Two Labor women gave notable valedictory speeches yesterday – former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Northern Territory senator Trish Crossin – giving very different verdicts on the leadership of their own party.
Crossin is still bittterly angry about Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s decision to bump her from the top spot on the Northern Territory senate ticket, replacing her with well known former Olympian Nova Peris.
“Do we need more women in parliament?" Crossin said. "Well of course we do. But not at the expense of each other. And do we need indigenous representation? Most certainly, but not in a vacuum without a plan or without a strategy ... Just because one person says it must be so doesn't make it right or democratic.”
That adds to recent criticism of Gillard for backing a male candidate, ‘faceless man’ David Feeney, for preselection in the safe seat of Batman over a female candidate, Mary-Anne Thomas.
Roxon, a staunch Gillard fan, saw the gender issue quite differently in her speech. She noted, “We have a capable, tough, smart, determined woman as our prime minister yet she has been subjected to some of the most crass, silly, petty, sexist and just plain rude behaviour for years”.
Roxon was speaking of Australian society in general, but she perhaps ought to have focused more of her attack on her own colleagues – the party men, who have constantly briefed journalists against Gillard, in order to back their man Kevin.
To reduce the Gillard-Rudd wars to an issue of pure gender would be ridiculous – it is much more complex than that. However, it is time to acknowledge that it is not predominantly Labor’s women white-anting our first female PM.
When the Feeney-Thomas tension hit the headlines, Finance Minister Penny Wong, Mininster for Families and Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin and Regional Services Minister Catherine King kicked up a public stink – this safe seat, they argued, should go to a female candidate in line with Labor’s widely promoted affirmative action policy.
Critics slammed Gillard for overturning this to, apparently, reward one of the men who put her in power in the 2010 toppling of Rudd.
But raising this kind of issue publicly is part of the democratic process. And as I have a argued before (What the Rudd rumours really tell us, June 7), a small coterie of Rudd men talking continually to a small group of – coincidentally, predominantly male – journalists is not so democratic. It is two elites telling the rest of the country there is a crisis when, in fact, the ‘crisis’ in Labor is theirs to confect.
Actually, there is a real crisis within Labor, but it should not be Rudd at the centre of it. It is a matter of clear record that the manipulative tentacles of the Australian Workers Union and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union reach deep into caucus.
It was they, particulary the former, that arranged for Rudd to be removed from the PM’s chair and installed Gillard as his successor.
So it is possible to argue, as many of the nation’s most prominent journalists have, that the ‘Rudd numbers’ are a function of an ongoing battle between right and wrong – between union interference and ‘democratic’ process.
And that, argue the ‘Rudd camp’, and the ‘Rudd journos’ between them, is why Kevin must challenge again – to lead the large numbers of disaffected Labor MPs to a cleaner, more democratic future.
But that too is an oversimplication. When Rudd walked away after giving his teary speech announcing that he’d been rolled in 2010, only Senator John Faulkner walked with him. Most of the party were sick to death of Rudd’s dictatorial, capricious and chaotic management of government.
In the two ‘challenges’ since then, Rudd’s small band of supporters have walked to the spill meetings as a pack through the corridors of power – a display of unity that was admirable in as much as they knew it would lose them their jobs. Kim Carr, Chris Bowen, Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson and Robert McClelland all moved to the backbench over those two challenges.
But in both cases the pack was small. The number of Rudd supporters and the number of MPs who want to see the union powerbrokers chased out of parliament house are not equal.
And that is the point in all this. Rudd is not the man to clean up the party. He tried, as PM, and made a hash of it. And the fact that the party still requires reform needs to be separated out from the fact that Rudd was hard done-by by the unions in 2010.
To bring it back to ‘gender’, women are routinely accused of being too emotional for politics, business or just about anything else.
Rubbish. In this case it’s a handful of very bitter Labor men, backgrounding a small number of very receptive journalists, to undermine Julia Gillard.
There were other ways to approach this problem. It’s a kind of political idiocy to think that having toppled one serving prime minister the voting public would endure the whole process being repeated to install the very man kicked out orginally.
Had there been a bit less emotion involved, the ‘Rudd camp’, such as they are, would have realised that the party’s need to win the politics of the day – and stay in power – should have been placed above their need for revenge, and their need to fix the union problem 'right now!'
But they couldn’t help themselves, and the white-anting started with the Rudd leaks against Gillard in the 2010 campaign, and has fouled and hindered her progress ever since.
Gillard has utterly lost control of the politics of this parliament, and the stories that continue day after day of the ‘Rudd numbers’ about to topple her are a ball and chain that no sitting PM could ‘move forward’ with.
Yes, Labor’s woes are a complex web of political and policy failures. But the angry, emotional men of Labor need to be put under the spotlight for their role in wrecking Gillard’s chances of success, and being willing to lose the last election and the forthcoming election to teach the union powerbrokers a lesson.
And they will take many of Labor’s women, who have fought so hard to balance gender represenation in the parliment, with them into political oblivion.