How will history remember Julia Gillard?

ides of march

In my post earlier this week, Labor drowned in the loon pond,  I argued that the following is the salient timeline of self-destruction for the current Labor government:

  • Kevin Rudd is elected and flies high on a platform of fiscal conservatism and reform aimed at climate change, the NBN and winding back Work Choices.
  • Rudd manages the GFC well in the moment but overdoes the bailouts for banks and households (and property developers had he been allowed). He remains popular.
  • Rudd allows business to water down CPRS then he back flips completely on climate change reform and his polls fall heavily.
  • Rudd proves a poor communicator as his “moral challenge of a generation” fades into politicking.
  • Rudd introduces RSPT overly quickly, his polls fall further and before he finds a solution is dumped by a party spooked by a mining PR campaign.
  • Gillard dumps RSPT in favour of the mining-authored MRRT.
  • Gillard is re-elected in a minority government with a much reduced majority (obviously).
  • Gillard introduces carbon pricing reform process and polls fall further again. She also introduces reregulation of the labour market (which I disagree with on many points).
  • Carbon pricing is hysterically attacked by Opposition (labour market is barely mentioned and reform hardly resisted).
  • Carbon pricing proves benign. Gillard’s  polls improve as rate cuts flow.
  • Gillard proves a poorer communicator even than Rudd and she struggles to regain momentum as her leadership is undermined by the former leader.
  • Gillard offers licorice all sorts policies in early election (including sops for unions).

An industrious reader encouraged me to go back and look again at the polls when Kevin Rudd was deposed in Julia Gillard’s putsch. So, here they are from Newspoll:


The data is an eye-opener in retrospect is it not?

It’s sobering to  recall that the Rudd government fell behind the Coalition in the polls only once during the RSPT debate. Compare that with the subsequent Gillard government, which managed to flop over the line with a minority government and has badly lagged the Opposition ever since. One can only wonder how Labor strategists sleep at night knowing that they deposed a leader on flimsy polling grounds only to entrench a far worse opinion of the party.

Second, it is pretty obvious that Rudd was rebounding from the RSPT debacle when he was deposed. The April through June 2010 series of two party preferred polls are 49, 50, 51, 52 and rather suggest that Rudd was winning the debate. Despite the extraordinary bias of the Australian business press against the policy, his polling had returned to pre-RSPT levels and was trending upwards.

Third, it is remarkable how this fact has been whitewashed from history (including by me in the above list). The propaganda has been so overwhelming surrounding the tax and the coup that we have all forgotten that Rudd was actually strengthening his electoral position when he was tossed out.

Thus, in the cold hard light of history, Rudd’s overthrow should be seen as an act of political bastardry not electoral necessity.

If that’s the case then it behooves us to contemplate the counter factual case of Rudd persisting in the job. Treasury estimates comparing RSPT and MRRT revenues into the future have shown a difference between the two taxes of as much as $100 billion dollars over ten years. There are higher estimates around as well. Is that the price we paid for a regime change that we neither wanted nor needed?

Probably not. Rudd was also negotiating with Andrew Forrest at the time of the revolution and the outcome of that would still have watered down the tax, presumably more to the advantage of FMG than the big boys. I nonetheless think it fair to suppose that that outcome would have been more advantageous to tax-payers than the sell-out document authored by the three big miners and rubber stamped by Gillard.

The other significantly reduced cost would have been the smaller tear in the fabric of Australia’s political economy. Gillard’s ascension declared loudly to every business in the country that rent-seeking was the new law of the land and although Kevin Rudd’s nanny state was encouraging similar behaviour, it was not with so loud a trumpet.

So, how will history remember Julia Gillard? The victors – miners, unions and other vested interests – will have her remembered as we have so far; having power thrust upon her by a bumbling predecessor.

The clearer thoughts of historians will see a glint her eye and dagger in her hand.

David Llewellyn-Smith

David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal.

He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.

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  1. Interesting !

    Mr Rudd is not my cup of tea but the manner and timing of the ‘coup’ is crystal clear.

    It had everything to do with Rudd’s antipathy towards the union official controlled factions and little to with anything else.

