Why BHP is in Rudd’s crosshairs

If Kevin Rudd is hustling for a power grab, it's not Julia Gillard but the miners who brought down his resources tax that he'll be seeking revenge on.

"I call it love, Gracchus. The people are my children, I am their father."
– Emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott's film 'Gladiator'


Australia's political class is a-chatter once more following the revelation on last night's Four Corners program that Julia Gillard may have known a fortnight in advance that moves were afoot to bump off Kevin Rudd.

If Julia is really 'Ju-liar!', as the far right has been howling, then she went to great lengths last night not to lie – refusing to confirm to ABC interviewer Andrew Fowler that she didn't know her staff were writing her acceptance speech well before Right-faction stormtroopers secured her the top job in Canberra.

But that question rather misses the point. It could be rephrased "were you aware, Prime Minister, that politics is a dirty numbers game played behind closed doors?" To which she could have replied "I always have been, always will be". Nothing new there.

What the Four Corners episode does remind us of, more usefully, is that Kevin Rudd's contract is not with the Labor Party, but with the Australian people. Labor is an inconvenient obstacle between this talented demagogue and 'his' demos.

Viewed through that prism, Kevin Rudd's campaign to take back the prime ministership is not driven by a desire to see the heads of Bill Shorten, Mark Arbib, Paul Howes and any number of other Right faction luminaries mounted on his living room wall.

The Rudd campaign is a game of revenge, but not, to my mind, primarily directed against the elements within the ALP that ousted him in June 2010. There is one other group that left very real scars on Rudd – namely, the miners who set up 'war rooms' to bring down the Resource Super Profits Tax and whose meticulously planned assault shocked Labor's powerbrokers into action.

When Rudd is in Australia, his every move is recorded by cameras capturing an endless parade of 'working people' lining up to get souvenir photos with the old PM. That is interpreted by political insiders as cynically 'keeping up his profile'.

But I'm sure BHP, Rio Tinto and Xstrata – the three mining giants that helped Julia Gillard slash the mining tax in half just days after the coup – are already aware that there's much more to all that hugging and smiling than a cynical PR exercise.

Rudd is detested by the greater part of the Labor caucus. They are not his people and he is not theirs. His people are on the streets – with the passion of a church minister for his flock, Rudd won't stop talking about what the Australian people want and need.

And what do they want and need from him, should he take the prime ministership again? Not a rethink of the Murray-Darling plan. Not a reconfiguring of the Rudd/Conroy NBN. Not even an overhaul of the highly damaging 'Clean Energy Future' carbon pricing package.

No, Rudd's revenge will be on the chiefs of the mining companies whose stakeholders are, to a large degree, neither the Australian demos, nor even the Labor party. For all the wealth that inward investment in mining generates for Australia, there is nothing democratic about the interests of the miner's overseas shareholders triumphing over the interests of Australian voters – and Rudd will want to pick that fight again.

When Rudd sprang the RSPT policy on miners in May 2010, the Australian dollar was buying 90 US cents, having worked its way up from 65 cents at the start of 2009. While we all thought that was high at the time, and commentators talked about 'parity' as if we were trying to get to deuce in a tennis match, it was really only the beginning.

The vice has only been wound tighter since then for non-resources sectors of the economy – the Australian dollar is currently trading at 107.5 cents. The growing pressure on manufacturers, education services, tourism and retail was supposed to be relieved by the RSPT. As Business Spectator vehemently argued at the time, Rudd's RSPT would have deterred some investment in mining and cost jobs – but not the jobs that the dollar is now destroying instead in the sectors listed above.

I will not seek to reopen the RSPT debate today – it was a too-clever tax designed by some of the best policy minds in Treasury and adopted, rather naively in hindsight, by the people's saviour, Kevin Rudd.

Now, as Rudd sits back and basks in the leadership speculation whipped up by Four Corners, he'll be working through the list of priorities for his next term. And right at the top of the list is the RSPT – I'm sorry, I mean the rejigged MRRT.

That's the fight Kevin Rudd would like to win. All those Labor 'powerbrokers' buzzing around his ankles are nothing compared to that.

Follow @_Rob_Burgess on Twitter

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