Killing time: part three

A thread for discussion of the final act of the Rudd-Gillard government, to be raked over this evening on ABC Television.

Ahead of tonight’s finale, one last thread for discussion of ABC Television’s The Killing Season, and the disintegration of the previous government more generally.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

110 comments on “Killing time: part three”

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  1. I saw the whole of this episode the other night.

    First, I have to say well done to the producer Sara Ferguson. Labor staffers will hate her, resenting the damage the show has done to their chances of ever getting their mitts on any real power. But for anyone who cares about democracy, or just honest reporting, it is a superb piece of work, clinical, well edited, and avoiding bias by using the subjects’ own contradictory words to damn themselves.

    For the nation the outcome is mixed. OTOH a whole generation of self-serving, desperately-obsessive Labor careerists (most of whom have never had a real job outside the union-political system) have had their real natures laid bare to the electorate, making them forever compromised, and unlikely to ever rise to the final heights of power. Given the sorts of people the show has exposed them to be, that is a good thing, no matter what political philosophy they give lip service to.

    On the other hand, it makes it far more likely we will have Tony Abbott (and here in Sturt I am stuck with Chris Pyne) for at least six years, if not more. That is undoubtedly a bad thing, since Abbott is neither a statesman nor a manager. The show also demonstrated Abbott’s misogyny, hostile nature, and own obsession with gaining and holding power. Indeed, in personality terms, I think Abbott, Gillard and Rudd display many qualities in common. In short, Abbott is a bully, not a leader. Yet he may be PM for some time.

    How long Abbott remains PM will depend on how long Labor takes to embark on serious reform and renewal. Anyone who thinks the many Labor figures compromised by the show have a chance of being in a future government should read the history of Arthur Caldwell. Labor needs to clean out and renew its parliamentary ranks more desperately now than it did in 1996.

    The trouble is, where will any new Labor talent come from? The union blocs will insist on parachuting the Joe Bullocks of the world into Senate spots and winnable seats as though it were their right. The union movement seems almost un-reformable, as it slips further and further away from the reality of the average worker and continues to focus on protecting a few small niche industries. If Abbott were smart (he is not) he would NOT attack the union movement, and leave it to fester, continuing to undermine Labor’s parliamentary strength.

    I also note Phoenix Greens comments about the unfairness of the Greens being largely edited from the history of this time. Honestly, that is the kindest thing Aunty could have done for them.

  2. While I agree with a lot of what you say Socrates, I do think the current media/political climate is such that the general voter out in voter land has a very short memory and it will only be the last weeks of the election campaign where decisions will be made.

    The murdoch empire has seen the momentum of this series as an opportunity to land blows on Shorten from the sidelines.

    One thing I really would contest in the general discussion: this concept of true Labor that people talk about. That idea has been muddied for thirty years or more and I don’t think there’s a way to go back. Thinking you can do so is a naive refusal to recognise conditions as they are (something the current govt is finding to its own detriment … while they might nostalgically years for the 1950s, it just cannot be returned to).

    Rudd was so popular for the very reason he was a different ‘man of the times’ – shallow as that proves to be.

    The show also demonstrates the modern preoccupation with image over substance. It is what brought Rudd to power and as counterbalance, Abbott to power.

    The challenge will be ‘who’ can counter this shallowness and manage to cut through to the electorate, given the mass media’s deliberate portrayal of all ur leaders as cartoon carcatures.

  3. Jen, I would contend that your conclusion of Rudd is at odds with the broader community. Ultimately, Rudd was reinstalled because of a genuine affection for him, something a shallow leader could not endear. This is the underlying theme of the events and there is a genuine admirability on offer to those who took ownership of this oversight. Also, with reference to Dio’s comment, this affection didn’t emanate from the same parallel demographic as those who empowered Hitler.

    Jen, I think your lack of self awareness is the same mistake made by those who moved on Rudd. Contending to level that criticism “shallow as that proves to be” at anyone is to cast the first stone, inviting analysis of your own qualities and motivations.

    As for Liz’s smear presentation –

    [beyond a general Labor belief in compassion and equity. Many of his instincts are opposed to the Labor Party…]

    Which then goes on with –

    [in questioning the timing and affordability of those policy measures. Julia showed more maturity and leadership]

    These comments invite serious scrutiny of what Dixon thinks the ALP is all about, and whether this resembles what ALP supporters actually want.