    They were not going to let the ‘twerp’ tell them what to do after years spent working the numbers, building fiefs, saving pennies from their pay packets for re-election fighting funds.

    All of the excuses dished up for removing Rudd are melting like the polar ice caps or not melting like the polar ice caps – take your pick.

    Rudd the mean library monitor who picked on the cream of the union graduate school of management.

    Rudd the conquistador of cabinet and caucus.

    Rudd the ‘poll’ loser.

    Rudd the man the miners could not work with.

    Despite this Rudd is still more popular with the voters.

    That must be very very frustrating for some people.

    • Gillard – a failed law partner aspirant and party machine through and through. Anyone that’s worked in a law firm will understand her Machiavellian ‘flexible’ with the truth style very easily.

      She will be remembered for what she is – a useless cog in the party machine, doing the bidding of the ruling cabal.

      • She will be remembered as a liar & backstabber – don’t over complicate it!

        The problem is that this person, like all before her, will have all the excessive retired PM perks for the rest of her life!

  2. In the long, long term she’ll be remembered for introducing the carbon tax, and Abbott will be remembered for removing it. History will judge one well and one harshly.

      • And of course, she never would have done it unless she was forced to by being in a minority government.

        Frankly, without bipartisan support for carbon-pricing (and we lost that opportunity when Turnbull was rolled) the only was a price on carbon was ever going to happen in Australia was a minority Labor government in coalition with the Greens.

      • We’ll see.

        FWIW, I’m extremely confident that my grandkids won’t view carbon pricing as a policy mistake in 2100. OTOH, Abbott’s actions will quite possibly be viewed as criminal.

        • The move to reduce CO2 emissions is excellent. There is no other responsible thing to do. CC is real and is accelerating.

          • Shame the means popularly advocated by all the powers that be – Big Finance, Big Fossil, and Big Politics – and being employed purportedly to achieve this outcome (reduce CO2 emissions), have already proven to be an inefficacious charade, benefiting noone except the aforementioned “Bigs” plus assorted fraudsters.

  3. The Newspoll data is indeed eye-opening and the answer lies within.


    Rudd sailed into power in 07 with News Ltd backing.

    Inspite of the polls Rudd was rolled in 2010 when Rupert decided his usefulness was at an end.

    • Never ascribe to malice etc. not withstanding, I think you miss the fact that it’s not specifically that Rudd’s “usefulness” was at an end, but that news organisations thrive on drama and a lack of status quo. Rudd was “supported” in opposition to Howard because he represented change – and I’m sure the newspapers would be only too happy if every government was single term.

      • There is no malice, Karan, no emotion. This is business. Rupert is simply running his businesses the best way he knows how. It has worked for him for more than fifty years. Rupert leverages the influence of his media outlets for political favour. If the politicians don’t deliver, belt them. If it becomes a habit, make a deal with their opponents and wipe ’em out. Ideology is is for wimps.
        In 2010 Rudd was not cooperating and Rupert saw a new game in town with Tony and the miners. Everything since then has been about regime change. Rudd got smashed, Julia picked up the ball and has run with it for longer than most thought possible whilst being chased by Ruperts thugs. But they will catch her.

  4. GunnamattaMEMBER

    Even if you agree with the narrative (and I largely do) we aren’t historians yet on Gillard and Rudd. On the other side of an election she has been creamed in (and I certainly agree that creaming is on the way) history starts. For better or worse Gillard and the ALP are still making history at the moment and if we start casting an historians eye over them then presumably we can start expecting them to adopt historical posturing.

    My recollection (having been outside Australia when he was knifed) is that there were a lot of people writing to me about how some major interpersonal flaws had been identified in Rudd circa 2010. I recall being particularly surprised, but being shown raw video feed by one BBC journalist of Rudd rearranging chairs in an interview involving a man obviously keen to tone down his Chinese links, having an American journalist relate some of his behavioural idiosyncrasies at a global leaders meetfest, and having a Union official relate the experience of people who had worked in his office. I strongly recall actually saying the words ‘but they are talking about knifing an elected ALP leader in his first term in office – they can’t possibly think that is going to go over well’ and getting the reply (from a few different sources) words to the effect that if the public cottoned on to who this guy was (Rudd) then the party was trashed and the machinery of government/policymaking trashed with it.

