Cowards die many times before their deaths;Having been elected as Prime Minister in 2007, Kevin Rudd would wake up most mornings and see that News Limited broadcast media outlets would bag one or more of his policies, whereupon he would dither and eventually drop that policy. When he dropped his government's policy to address climate change in the face of News Ltd hostility, people began to wonder what, if anything, he would stand up for - and he was pushed out of his job.
The valiant never taste of death but once.
- Shakespeare Julius Caesar Act II Sc I
If he had been re-elected by the ALP, he would have done that again. He would have cringed beneath the cosh of News Ltd again, and again, and again. No amount of smarm or negotiation by Rudd or anyone else will or can overcome this.
News Ltd really want Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. Abbott wrote for News Ltd as a student, he wrote for them as an adult before entering Parliament, and in his memoirs Peter Costello affected surprise when Abbott would set aside actual governing and shadow cabinet work in order to write for News Ltd. Costello has known Abbott for decades and worked with him over many years in the Howard government, but to affect surprise at this relationship diminishes Costello. Abbott was a News Ltd man before he married and became a birth-father; he was a News Ltd man before he was a Liberal, let alone an MP. News Ltd is second only in importance to Roman Catholicism in understanding who Tony Abbott is and what Tony Abbott means.
Labor people of a bygone age who could barely comprehend what corporate power even was flung the accusation at Menzies, that he was a tool of the Collins Street business elite; Billy McMahon headed the legal team that acted for what was then the Bank of New South Wales against the Chifley Government's attempts to nationalise it. Neither of those men, no Liberal/UAP/Free Trade/Protectionist leader nor any other party leader I can think of, was so covered in any one corporation's pocket-lint as Abbott is vis-a-vis News Ltd.
Against that, Stephen Conroy's Crean-like charge into the maw of overwhelming opposition should be seen as understandable - even commendable in some crazy way. Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke. The Greens were generous in crafting a narrative for the government, a skill it has lacked and a sign of considerable goodwill from a rising party that can afford to be generous. The idea that the Labor-News Ltd relationship could get any worse is absurd, but not half as funny as the idea that Kevin From Queensland is the one who can set things right.
Rudd's spinelessness is now obvious to those who keened for his return, those who embarrassed themselves by leaking and conniving in his favour when he wouldn't put himself out for them. The spate of resignations is the implosion of the dream that Rudd was bigger than he is, or was. It has revealed a number of things about important people at a crucial time.
Chris Bowen once said that he would smash the business model of people-smugglers. The business model he has smashed most successfully was by resigning, those of the also-not-illegal models of Chris Uhlmann, Peter Hartcher, and all the other journalists who bet their professional lives on the attitude that if you can't say something nice about the Prime Minister, come and talk to me.
Julia Gillard is the 27th Prime Minister of Australia. All the other 26 had members of their backbench, and even their ministry, who hated them. If journo experience counts for anything this fact should inform coverage of the incumbent. This is not a special plea to go easy on her, it's an expression of disappointment that reality does not inform reporting.
No press gallery journalist had more than forty separate members of caucus come to them and say they were backing Rudd, nor anything like that number. They all claim there really was a groundswell, they all claim caucus dissent was real, but in reality it was just the same old whingers - Fitzgibbon, Kim Carr, Bowen, Husic and the rest - getting more and more carried away with themselves. Every press gallery journalist who made any claim to an authoritative check of the numbers has been deliberately and repeatedly untruthful. Rudd never had the numbers at any point since 2010 and any journalist who said otherwise deserves to be sacked. They simply believed what the old fabulists told them, passing it forward rather than pushing back.
This big lie on the part of the Canberra press gallery coincided with a call for journalists to cultivate the trust of their audience, in the face of evidence that Australians distrusted journalists more than any citizens of any other developed country. In a fragmenting media landscape that relationship of trust is everything. Media diversity is pointless if it only means more ignorant people lying to you.
Which mining company will engage Martin Ferguson in post-ministerial consultancy? To ask such a question is both to see the importance of good journalism, and its lack. Remember how Mark Arbib said that he was resigning for the sake of his family, and how all the journalists believed him? Walkleys all round, and have one yourself.
The second smashed-business-model belongs to Abbott, still insisting that the division in the ALP will continue even as the anti-Gillard Labor movement collapsed. Only a distant observer would look at Abbott's words and say: he would say that, wouldn't he. To be a member of the Canberra press gallery is to lack the perspective and the perspicacity to say such a thing, to be unable to do anything but take Abbott at his word. Note how only Julie Bishop, similarly doomed, is trotting out this line; the smarter Liberals know that gig is up. It was as pathetic as those Liberals from last century who kept insisting that Whitlam or Hawke were communists. Those who aren't capable of developing a new direction are at least being canny by being quiet.
The business model of the Prime Minister has not been smashed. What the press gallery and the Opposition insist is a "shambles" would have been represented as a triumph for any other leader: the challenger chickened out and his supporters fled. At those press conferences where Ferguson, Bowen et al departed it was hard to hear the lamentation of their women, but the effect was the same. Gillard is freer than she has been at any stage of her Prime Ministership, less able to blame others for her failures but in a position where fewer are committed to her failure than at any time in half-a-dozen years. This would be a triumph for any other leader; the grudging admissions that she's tough (particularly, it must be said, from female journalists) is a start in changing the Narrative.
The Prime Minister was right to sack Crean for his rogue intervention. She would be wrong not to bring him back later in some important capacity, unless he makes a goose of himself in the meantime.
The broadcast media were wrong to misreport the apology to victims of forced adoptions. That will be more important to more people into the future than the occasion when some leeches were salted off the backside of the Gillard government. They should have reported it - a moment of national greatness and magnanimity - as the story against which the leadership pretensions of Rudd and Abbott could be contrasted. Those are the people with scars, who are shattered, who have undergone bloodletting - not some leaky pollies dragged screaming from the lolly shop.
Journalists should have seen Abbott's speech on that august occasion as final, incontrovertible proof that he is emotionally disabled; a captive of institutions that are not big enough to apologise either, and in no sense a co-Prime Minister let alone the inevitable successor.
The Royal Commission into institutionalised child abuse is doomed unless Abbott is defeated. His lip-service in establishing it counts for nothing.
Not since John Howard was drafted to the Liberal leadership in 1995 has any governing-party leader been less encumbered than Julia Gillard is now. The fact that Gillard can start pointing to achievements as a pattern for a future where Abbott hasn't even got his policy settings right shows the Coalition (and the press gallery) have been wrong-footed again - just like they were when Gillard thrashed Rudd last year.