3 Dec. 2006

So is Kevin Rudd just Murdoch's new boy?

This little interview took place just two weeks ago:
JOURNALIST: There’s a newspaper report today that suggests that Rupert Murdoch will throw his support behind a Labor Government if the Party dumps you and installs Rudd and Gillard as the leadership ticket.

BEAZLEY: All speculation. I’m going to make Kevin Rudd a very fine Foreign Minister for this country and Julia Gillard an excellent Health Minister for the country.
Of course it was all just speculation:
Greg Baxter, the director of corporate affairs for News Limited, however, is playing the Grinch. He has a very blunt letter in the Fin today:
Your "Beazley-bashing gathers momentum" (November 20) reports that Rupert Murdoch will back Labor if it installs a Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard leadership ticket. This is wrong. No one at News, including Murdoch, has given any hint of any such thing to Beazley, Rudd or Gillard or to any apparatchik on either side of politics, or to anyone in the press gallery.
As they say, if News Ltd is denying it emphatically, it must be true. But who were the first people to run thse Beazley versus Rudd polls anyway? Who ignored Beazley's long lead over Howard in the polls, then started chattering excitedly about Labour leadership problems as soon as Howard drew level? Hmmn?

Of course, leadership destabilisation can be fertile media ground on both sides of politics. Murdoch previously advised Howard to "go out on top" and his papers have regularly enjoyed giving encouragement to Peter Costello's rather silly ambitions. But nobody even likes Costello, and the speculation has always seemed rather Machiavellian to me. It has never looked like an orchestrated coup, and Costello has never looked like Rupert's new boy.

In retrospect, it seems the seeds were planted and the ground was fertile for the change. All it needed was a Howard "Yeeeaaarrggghh!" Dean moment. In retrospect, Beazley's "Rove" name gaffe may be one of the costliest slips of the tongue in political history.

The following day, a Dennis Shanahan article (Beazley Going Backwards, 18 Nov 2006) in Murdoch's The Australian declared Beazley's leadership was "in the balance" and even threw the spotlight onto the ordained (?) takeover team:
[T]he high-profile gaffe and its timing could turn it into a Labor epiphany. This could have the effect of unleashing the dogs of war, venting the frustration so many of his supporters feel and convincing waverers that things could be better under a different leader.

It could also drive Beazley’s supporters to try to draw leadership contenders into premature moves and have it all out and over before a Christmas deadline...

Beazley's leadership has never been based on a positive endorsement and was engineered without a ballot for the good of the party.

The next generation - Kevin Rudd, Lindsay Tanner and Julia Gillard - was talked into not running on the basis that Beazley's experience was what was needed after the experiment with the untried and crazy-brave Latham. Indeed, Beazley's declaration this week that he was "iron clad" on experience while many of his frontbenchers were not could have been aimed squarely at Rudd and Gillard.

But how could Labor in so few days have gone from a competitive electoral position, looking positive and aggressive against the Howard Government, to develop clear difficulties? Going into this week the federal Labor Party and Beazley were looking good...
Indeed they were. But it all went tits-up very quickly.

Still, you can't pin this defeat totally on Murdoch. The Herald's Alan Ramsey suggested that the poll slide was largely Beazley's own fault. And while the Bomber was digging a hole for himself, Howard's priorities were all too clear:
"It's a great privilege to be here tonight and to share briefly in this very important occasion which honours a man and also honours a friendship between nations. Rupert Murdoch is a remarkable product of a remarkable family, and I don't know that anybody can better epitomise, in a sense, the great bonds and links and shared experiences between our two countries. The great Australian family, the Murdochs, has contributed so much, not only to the media, but in so many different ways to the life and experience of this country … and I think it appropriate that tonight this dinner is held in honour of Rupert Murdoch.

"But it's also held in honour of an association that means so much to all of us … Rupert's already reminded us that beginning with the Battle of Hamel in July 1918, Australians and Americans have fought together in every major conflict since … I echo with all the being I can muster the reminder of Rupert Murdoch that we Australians should never forget the debt we owe the US for the assistance given [during World War II] …

"Rupert Murdoch was right when he said our involvement in Iraq was never popular. If I may say so, I think it's about the most poll-defiant thing that I have done in the whole of my prime ministership …"

"Tonight [we] honour a man in Rupert Murdoch who has done great things and great deeds to keep the friendship in good repair …"
Great Australian? As Ramsay points out, Murdoch renounced his Australian citizenship 21 years ago "for business reasons".

The Bomber now looks set to bow out quietly:
"For me to do anything further in the Australian Labor Party I would say is Lazarus with a quadruple bypass," he said, in a reference to a remark once made by Mr Howard after a party defeat.

"So the time has come for me to move on but when that gets properly formalised I will let you know."
Beazley was a Union Man, and those days are gone. As a kid who grew up in the strike-ridden 1970's, when even teachers and garbage men were regularly walking off their jobs, I know Australia's distate for militant unionism has been a big part of Howard's success. But now both men are set for the scrapheap of history: we don't want to go back to Beazley's unionist glory days any more than we want to go back to Howard's glory days of Menzies and WWII. We want a real leader with a clear vision for a better future. In that sense, at least, Rudd looks promising:
Mr Rudd said the government had gone "a bridge too far" on a number of issues, including Iraq, industrial and climate change.

"The call for the Australian people these days is this: it's time to restore the balance, it's time to reclaim the centre ground," he said...

Mr Rudd said his "new style" of leadership would look beyond short-term issues.

"What we mean by that, when it comes to the big debates for the future, we're not concerned about just the next 12 months, we are concerned about the next 20 years," he said.

"I think there's too much short-termism in Australian politics, and the more I move around the Australian community, they want to know what is the long-term (goal).

"And when you're looking at the big ones like climate change, they want to know whether you're real or whether you're just coming up with something which sounds good between now and the next election."
Just don't expect any harsh words for Rupert's friends in the White House:
"I am rock solid on the alliance with the United States... The ANZUS remains fundamental for Australia's long-term security."
Oh, well. We can't expect too much all at once. I think Rudd's defeat of Beazley is a good thing for Australian politics - even if it was largely orchestrated by Rupert. My logic is this: I'd rather have a Rupert-picked ALP in charge than a Rupert-picked Liberal Party.

Long-time readers will know that it is not like me to be so practical.