    In that context at that time ditching him and opting for Gillard seemed moderately plausible. I had distantly known the woman some years beforehand, and knew people who knew her fairly well (I moved in IR circles then) which had left me with a view of her being a relatively bland ALP ‘player’ who was (as one Union official told me of her many years previously) a ‘policy free zone’ despite a public reputation for being leftist.

    In that context the change seemed to me at that time moderately plausible/bemusing but I recall everyone I spoke to then (and it wasnt as though I chatted with people often about it – mainly just when I chatted with people from home) referring to a need for the party to have to work on ‘selling the change’ and I (very much a pragmatist on interpersonal issues vis large organisations) recall expressing strong bemusement that the party was planning to keep Rudd around.

    It would seem to me that this is still the problem for the ALP. Somewhere along the line they have lost the nads to do the hard things quickly and cleanly. And my guess is that this is where the public see them as a whole regardless of their thoughts about Rudd or Gillard. Last week’s spurious bull, the persistent rumour, speculation, press frenzy feeding, a rollover attempt early last year and a botched election in 2010 – on and on and on. And it has dragged respected ALP figures into the shite. Crean was a respected figure, but last week I found myself looking at old video of him castigating Rudd in an interview, and contrasting that with a press stop touting the guy as the only viable option and pouring petrol on himself to tee things off. It made him look schizophrenic and the ALP along with him.

    But going back over history now is not going to go within a bulls roar of helping them now – has there ever been a political leader who didn’t have a dagger in hand? It’s a political leader with dagger in hand and a reasonably disciplined team alongside which counts. That same lack of nads or disorganisation or capacity to simply coq things up that was on display again last week demonstrated once again that the ALP doesn’t have a dagger and doesn’t have discipline. That is the message the Australian public have, and the last message booster shot they have received.

    When I saw the reference to Crean on Thursday I assumed that someone had organised the numbers to roll Gillard and that we were going to have a good clean knifing. I recall thinking when I saw footage of her in the house telling Abbott there was going to be a spill and he could ‘give it your best shot’ in parliament, that although I didn’t think she was a particularly good communicator with the public, although I knew she was a party apparatchik who had made it to the top (and knifed loads of people along the way), although I thought much of the policy her government had brought about had served vested interests that her younger self would have readily identified, before a wider interest of disadvantaged, less powerful and younger Australians, she did, at a moment of crisis for her personally, have the balls to stand and deliver, and if she had to go, to go down fighting. A few hours later Rudd went down with a cringing, wincing, red faced, almost crying, hands over nuts abject apology for a lack of organisational skills and personal lack of preparedness to stand and deliver.

    Now anyone who looks at much I have written here would know that I tend to hold Abbott in scant regard. I know people who knew him, and very well, as a younger man and all say the same thing – and it isn’t nice. I think his enunciated policies often make little sense, or are often (particularly on economic issues) a good reason not to think about hanging around in Australia, I do genuinely think that he is your hard core man who at a very basic level simply doesn’t get women. I don’t think he is a man who has communication skills with the Australian public which would hold if put under pressure, and I do think he leads a party festooned with bigots, sheisters, vested business interests and spivs. I think that in government there could be massive internal contradictions and considerable dysfunctionality.

    But I do actually understand the Australian public clearly expressing a preference for an Abbott Liberal government rather than the existing ALP government. The Liberals at least seem to have the game plan straight – nobody speaks too far out of line, they all say much the same thing, and they keep a low profile. They understand that there is no need for them to be in the headlines, and that all they need to do is be disciplined from here and they will be in power shortly. They seem to be a team.

    The ALP has the opposite issue; they seem not to be a team. Maybe they will start to be a team from here, but I along with most others, tend to the view that it is all too late unless there is an event, a gift from the political gods, around which they may shape an unlikely electoral recovery. Short of that it is their fate to go into an election and take a political shellacking from a public all too cognizant of their corruption and preparedness to hold a blanket up around power abuses in their own organisation, and their scope to look after themselves first and the interests of people they would ostensibly represent second.

