Kevin Rudd appears ready to take back old job, even before carbon tax is cooked
- From: The Australian
- January 07, 1970
KEVIN Rudd is now more personally committed to returning as Labor leader and prime minister than he has since being removed almost 16 months ago.The Foreign Minister is also more convinced than ever that he can succeed. That conviction extends to Rudd being prepared to take over from Julia Gillard as soon as the opportunity presents itself, and this includes being prepared to confront the issue of the carbon tax before it is finally resolved in parliament.
For Rudd to even contemplate taking the leadership before the most vexed issue of federal politics in the past six years is settled legislatively is a measure of his determination. In keeping with the widely held view within the ALP that Gillard's leadership and Labor's standing has suffered as a result of the close alliance with the Greens, it is even possible Rudd would consider deferring or delaying the implementation of the carbon tax due on July 1 next year.
Gillard is facing two determined and relentless opponents -- Rudd and Tony Abbott -- who wish to destroy her leadership and don't care if it means an early election. Both sent clear signals yesterday they are already shaping up against each other and going over her head to score political points.Rudd, visiting the NSW electorate of Justine Elliot, a frontbencher dumped after Gillard took over as Prime Minister, declared he was intent on "doing everything" to stop Abbott becoming prime minister.
The Liberal leader said on the Nine Network's Today : "I think Kevin sounds more like an alternative opposition leader, than the alternative Prime Minister. I think, Karl, Kevin is campaigning. There's no doubt about that. He is out there campaigning and what that means is that Julia Gillard is watching her back."
Rudd's conviction is being driven and fed by signs of public support and sympathy, both as Foreign Minister and a betrayed leader. He has been "mobbed like a rock star" at spots as diverse as Port Moresby airport, Victorian schools and television panel shows.
The Opposition Leader's conviction is being driven by public disenchantment with Gillard and an underlying belief that another Labor leadership change will only damage the ALP's image even further. But, while Rudd is in a position of being prepared to consider taking over any time, more rational supporters are telling the former leader to take some of his own recent advice about the leadership and "have a cup of tea, take a Bex and a have a good lie-down".
Away from the warm glow of public adulation and clear popular preference for Rudd over Gillard in all the polling, a colder calculation comes into play as the increasingly exuberant Foreign Minister is advised to just continue to position himself publicly, do his job and leave the Prime Minister to deal with the issues of carbon tax, asylum-seekers, the mining tax and even the gambling limitations on poker machines.
There is no doubt that as Rudd's awareness of his public popularity has grown in recent weeks, especially after his enforced eight-week break for his heart-valve operation, there has been a commensurately rapid awakening or acceptance among Labor MPs that restoring him to the leadership may save their seats, if not the government, at an election.
As one Labor MP told Inquirer yesterday: "All the conditions are there for a leadership fire: there's the fuel of discontent, the weather conditions are getting worse as polls continue to fall and problems continue. "The thing that's missing is the spark, and we don't know what that will be or where it will come from."
Having said that, the advice to Rudd remains along the lines that he should be less anxious, "there's no doubt he's 'antsy' but there's no need to rush, we have until December or even until next year". Others fear the newly aggressive Rudd could also flush out other contenders who feel they will fall behind and miss their chance to become leader should a challenge to Gillard be sparked.
Former Labor minister and numbers man Graham Richardson, now a media commentator, voiced these concerns publicly and was the first to name former Rudd minister and long-term Gillard opponent Alan Griffin as Rudd's "numbers man" in the campaign of instability against Gillard. Richardson said in The Australian yesterday: "Alan Griffin, MP for the seat of Bruce, has been doing much of the work for Rudd. He is a pretty good operator, an experienced pollie who knows which way is up. Griffin is constantly in his colleagues' ears talking up a Rudd rescue."
He went on to ask: "What I don't understand is why the plotters should be at work now. There are several reasons to sit quietly for a while and keep all the focus on the woman they seek to defeat . . . there are still some nasties to be dealt with in the parliament. "Then there is the view that you might find another candidate bobbing up at the last moment and stealing your thunder," he warned Rudd.
Gillard and Rudd turned on Richardson for his observations. The Prime Minister, who does not deal with Richardson in any of his capacities, and the Foreign Minister, who aligned him with the "factional thugs" who helped Gillard oust him, accused him of relevance deprivation and being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to bag the Labor Party.
Neither side was happy with Richardson's contribution but his identification of Griffin served to confirm the destabilisation campaign in the name of getting Rudd re-elected Labor leader.
For months Griffin, an affable character around parliament who faces the prospect of not standing again for election, has beenthe unofficial cut-out for those wishing to express disenchantment with Gillard and support for Rudd.
Ministers not wishing to be seen to be actively working against the leader have been able to refer people to "Griffo" to see what he thinks. Gillard's defenders have been aware of Griffin's role for a while and have been trying to play down his importance as a threat.
Significantly, the Prime Minister's protectors have not been silly enough to deny there is real despair and disenchantment among Labor MPs, or that there is a destabilisation campaign under way.
What Gillard's supporters have to face now is that Rudd is aggressively taunting his leader, almost daring her to take action against him while boldly embracing "Griffo" as his friend and supporter, and thus turning what has been a campaign of muttering and destabilisation into a declaration of leadership intent. The problem with destabilisation campaigns is that once they start, they develop a life of their own.