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Spunout by spin - where Rudd went wrong

By Leon Bertrand - posted Friday, 25 June 2010

I have been a strong critic of Kevin Rudd for more than two years now, complaining about his focus on spin over substance, talk over action and gimmicks over real reform, among other things. In October last year I wrote that:

It could be that like the Carr government in New South Wales, federal Labor will keep getting re-elected while the lack of real policies only later become devastatingly clear after some years.

That prediction would appear to have been wrong. Since then, Kevin Rudd’s popularity has plummeted. Last year, a Labor victory at the next federal election seemed assured. Now Rudd has been rolled by his own party before the election.


The fall

The fall from grace has been dramatic. In the space of a few months, Rudd went from the most popular Prime Minister in Newspoll history to an outright liability to Labor’s chances at re-election. Rudd the hero became Rudd the zero.

Were there any warning signs that this would happen? Yes and no. about six months ago I recall reading that Rudd was viewed as “superficial” in focus groups after failing to deliver on his commitment to fix the health system or organise a hospital takeover. But the polls were still sky high for Rudd, so it appeared as though the Australian people were once again giving him a free pass. Even Tony Abbott’s feisty performance in the health debate did little to lower the Prime Minister in the eyes of voters.

Since then, there was the insulation fiasco, which resulted in Rudd’s Beattie-style “mea culpa”, as well as the Building Education Revolution rip-offs, an issue which is yet to be fully dealt with. Both of these issues have led to voters questioning the government’s competence.

But the event which seemed to crystallise doubts about Rudd was the backdown on an emissions trading scheme. Rather than negotiate with the Greens or call a double dissolution over what Rudd described as “the greatest moral issue of our time”, the Prime Minister instead quietly put action on climate change in the too hard basket.

To me, it wasn’t the backdown itself but the context in which it occurred that really damaged Rudd. Voters truly upset by the backdown would tend to support the Greens, resulting in no change to the two-party preferred vote. Rather, the ETS about-face arguably exposed Rudd as a politician with little or no conviction, after his overblown rhetoric on the issue and his inaction and backflips on other issues. It was the final straw.

The Resources Super Profits Tax

The (right royal) Super Profits Tax (RSPT) has since become the latest PR disaster for the government, and another one that it has brought upon itself. It will be interesting to see if Prime Minister Julia Gillard can now reconcile with the miners.


One can imagine that the “gang of four” initially saw the RSPT as the perfect plan that would solve a lot of problems. Rudd’s love of big government and big spending inevitably meant that higher taxes must follow. But to increase income tax would be electoral poison, particularly since Labor matched the Coalition’s proposed tax cuts at the last election. Increasing other taxes which are paid directly by “working families” would be similarly unpopular. But presumably, too few would care if big mining companies would have to pay more tax.

Furthermore, the expected outcry from the miners would have given Rudd a public fight to prove that he could stand his ground on behalf of middle income earners and show some ticker against furious but rich mining executives. Like the standoffs with elements of the trade union movement in 2007, this sort of conflict was supposed to help Rudd gain some credibility which had been lost over the ETS.

And against claims that the tax is bad for the economy, Rudd could point to the fact that the tax had been recommended by Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, thus also boosting the government’s economic credentials. It would have appeared to be a foolproof plan.

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About the Author

Leon Bertrand is a Brisbane blogger and lawyer.

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