    From here they need to re-establish a rapport with that public they would claim to represent. Firstly that will be those disadvantaged through a power imbalance in the society in which we live which means day to day existence for many – working, accessing education, health and public services, looking after children, even doing the shopping, or trying to save – is captive to the experience or suspicion that they are less the beneficiaries of their own endeavours than others who have a better place in the societal power balance, and that their day to day existence is one of being regularly creamed – by organisations and other people. Secondly it will involve rapport with those who can go some way to looking after themselves vis day to day existence, but remain beset by either the direct thought that their children are doomed to have lesser life than they with scope to access societal assets and opportunities accruing to others more readily than them. Thirdly it will involve reconnecting in some way with a left intellect, which all too often assumes the current ALP is just another manifestation of a dictatorship of dullards in Australia, and has no vision, little comprehension of principle, and almost no actual preparedness to engage at an intellectual level beyond vested material interest. No matter what this is going to involve the hard yards. They will need to show discipline in the face of near certain defeat, and then rebuild things from the bottom up.

    It isn’t about what would or wouldn’t have happen, or could or couldn’t have happened, or even shouldn’t or shouldn’t have happened. It is about what can or will happen, and what the ALP can or will do about it. Currently they are knocking on an electoral coffin from the inside and are unlikely to see daylight again. But if they can at least hold shape and show a little discipline then they may be able to leave just a fleeting moments thought of respect in the minds of those who will have the job of rebuilding the rapport, and weaving the achievements of this government into that narrative. Reemphasising the lack of discipline from here – the egos, inability to organise, and the scope for a short moral step dressed up in a specious PR frenzy, is just asking the voting public to pull the corpse out and mount the head on a stick.

    • If we do analyse this from within the frustrating confines of the oligopoly of the parties, then Rudd can win.

      Tony represents more unfettered growth; more toadying to the corporates; more private debt for families; more families living in poorly built sh*t-boxes while little landlords rort the tax system; more unfettered population growth to cover over the private debt problem. Basically, Tony will allow the disaster of private debt to continue.

      At the moment the party politicians don’t want to listen to the community because it doesn’t suit their corporate commitments- they are avoiding the topics people want to talk about.

      Rudd can win because he isn’t beholden the to the party cabal – people grew frustrated with the endless spin and the bullish*t, if he has learned this lesson that people want substance then he can win.

    • Oooh do please tell more about Rudd’s idiosyncrasies!

      FWIW, I’ve never found Rudd personally likeable, but most of the populous do, something that has puzzled me for years.

      • Rudd’s a total ar&e – several people that have met him and worked with him have confirmed this to me directly.

        But, what the community can smell is someone that isn’t just a patsy for the corrupt party cabal. Don’t want the corporates running the country and don’t want a corrupt NSW labor running the country then Rudd is the only choice.

        • Yesterday’s Oz carried an article that detailed how Doug Cameron and Athony Albanese stepped in to prevent Ian MacDonald being removed from the ticket. The ties that bind…

          • There really is no doubt that NSW Labor is corrupt.

            Add the soft corruption to it and it is a very ugly picture.

        • “what the community can smell is someone that isn’t just a patsy for the corrupt party cabal”

          Well said AJ – see my post below for more.

          Disclaimer: None of this should be misinterpreted as implying that I support Rudd either.

        • wah wah wah. They worked for the man holding the highest office in the land. They should expect him to be abrasive, demanding, unapologetic and ungrateful. Character flaws yes, but not as bad as a bunch of cry baby sooks who can’t work under Rudd becuase he is “mean” and demanding. Frankly this govt is weak. Any govt who only has the mandate to govern by such a slim majority needs to go.

      • “FWIW, I’ve never found Rudd personally likeable”

        I agree. Rudd is a shallow Media tart who never had an original idea in his life. Bereft of any ideal save the need to look good on the morning, lunch and evening News. Says a lot for those that love this turkey.

    • Crean had the numbers until Albo pulled out. Albo was heavily leant on following activities which caught the eye of ALP hierarchy and give two options: he took quashing of the story and a modest promotion.

