Government in freefall

Inside Kevin’s head— a scary thought! 

When a leading Australian newspaper runs a headline like “Why Kevin needs to enter f**king rehab”, you know the Prime Minister is in a spot of bother. And his habitual foul-mouthed outbursts are the least of his counselling needs. 

Unfortunately many in Mr Rudd’s supporter base would be too young to remember 1975 and the excitement of the Team Whitlam years — cascading towards political oblivion after three years of political chaos. But then, like now, it was a team effort… well almost. 

Kevin Rudd’s cascade brings back spooky memories of politics in the 70’s. The similarities are worth considering. 

When first elected, in 1972, Gough Whitlam and his deputy Lance Barnard had themselves sworn in by the Governor General as a “duumvirate”. Rule by two politicians. For two weeks the country was run by Whitlam and Barnard, between them, holding 27 portfolios. Whitlam’s speechwriter at the time, Graham Freudenberg, said it showed that Labor “could manipulate the machinery of government”. 

Today we are ruled by a gang-of-four , a “tetrarchy”, which includes Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, and Lindsay Tanner. This group virtually run the country, making decisions over the heads of government ministers. They rely upon political advisors and paid outside consultants, and the various ignored ministers tend to hear about key decisions after they are announced by the Prime Minister. The notion of “cabinet decisions” are apparently used in the loosest possible term. It all has a certain Imperial Rome feel about it. 

One of the first inklings that the Whitlam government was something new in Australian politics was when the Attorney General, Lionel Murphy, led a Federal Police raid on the offices of ASIO in Melbourne in search of ASIO files and documents. This was followed by a referendum in December 1973 whereby Whitlam tried to seize control of wages and prices from the states. This was defeated when the idea failed to get a majority in any of the states. 

The Rudd government’s eye on taking control of education and health from the Australian states, and its efforts to date, are pure Whitlamesque. The idea of Federation, to them, is a style of house rather than a form of government. 

Another bounce down Whitlam’s cascade of self-destruction was in 1974 during an episode known as the “Night of the Long Prawns”. Again, another curious try at manipulation of the machinery of government came into play, as a half-Senate election approached. 

Whitlam had the Governor General Sir Paul Hasluck quietly appoint DLP Senator Vince Gair as Ambassador to Ireland, with the idea that his vacancy at the coming election would give Labor an extra Senate seat. Unfortunately the little conspiracy leaked out. Country Party members lured Gair to a beer and prawn party, while ALP members searched parliament for him, and his much needed resignation signature. On cue, while Gair was “prawning” the Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke, had the Queensland governor issue the Senate writs of that state, leaving out Senator Gair from the list. Whitlam never got his extra Senate seat. 

Perhaps the most remarkable coincidence, or similarity, between the Whitlam and Rudd governments is the debacle over mining, which exploded in 1974. Whitlam attempted to deceive the Loans Council (which includes the states) by secretly negotiating a $4 billion loan with a dubious Pakistani financier, Tirath Kemlani, sourcing petro-dollars from Arab money-men.  

The scheme was part of a plan by Whitlam’s Minerals and Energy Minister Rex Connor who wanted get government control/ownership of the country’s resources, by squeezing out Australian companies like BHP and foreign investors. Sound a bit familiar? 

The main players in the scandal were Gough Whitlam, Rex Connor and the Treasurer, Jim Cairns who, incredibly, was trying to get the loan through, independent of any Australian Treasury scrutiny and advice. Rex Connor was eventually held responsible for the Loans Affair scandal and resigned. He was replaced by one Paul Keating. 

In July 1975 Whitlam sacked Jim Cairns. In November 1975 the Governor General, Sir John Kerr, sacked Gough Whitlam. 

Today we are in a situation whereby our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, seems determined to take his government down the Whitlam path. There is almost a demented madness in the way the Rudd experiment lurches from crisis to crisis, disaster to disaster, project to project, big idea to big idea — but all ending in a great big new mess. 

Messes like border protection, climate change policy, BER schools rip-offs, pink batts, indigenous housing disasters, building the national debt and the control freak nature of the new industrial laws — to say nothing of the mining super profits tax have the feel of amateurism. All these cock-ups could and should have been avoided if due process, control and clear thinking by the collective minds of a fully functional cabinet had been the priority of our Dear Leader. It wasn’t. The Prime Minister doesn’t do collective thinking. 

When things go wrong Kevin Rudd is keen to wheel out his silent ministers, remove the gag, and have them face the media and public scorn. We see Chris Evans when the border policy fails. We see Peter Garrett when people die and houses burn down with the pink batts debacle. We see poor Jenny Macklin trying to explain about $600 million worth of Aboriginal houses that are not being built. 

And of course we never see the “tetrarchy” venture forth. You won’t see Julia Gillard anywhere near a bungled school project or Lindsay Tanner doing a photo-op at a burnt out pink batts site. Or Wayne Swan at a closed mine or a mining project that will never open. And you will certainly never see Kevin Rudd down by the Murray or on the Great Barrier Reef explaining his position and stand on climate change. 

This week the Prime Minister’s brother, Greg Rudd, wrote an article for the Weekend Australian. Reading it you come to the conclusion that where his brother, Kevin, must have been touched at school by the verbose fairy, Greg was blessed by a gift from the brevity fairy. It is hard to believe that they were educated in the same country, let alone the same state. Greg Rudd, a man of few words, has a few interesting things to say. 

Can you trust a politician who is your brother? Yes, as a brother; no as a politician. We, the public have made them that way. 

Well no, Greg. Kevin Rudd came to us fully formed, but unfortunately, we the public were not fully informed as to what we were getting. 

Greg went on to say:

What job or jobs is Rudd [Kevin] half way through? Not sure. He has to let us inside his head. This is a scary thought. 

You said it, Greg!

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