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Australia Latham's Law

Latham’s law

3 March 2012

11:00 AM

3 March 2012

11:00 AM

The Gillard-Rudd struggle is not just about party politics. It is also about media politics. At the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hartcher has sullied his claim to professional, independent journalism by acting as Kevin Rudd’s cheerleader. Hartcher has been twirling his pom-poms since 2005. In recent weeks he has thrown extra cartwheels into his routine, describing Rudd’s return to the prime ministership as inevitable.

Incredibly, he has depicted Rudd as an innocent victim of circumstance.

On 4 February he reported that ‘no one is compiling lists of names and counting heads’ — a statement untrue since mid-2011. On 18 February Hartcher wrote that ‘Rudd is not campaigning for the leadership’, portraying the former PM as Labor’s Marcel Marceau: ‘If Rudd has been campaigning, it has been a silent campaign, leadership positioning by mime.’

During the 2010 election campaign, Hartcher wrote stories favourable to Rudd without verifying their accuracy. He did so again on 21 February in a report co-authored with Phillip Coorey. They claimed ‘rebel Caucus members have drafted a petition in a bid to force a leadership spill next week’. Later that day, however, it was clear no such petition was being used to force a Caucus ballot. It was just another Rudd campaign ruse.

Throughout the leadership contest, the Press Gallery has taken rumours and tactical ploys (from both sides) and reported them as fact. Coorey has been a serial offender. On 22 February he raised the prospect of Gillard calling a ‘leadership ballot on Tuesday to kill off the [Rudd] threat’.


The truth of the matter was exposed three days later by Coorey’s Fairfax colleague, Michelle Grattan. She noted:

[A cabinet minister] briefed out the story that the PM was planning to move against Rudd, with a ballot and a sacking. It is believed this briefing did not have the sanction of Gillard, who was still making up her mind how to handle the situation.That is, the story was untrue. Coorey had once again misled his readers. As with the Caucus petition, he did not check the veracity of his information, fearing this might kill off the story itself. Unfortunately, in the Press Gallery greater weight is given to manufacturing headlines than reporting the truth.

•••

The media love Rudd because he plays the media game: providing an endless stream of rumours and leaks they can recycle as ‘news’. Within the Labor Caucus, however, self-promotion of this kind is counter-productive. After 14 years in parliament, Kevvie’s ego has finally caught up with him, as he confronts the embarrassment of a 71-31 defeat.

The folklore among Labor MPs is captured in a popular Caucus story. Rudd had a backbencher cornered, talking about himself for more than 30 minutes. Eventually this self-serving blurb ended, with Kevin declaring ‘Enough from me. What do you think about me?’

At least Rudd was speaking to a colleague. In the lead-up to Monday’s ballot, he spent most of his time talking to the media and posing for photos in Brisbane’s CBD. As Placido Domingo once said, there is more to leadership than tripping over television cables in shopping centres. KRudd’s addiction to publicity makes Amy Winehouse look like a cleanskin.

•••

Kevvie’s most vocal Caucus supporter has been Doug Cameron, a representative of the metal workers’ union in the Senate. When it comes to economic policy, I have always preferred a different Scotsman, Adam Smith. Cameron is an advocate of McEwenite industry policy, under which governments throw tariffs and large amounts of public money at selected industries. Working-class consumers and taxpayers are expected to subsidise global capital.

For anyone who thinks Cameron has based his ideas on a numerate approach to politics, think again. On the night of Rudd’s resignation as foreign minister, the Senator told ABC radio: ‘I feel stupid… I wasn’t any good at maths at school, so I don’t do numbers.’ Last week Rudd told his supporters he had 45 votes. Clearly he has been to the Doug Cameron School of Mathematical Studies. If Rudd and Cameron were to run Australia’s economic policy, the same innumeracy would apply. If they can’t get the numbers right in Caucus, how can they pick winners in a complex global economy?

•••

Bruce Hawker must also accept responsibility for Rudd’s defeat. It was incongruous for Rudd to rail against the ‘faceless men’ while the party’s leading spin doctor ran his campaign. Caucus was entitled to ask: who elected this millionaire lobbyist as a Labor spokesperson on the leadership? Hawker’s high media profile cost Kevin votes among MPs. As the height of his arrogance on Saturday, Hawker even told the Prime Minister not to contest Monday’s ballot. He said he was confident Rudd had the numbers and: ‘I don’t think it will be the best career move for me if he loses on Monday.’

The ALP was once a political cause for working-class people. Now it’s just a career path for carpetbaggers like Hawker.


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