    • “I recall being particularly surprised, but being shown raw video feed by one BBC journalist of Rudd rearranging chairs in an interview involving a man obviously keen to tone down his Chinese links”

      Gunna, there is a logical explanation for this that goes beyond the generally superficial denunciations of the man for this action. See below.

    • Largely agreement with you GunnaMatta.

      Only difference I really have is this time round it is not Rudd’s organisational skills called into question.

      It’s the behaviour of Simon Crean – which you do note but seem to put it at the feet of Rudd.

      Also largely agreement with H&H since that’s been my view of the narrative since the get go. Gillard’s lot (as opposed to Rudd’s) has no economic sense. Don’t even get me started on Tony.

    • Am I being cynical or is it obvious Crean set Rudd up? i.e. brought him out in the open before he had the numbers – “Rudd sent me a text (not to spill) but I never saw it” – lol. Hates Rudd so much he was willing to take the fall to destroy him?

      Labors real problem was abandoning their base. Too busy selling us down the river. Too busy trying to strutt the world stage. They do the same as the Libs but just try to dress it up in some highfalutin moral high ground BS.

  5. What is most frustrating is that this whole analysis is done from within the confines of the established parties.

    The established major parties have been shown to be unable to resist the siren call of the corporate lobbyists, and unable to make decisions that might damage a large vested corporate interest. They are really just divisions of the one monopolistic party.

    The party system is about to hand Australia a government that will shamelessly watch the re-rise of personal debt and the re-pumping of the residential debt boom that has caused such havoc in Europe and the US and already done immeasurable harm to the community.

  6. Don’t forget the geopolitics.

    There are numerous smaller news stories out there on the record for those who care to search – along with Wikileaks diplomatic cables – all suggesting (both by logical inference, and clear statement) that (unlike the @r$e-kissing war criminal Howard) Rudd had begun to make a very powerful enemy in Uncle Sam. Specifically, due his desire to pull out of the so-called “War on Terror” in Afghanistan; his advocacy for raising the influence of China in key international fora such as the G20; and his on-the-flight thought bubble announcement viz calling for a new Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

    Given we also know (thanks to Wikileaks) that, amongst other current and former ALP politicians, key NSW ALP power broker (now former) Senator Arbib was an informant to the CIA, and, that multinational BHP was the key player in the campaign against Rudd – who also “gave the nod” to Gillard to depose him – I for one sense that there is a lot, lot more to the overthrow of Rudd than what most everyone has been successfully propagandised into believing.

    • Yes – its on the nose at the very least. The wikileaks cable release showed just how deeply flawed and self interested the major party machines have become.

  7. The Householder

    The union, Newscorp, big miner antics may well have played a part in it, but IMHO a factor in Rudd’s downfall was simply personality. I’ve heard numerous colourful stories from public servants along the same lines – Rudd was horrible to work for, and Gillard is lovely. Most of the Rudd horror stories were along the lines that evenings were not considered family/friends time for public servants – there was much more of an expectation that they should work until 8, 9, 10pm or even later at night. Public servants often pull late ones around certain busy times of year, eg Budget, but apparently under Rudd the late ones were much, much more frequent.

    People who live in Queensland and WA see Rudd and Gillard on TV and can’t understand why Labor is sticking with Rudd, but they’re not the poor buggers who have to work with him every day.

  8. I must say I’m a little disappointed in MB on this.

    The facts regarding Rudd’s actual polling leading up to the coup were (I thought) clearly known by anyone with either (a) a reasonable memory, or (b) a curiosity to do 5 min of due diligence on politicians’ and MSM claims. Given MB is so sharp and ahead of the curve on so many matters, I’m surprised it has taken nearly 3 years for the fact of Rudd’s/ALP’s actual 2010 polling to catch MB’s attention.

    • Fair enough. We all make mistakes. Though it doesn’t change any analysis we’ve made except having repeatd the propaganda a few times. I covered the RSPT in depth at BS but did not have the remit to cover the polls.

      • Indeed, your coverage of the RSPT issue tremendously laudable.

