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Gillard's Government should be a team made credible

Rudd's Ministry after being sworn in on 3 December 2007


Irrespective of Rudd's failings, and we should not understate his leadership in saving Australians from the demise of the GFC; no leader deserves a factional coup d'etat.
Sudden leadership spills are unsettling to all concerned. What happened to Rudd was equivalent to a CEO being suddenly escorted from the company premises.
It was an humiliating and disrespectful act characteristic of oppressive regimes and revolutions, both uncharacteristically Australian. In the interests of good governance, probity, electorate accountability and civility, the process of leadership replacement needs review. What would have been wrong for instance with a two week notice period allowing for civil measured transition? What was the rush? We are not at war.

The process of leadership replacement where a political party can suddenly replace a Prime Minister or a State Premier without electoral involvement is undemocratic. Political parties are elected on the merit of their leader. That merit earns an electoral mandate. If that mandate is not fulfilled, it is for the electorate to judge.

Australia now has an unelected prime Minister and an unelected Premier of the country's most populous state, NSW - both appointed by the Labor Right factions. Irrespective of the personalities or gender of these two leaders, that they may be seen as factional appointments should be cause for concern by Australians that a undemocratic process and an unaccountable political group can control government at federal and state levels simultaneously. Where does the real power and control lie?

Such power must be realised, then properly curbed and restored to the people, even if such a leadership change were to be trigger a compulsory election. Until there is a general election Gillard's Government is not credible.

On the back of these two issues, Australia has its first female Prime Minister in Julia Gillard. This is an historic achievement, but it shouldn't be. What has take us so long? This is 2010 and all Australians are supposed to be equal and feminism has been fighting since the suffrage movement on the 1880s. Gender shouldn't even be a factor in a mature civilized society, just like ethnicity or age. It is an indictment on Australians that few indigenous people are in politics and that it is probably many generations away before we can celebrate an Aboriginal woman as Prime Minister.

That our socio-political mindset is so hung up on the abilities and performance of one person in the role a leader is a rather vulnerable insecure position for the electorate and the media to be in. It means that the success or failure of the entire nation hinges on the whim of one personality. In Rudd, we trusted him on his promises, but even though he was quickly distracted by the GFC and then lost focus on key issues, he didn't end up being an axe murderer, luckily. American voted for George W. Bush and look what they got - someone who condoned torture and sent Americans to invade another country!

Our dependence on one person to lead the nation poses an unnecessary 'key man' risk. It is the Government and specifically a Cabinet team of ministers who should be running the country, not Rudd, not a gang of four, not just Julia Gillard. Running a country is immensely complex. It is a shared responsibility that of course demands leadership, but for effective delivery requires layers of delegation and good governance.

Gillard would be wise to better utilise the talents of her elected representatives than trying to do everything herself like Rudd tried to do but failed. Gillard should be about leadership of the Cabinet. Gillard's Government should be about managing the national interest as directed by Cabinet. The two functions are distinctly different. Rudd' experiment with autocracy should be learnt from. He started off with a progressive approach to listening to the electorate in his 2020 Summit. Perhaps his incapacity to interpret criticism constructively saw him become insular - lessons we can all learn from.

If we consider some of our more longer serving leaders at both federal and state levels who were popular with the electorate and not divisive, we may learn from what works for Australian political stability. Deakin, Menzies, Hawke, Wran come to mind. Liberal and Labor are ideologically the same so it matters little which is in office. Listening and consultation followed by decisive action is a good start and this is one of the first indicators of Gillard's style she announced on taking the helm.

I wish her new government well. It would be reassuring for voters to think they can look forward to a long period of political stability in Australia, without the usual cycle of new leader euphoria...disappointment...complacency...anger...contempt...followed by let's give the Opposition a go.

But we must have an election soon. Until we do, Australia does not have a 'government of the people, by the people, for the people.' [Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, 19th November, 1863, Pennsylvania, USA].

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Comments

Surely caucus being able to elect a new leader at a perceive failure of the present leader just like evolution? Survival of the fittest. This ultimately allows flexibility and success to the "fittest"! It is all about adapting and trade-offs with other forces. It's the nature of politics.

John Marlowe wrote: "Rudd' experiment with autocracy should be learnt from. He started off with a progressive approach to listening to the electorate in his 2020 Summit."

Are you joking, John? Rudd listened to the growth lobby and appointed media-manufactured authorities to his so-called 'Summit', where they cemented their nonsense about a big population. There was nothing democratic or progressive about that summit. It was an absurd farce.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
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Labor caucus is an internal political party process outside the legitimacy of the public view or say. Political appointments manifested as factional selection, pre-selection and branch stacking suit the agenda of party politics. It is illegitimate autocratic process and by definition undemocratic. It must be challenged.
Those who did not vote Labor are being excluded from the process.

Out of government, political parties may legitimately play politics as they wish since they only represent their own interests. But once in government and representing the people, such scope to play with power is relinquished in the process we call in Australia, 'representative democracy'.

Compare China's oppressive junta, where its Politburo appoints its chairman, president and officials all the way down the chain of socio-political power. Public representation is denied.

Australia is trumpeted as a representative democracy. So when the current leader of Australia and of the State of New South Wales are not elected (as is the current situation) their appointment is democratically illegitimate. The people have had no say in their current power appointment. Their respective appointments hold no credibility. The public perception quite rightly is that their appointment has been made by powerful unaccountable internal faction power brokers, not dissimilar to the autocratic political process of Australia's juntas to its north. When internal power is dispensed and financially supported by nameless lobbyists, how different is such political power to many Asian countries rife with corruption such as China, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand?

Philosopher Herbert Spencer's [1820-1903] axiom "survival of the fittest" implies 'only the fittest organisms will prevail'. Such 'Social Darwinism' logic perpetuates might is right and that uncontrolled leads to violence and war.

More sustainable and relevant to 21st Century government is William Hamilton's [1936-2000] axiom of 'social evolution'.

What we saw executed by Labor caucus with Rudd's ousting was selfish behaviour benefiting the Right and its chances to re-election. A superior level of such social evolution would have been to have sought a mutually beneficial process and outcome - that which increased the fitness of the leadership without decreasing the rights of the electorate. The ousting ought to an publicly acceptable timeframe - say within two months.

How is the ousting of an elected leader any different to the ousting of Thailand's elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 or the denial of power to Zimbabwe's elected Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangira in 2008?

The 'nature of politics' can be as any powerful regime deems it to be. Authoritative power is not legitimate power until the people, not political factions decide.

Unless, of course, this was a true win for democracy, with Rudd booted out for his totally undemocratic service to big business and Gillard brought in by a disgusted parliament or one bowing finally to backbench pressure. I often wonder what Kelvin Thomson's role might really be.

I must say that to take this coup on face value - as representative of democracy - goes against my experience of recent Australian politics and I know that the mainstream press aren't going to like it. Since they run the country, either they were really taken by surprise or this move is byzantine beyond byzantine ... or have I missed something? I am open to more information. As some of you know James and I have been unavoidably disengaged from journalism due to unexpected and severe illness over past 5 or 6 weeks. We hope to return bit by bit to full engagement. Ironic that we were so busy on other things just as this storm was gathering then blew.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
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