    If a pile of “unattended” documents is used to condemn a PM without revealing the contents of these papers, then image wins over substance. I wouldn’t put it past some of the players to play a silly game of using any available means to undermine another person, including arranging for the *delegation of an unachievable quantity of work.

    You can walk into anyone’s office, throw papers around and then take a photo. That photo isn’t conclusive evidence of disfunction.

    The trouble is that those opposed to Rudd didn’t cultivate the perception of disorder until after the coup, so these criticisms are left wanting. It was well known at the time that many within the ALP were opposed to Rudd becoming Opposition leader. The reasoning was thin to the point of irrelevance, otherwise Rudd wouldn’t have led in 2007.

  4. Posted this elsewhere, but worth repeating here.

    bemused@275 on ReachTEL: 52-48 to Labor | The Poll Bludger

    Saturday Extra was as usual excellent with the incomparable Geraldine Doogue hosting a segment on The Killing Season.

    Where to next for politics in Australia

    The recently screened The Killing Season has garnered high praise and healthy ratings for the ABC.

    A reviewer in the Sydney Morning Herald said: ‘Very rarely, a show lives up to its hype. Quite simply, it is one of the most gripping pieces of factual television broadcast in recent times. Indeed, The Killing Season can already take its place among Australia’s finest documentaries.’

    But what happens next? Some very big issues emerged from the series and how we deal with them will determine if the events of 2007-2013 will be part of our history or the beginning of how we will be governed for the foreseeable future.

    No-one came out of it terribly well and the ‘gang of four’ – all of them – were given credit / blame for a breakdown of Cabinet Government with all the consequences that flowed.

    I highly recommend it.

  5. Radguy, Perhaps I didn’t state it quite so forcefully as I should have but the perceptions I was talking about is with the average voter, not those who analyse and interpret more deeply. i.e. the people who think reality TV is wonderful and keep the channel 9s of this world going by watching utter crap and becoming involved in the fantasy.

    These same people buy into the media’s line about ‘true labor’ without actually knowing or understanding the concept (if it can be conceptualised in the first place). In the current climate I don’t think it can.

    I don’t doubt Rudd AND Gillard each had very good qualities for PM. Rudd however, appeared to thrive best in the limelight. Gillard appears to have done her best work negotiating one on one to achieve Labors aims. Rudd used media as a weapon very ably because he is (as someone else here said) and excellent entrepeneur.

    The rumblings about Rudd’s incapacity at various times were very clear at the time (I remember clearly hearing about these matters long before Rudd’s demise) and I also recall the media’s disrespect for him as things started to get difficult and this is part of the shallow aspect – Rudd seemed to fold in on himself when he was no longer their darling.

    Gillard has always been a doer/achiever but did not receive the same kind of media status as Rudd had. Partly because I believe we, as a culture, have much higher expectations of women in terms of honour and honesty.

  6. You’re presenting Rudd’s incapacity as an indisputable fact. How would you know if your expectations couldn’t be met? This is the kind of thing that only the rigour of a court like process could possibly identify. The Killing Season comes about as close as a documentary can come without subpoena like powers.

    People can say Rudd wasn’t getting enough done, but a questioning of what was on the plate at the time is the only way an objective conclusion can be drawn.

    If anything, people supportive of Rudd are more accepting of human qualities and don’t feel that he was in any way messianic. Rudd is seen as less imperfect than the competition were and genuinely likeable.

    Regarding your last para, I don’t think a man could have gotten away with the manoeuvres Gillard performed. I think a lot of women supported Gillard because she is a woman. As you say, some people don’t analyse and interpret deeply. I am certainly not suggesting this relative ignorance a feminine thing (a seriously dumb thing to say on a politics blog), but if you cast a net over misinformed people, the men will tend not to vote progressive. I think this was a calculated factor. The complexity and opacity of political process also happens to be the achilles heel of politics for when vested interests entrench themselves into the mix.

    As it stands, voters will continue to be unable to evaluate the decisions and efficiency of government in meaningful detail. Politics as we know it needs to be opened up to technological reform. We should consider if we need politicians at all.

  7. [You’re presenting Rudd’s incapacity as an indisputable fact.]