        Only lacking in its insufficient focus on the key fact that it was 86% foreign-owned miners behind the play, and infinitely less so the ALP scapegoats (Twiggy, Rinehart, Palmer) … indeed, the local miners are (as Twiggy asserted) the initial victims here.

  9. Spoke with someone who worked with Rudd at DPMC over the weekend who confirmed most of what’s been said above: awkward, rude, disorganised, and churned through staff.

    Even if it’s true, the need for a leader with smarts and vision is critical.

    HnH, it’s coming up to three weeks till he’s PM again according to your prediction?

    • Ah, guess not 😉

      Bastardry AND betrayal HnH. That was the act at hand with Rudd’s demise.

      In 2010 the Labor party power base was moved. Wrenched from the popularly elected leader and his connection, via the Media, with the people. Into the hands of Howes and Ludwig , when they used their faction numbers to plant gillard as the PM. Correctly you mention that it certainly wasn’t polls. Nope, it was an old fashioned nasty power grab, akin to turf war in a Mafia carve up.

      The ALP since then has lurched decidedly left- as can be witnessed after the departures and commentaries of it’s elder statesmen, now retired or discarded.

      History is not kind to traitors or liars.

      • drsmithyMEMBER

        The ALP since then has lurched decidedly left […]
        Indeed. As can be seen from their radically progressive, bleeding heart policies on things like asylum seekers, marriage equality and welfare. 🙄

  10. I don’t want to add to the vituperation about Rudd, but I will say that in time Julia Gillard will come to be seen as a reluctant challenger who, despite her own misgivings and those of others around her, agreed to wrest power for – as they saw it – the good of the party and the country.

    Though she was certainly unprepared for the demands that lay ahead, she nevertheless showed great political and personal fortitude to meet them. She has also endured three years of particularly contemptuous personal attacks – attacks which have dishonoured those who have made them, in my opinion. She has obviously also had to contend with betrayal in her own ranks and find her way across some very unfavourable political ground. She has, of course, made some errors of communication and judgment.

    But she has also never wavered. In this sense, thinking about all the difficulties of minority government and the frustrations of internal dissent, she has been a strong PM. I’m sure that at a certain level it may have been easier to capitulate to the pressure from Rudd or Abbott, to give way. But she has never caviled. She should be respected for her resolve, in my opinion. Very few have this capacity.

    The last PM to rule with a minority was John Curtin. He was also a reluctant PM and had to deal with his own internal rebels. And he had to find great personal reserves to face the challenges of his time. Few leaders will ever compare with Curtin, but JG has shown some of the same resolve in very difficult circumstances.

    She has been much under-rated by her opponents, by the media and, so far it seems, by the public too. I hope that one day she comes to be regarded as a resourceful and courageous leader, and as one who believed in building a greater country in spite of all the obstacles in her way.

    I will have no trouble at all voting for her.

    • Without resorting to hindsight I would question that Gillard and her backers wrested power for “the good of the party and the country” as espoused by Briefly.

      If that was true, why would she still be PM after digesting the continuously negative polls that forecast Labor being wiped off the electoral map. The party may despise Rudd but it appears the electorate does not and has stopped listening to Gillard whatever the message.

      There is little doubt that Gillard has been subjected to unfair criticism and that her crowning achievement will most likely be to have maintained a minority government in power for the time that it has. However, does anyone really believe that if Rudd had not been knifed the 2010 federal election would have resulted in a minority government.

      The environment created by a minority government gets political opportunists, media hacks and pollsters all excited much to the detriment of good government or long-term planning for the country.

      Where does a progressive-minded voter turn to when the choice is between a leader whose obsession is self-preservation above government preservation and a three-word slogan leader who can’t take his eyes from the rear-view mirror. Please don’t suggest the fairies at the bottom of the garden Greens!

  11. She will be remembered as the first official to stand up and protect children from abuse. That will be her legacy to be proud of.
    Shame on all the others who turned a blind eye over many decades.
    She also continued the path of education revolution initiated by Rudd. Both have placed high importance on education.
    The mining tax debacle is unfortunate but neither Rudd nor Gillard were the first ones to miss that boat.