousted Rudd.
So it’s fair for us to hope that Rudd’s time in the wilderness will make him a better leader. But of course, it isn’t Gillard’s high-handedness that has given him the career break he needs.
It is, of course, the economic slowdown in China and the slumping fortunes of Australia’s gigantic mining companies, and the problems of running an industrial economy whose main export, coal and rock, is out of fashion. And whose currency is getting too expensive and which hasn’t got the service industries that would normally cushion a country in this sort of situation.
Mr Rudd is going to have his work cut out if he’s going to square this circle. And his voters, who supported him so vigorously in 2007, have responded with something very like suspicion to the developments of the last week. Public opinion surveys are showing a good deal of cynicism about the former ditherer who didn’t deliver when he had the opportunity. But nobody seems to have much time for Ms Gillard’s whose caustic personality seems to have been one of the reasons for the split.
And Rudd has installed a cabinet replete with women, which has earned him many plaudits. His choices of finance communications ministers have impressed – although he has made no changes to the foreign affairs, defence and home affairs departments.
It only remains for us to wish the new Prime Minister luck. With these issues to deal with, he’s going to need it.