    I think many who would know have given evidence of this (it wasn’t just Gillard or the female members of cabinet who have attested to it) – though I do not mean incapacity in a legal sense but his loss of focus, loss of inner force – his impetus to perform at the top of his game.

    [How would you know if your expectations couldn’t be met?]

    I can’t, nobody can – but the disappointment of his change in demeanour when he fell out of favour with the media and struck problems, colours voter reactions. (After all – one of the principal arguments put forward after Gillard took over was not: “you took away our hero” but “we wanted the opportunity to pass judgment ourselves”)

    [This is the kind of thing that only the rigour of a court like process could possibly identify. The Killing Season comes about as close as a documentary can come without subpoena like powers.]

    I’d agree except a) unless there is something criminal about Rudd’s actions then this is preposterous & b) the TV show cut out snippets to tell a particular story … do you/we know how much was left out that might have changed our opinions?

    Can anyone’s opinion be changed about either protagonist for that matter? I seriously doubt it. The show would have reinforced all our individual biases.

  8. [do you/we know how much was left out]

    not much from what I have heard/seen (didn’t see the first 2 episodes but have read a fraction of the countless reports on them!). Seems like everything was laid out, including the players acting out their particular roles LOL!

  9. Radguy: anyone who was close to the action in 2007-2010 will tell you that Rudd was really difficult to work for. It was almost impossible to get his attention unless you were dealing with the issue/crisis du jour (eg, at various times, the GFC, APEC, climate change). But nobody other than the unique exception of Gillard (in a very few areas) was given the authority to act in any way without Rudd’s say so.

    Hence, by the first half of 2010, the machinery of government was slowly grinding to a halt. Rudd had ostracised lots of people (including, rumour has it, the head of his own department) and had isolated himself in his office talking only to the dwindling number of those he trusted.

    I’m told that, around the Press Gallery in the past few weeks, the main private criticism of the TKS was that it didn’t tell this part of the story adequately. If you follow the link bemused provides @ 105, you will find that Geraldine Doogue and her three panelists (a pretty motley bunch, I felt, but bemused seems to like them) all take the personal meltdown of Rudd prior to the 2010 coup as a given.

    As Doogue’s panelists pointed out, nobody could discuss the problem with Rudd because he was never even prepared to admit there was a problem. He still can’t admit it: Julia was wrong to suggest he was tired and distracted in the first half of 2010 (even though the contemporary TV footage in the TKS demonstrably showed otherwise); and he was actively solving problems left, right and centre up until the night of the coup: sorting things out with Twiggy Forrest, etc.

    As the Doogue panel discussed, the Coalition has recently been through a process in which the backbench effectively delivered an ultimatum to Abbott to start doing things differently, or be booted out. Ideally, that was how things with Rudd should have turned out: a failed vote for a spill in Caucus which forced Rudd to lift his game.

    Of course, what did happen was that, when the plotters began to count the numbers, they found that almost everyone was in favour of a change of leadership (fewer than 20 wanted to keep him on). So this effectively forced Gillard’s hand. It would have been far better if Rudd had been delivered a big shock and had been allowed to stay on. TKS presented pretty convincing evidence that Gillard was inclined towards this solution, but Arbib and others wouldn’t allow her to back down (and, presumably, we’d have had PM Shorten then and there in 2010).

    You and some of the other Ruddistas on here should think hard about what that history means. Rudd, having won a triumphant victory for the ALP in 2007, had lost 80 per cent of Caucus support in slightly more than 2 1/2 years. An unprecedented development in the history of Australian politics.

    The tin foil hat explanation for this – the one that Rudd likes to use – was that the nasty factional leaders plotted and conspired to put Gillard in so she would do their bidding. These, of course, were the same nasty factional leaders who had strongly pushed for Rudd ahead of Gillard in 2006. Neither Rudd nor any of his fanboys and fangirls have ever offered a convincing explanation as to what it was that the factional leaders wanted done that Rudd wouldn’t do for them but Gillard would.

    Until I see such an explanation – which would effectively mean that Rudd was thrown out of the leadership on a point of principle – I will continue to believe the version that I have heard from umpteen people close to the action (including Cabinet ministers and journalists), which is exactly the same as Gillard’s version.

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