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July 01st 2013 print

Peter Smith

Loathed once, he will be again

Changed man or not, Prime Minister Rudd would be well advised to enjoy his initial surge in the polls.  It shouldn't take too long before the electorate is reminded of just what a piece of work he is

Those magnificent 57 who swept him back into power, regardless of the interests of the country, were right. They said he would and he has. Apparently Labor is competitive again, according to the latest polls. And to underline the renewed buoyancy among the Labor faithful, the smiling face of Rudd is everywhere with crowds milling around him; perhaps hoping to touch his outer garments.

According to Newspoll between 5% and 6 % of voters, who previously intended to give their primary vote to the Coalition, have now switched to Labor. The sample size was 1149. This means that about 63 people who were interviewed changed sides. Extended to the voting population, this implies that over 700,000 people have changed their minds.

Personally, I don’t buy it. I don’t believe it! Otherwise I would have to assume that many of the people I pass in the street, in addition to those that are clearly deranged, are complete air-heads who may therefore be capable of any kind of irrational and capricious act. I would need to arm myself with a walking stick, which I was hoping to put off for some years.

But for the sake of argument suppose it is true and Kevin Rudd has indeed enticed people back to the Labor fold. Who in the world are these people? Through what thinking process did they arrive at their decision? Maybe they are rational enough and think that Kevin is a changed man. A metamorphosis has occurred during his three years in the wilderness giving us a kinder, more considerate and consultative, and even more competent, Kevin.

There’s the rub. What a start he has made. It is not as if we have a new Kevin Rudd. We have the old one back or should it be the old two back. Split personality disorder is back in fashion and with a new sharper edge to it.

Having spent three years leaking, plotting, intriguing, and causing as much mischief as he could to undo Ms Gillard, he expressed yearning for a kinder more gentile body politic. And he did it with unctuous ‘sincerity’ in full view of the parliament and the cameras, and with the knowledge that his colleagues, who clearly believe him to be a disloyal, narcissistic, dropkick, and who have been dragged despondently to support him only to try to save their skins, were listening. How removed from reality and hypocritical can you get? The truth is not much more before you become; well, the same old Rudd that was summarily disempowered three years’ ago.

But this was a mere appetizer. Part of Rudd’s new found civility was to accuse Abbott of war mongering. Turning the boats around (which he himself has urged in the past) might, he said, precipitate armed conflict, in other words war, with Indonesia. While it is true that Rudd has been roundly criticised for his remarks – which he refuses to retract on the grounds it would prove him to be ridiculous – the condemnation has not been near strong enough. In particular, Julia Bishop’s description of his remarks as over-reach was litotes writ large. This was an extraordinary thing for a prime minister of Australia to say.

Imagine just how the Indonesian government and people received the news, straight from the Australian prime minister’s lips – not from some crazed Australian muttering out loud on the streets – that war could be imminent if Abbot the Terrible were to become PM. This was recklessness beyond belief. It is one thing to refer to the Chinese as ‘rat-fuckers’ quite another to envisage war with Indonesia. This is redux Rudd with extreme prejudice.

In the past he has appeared to slide easily between being a fiscal conservative and a big spending socialist; between  bonhomie at shopping centres and abusing ‘underlings’ who don’t have his hair dryer handy; between the barely pronounceable (‘programmatic specificity’) and the profane; and between Machiavellian manipulation and political glad-handing. Now, watch out. He is untouchable by his Party. He can reach heady heights of mood swings that he could have only dreamt of in the past.

Is there any hope for the 43% of us who intend to give our primary vote to the Coalition and for those who otherwise would least like to see the Labor Party or, their fellow-travellers, the Greens, holding sway. Well, yes, there is even in the opinion polls.

First we have the honeymoon effect which is bound to wear off as Rudd’s performance wilts under the weight of his own caprice and smarminess. Second, despite the honeymoon effect, the Coalition is still ahead and that assumes that the flow of preferences from Green voters and others, 11% apiece in Newspoll, flows as strongly to Labor as in 2010. This seems unlikely. Third, while satisfaction with Rudd grew from 28% of voters under Gillard to 36% (only marginally, and non-statistically significantly, ahead of Abbott’s 35%), those who are undecided rose from 10% to 28%. What’s the bet they’ll gradually move into the dissatisfied column?           

Finally, sanity will prevail. This Rudd-Gillard government has been a disaster for Australia, masked to a degree only because it inherited a country in such good shape. The times are now too fraught and uncertain to risk another three years like the last six. Australian voters in sufficient numbers will surely see that.

I am leaving aside why anyone would prefer Rudd to Abbott. It is only in this effeminate age that Abbott could be run down for wearing the standard gear of life-savers on an Australian beach or appearing distinctly to be a man, and a decent one, among men and women. Apparently being a man is somehow to be construed as misogyny among the Julia Gillards, Tanya Pliberseks and Penny Wongs of the world. Again, I have sufficient faith in Australians, men and women, to see this as the cant that it is. The Coalition will win in a canter.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics