Risking a Rudd double shot

If Rudd manages more than 35 votes from caucus today Julia Gillard's position becomes untenable. If not, an alternative candidate, probably Stephen Smith, could be drafted.

There will just be one deep, unknowing and unanswered question for a victorious Julia Gillard this morning: Has Rudd fired his one and only shot?

Has his unrequited desire for redemption and retribution been snuffed out for good? Has he accepted his fate and will he now put aside his egg-shell ego, vanity and vendetta for the benefit of his party?

Can anyone believe his claim he will shuffle off to the backbench and concentrate on the good folk in his beloved electorate?

Will Gillard be given the clean air and an unlocked hand that she needs if she's to restore any sense of credibility in her imploding party’s sagging brand and to re-energise her government?

The numbers will tell the story in part. If Rudd garners 35 plus votes out of the 102 who will vote, he will plot, and move before year’s end or early next year as the polls point to an Abbott landslide. Gillard’s position becomes untenable. The media will portray it as a Rudd victory.

If he gets in the low 30s or lower, it’s over. His colleagues will abandon him for good and if the polls still constantly show a wipe out then standby for an alternative candidate – probably Stephen Smith – to be drafted without a fight.

Gillard does have a narrative. So far, it has been shockingly told. That’s been her fault. But she’s lacked the authority within her ranks to lead without constant backward glances. In politics, your enemies always sit behind you – never across the aisle.

This excruciating political crisis must have the world wondering about Australia. I’m talking of Barack Obama, David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Mario Monti, Stephen Harper and the rest.

From afar they all see a growing, prosperous, educated and tolerant nation that’s set to take a once-in-a-lifetime economic and cultural advantage of the dawning Asian century and its middle class explosion.

What are those Aussies doing? What silly, stupid and irrelevant games are they playing, and why?

As the government of Australia has been seen to stumble under its own bitter, pent-up personality-driven bile these world leaders would be forgiven for thinking that in this country we all believe politics is no more important than a game of Big Bash cricket or even smelly online poker.

The nation is not in crisis. The numbers tell us of our strength and our resilience and our prospects. There is no uprising. There is no street-by-street violence. There is no war.

So – why the stupidity of the past months, weeks and days?

It all comes back to egos, retribution, and the very nature of our political structures where factions, not voters, determine leadership outcomes.

Kevin Rudd was killed off by back roomers in his own party because they thought he was going to lose an election, and because they had grown to hate him. Gillard had no hesitation in stepping in when Rudd failed to front his caucus to test his non-existent support. The public cast judgement on her and her opponent, Tony Abbott at the polls – and couldn’t decide.

Rudd never forgot or forgave. It was deeply personal. The question for Gillard and the government is what happens now?

Will Gillard reshape her ministry and punish those ministers such as Albanese, Ferguson, Carr, McClelland and Bowen who supported Rudd? That would be a mistake. It would add to internal distrust, instability and re-ignite "internals”. Gillard did the right thing in rejecting Albanese’s resignation over the weekend. He’s a formidable attack dog.

She needs a credible foreign minister, however. Sending Smith back to his old job would seem pragmatic and sensible. He knows the world players.

Tony Abbott, of course, will continue to demand an election. The polls will continue to show devastation for the ALP nationally, and at the state level as well. Stand by for a wipe-out in Queensland next month. An Abbott prime ministership will look inevitable – and is.

The independents will continue on as before. It’s not in their interests to go to an early poll. The deal they have is with Gillard.

The public policy process will continue – with renewed urgency. Gillard needs to chalk up more wins. The budget must return to surplus. It’s imperative that the Gonski review is turned into some form of legislation by years' end. The national disability insurance scheme must be given substance – and so on.

It’s also imperative she doesn’t become entangled in the daily minutiae of insider Canberra beltway politics.

The media sense a rolling headline-grabbing game. The focus will continue on government – not the alternative. They will be looking for any hint of ministerial weakness and put the microscope on every word and grimace uttered by Rudd. They will report Abbott's relentless calls for this to be settled now at a poll. No tax, or review, or boat will survive.

If Rudd plays any games, if he keeps briefing, it’s over for this government – for a generation. If he resigns himself to his fate then his party can survive to a point where it can rebuild. Even that will need to be generational.

Australia, at this time and in this place, cannot afford distraction and drift to take hold of the national psyche. Reform must continue boldly, and the story told with confidence and without self-inflicted distraction.

Prime Minister – forget the miserable ALP’s bleak future. The immediate job is government, and it is in your hands and yours alone.