Well, where to from here?
An unprecedented day in Australian political history as a national government unravelled before our eyes and ears.
We watched a government implode, slowly and with steely calculation.
It was riveting television, with something happening almost every fifteen minutes – from a senior minister and party elder declaring his support for a former foe to knock off the prime minister and deputy prime minister, right through to a leadership spill without a rival candidate.
For the third time Kevin Rudd went to water – and Paul Keating’s words about Peter Costello being all tip and no iceberg resonate again.
And this was just an hour or so after the majority of parliamentarians voted an effective 'no confidence' in the government.
What can be gleaned, politically, from this farce on Capitol Hill?
First, Kevin Rudd will never be prime minister of Australia again, and will never lead his shattered comrades again. He sat for months as his 'supporters' undermined Julia Gillard. The destabilisation was unrelenting, although seemingly uncoordinated. They captured headlines of “Dead Woman Walking” and “Gillard’s Ministers Desert”. They dominated the public discourse. But cometh the hour, the man went walkabout.
Second, Julia Gillard is one tough person and one tough politician. When Crean told the world he wanted to end the debacle he expected the tide to sweep her away. It was not personal of course – it was for the good of the country. Gillard acted swiftly and decisively – and won the day. She spoke to the hyperventilating media shortly after, but refused questions. Wise move – as there are no decent answers.
Third, this tumultuous day ensures a sweeping Abbott victory. He’s called for an early election. He’s done that for two years. It won’t happen but on September 14 he will win in a landslide. Australians are getting mightily sick of minority government. The facts may say it has actually worked but the smell test has been breached.
Fourth, the constant poll-driven speculation and sniggering about Rudd’s return will probably cease. It can’t and won’t be taken seriously. The government will get on with the job, with hardly anyone listening. Voters will quietly wait for September 14.
It was a day of course that reminded me of an earlier one in Canberra – eerily and exactly 38 years to the day when Malcolm Fraser knocked off Bill Snedden for the Liberal Party leadership.
It has been brewing, quietly, for months. It was never on the boil. It was all done behind closed and secure doors. It all seemed so civil in retrospect.
Back then there was no rolling television coverage, no countdown clocks to the leadership spill, no texts from one side or the other, no tweets, no mobile phones and no speculation about speculation. The journalists reported stories they had actually checked. They preferred news to commentary.
It was more like a time and place where white smoke pours from the chimney to announce the election of a new Pope.
But we are in a new age – with new rules. The Press Gallery are players. The politicians are frequently beholden as they act or re-act to what is said or written, whether true or false.
And that will continue as Wayne Swan prepares his budget, as Julia Gillard tries to “govern” and “campaign” and as Tony Abbott has a quiet cup of tea.