By Ruth Limkin
I’ve been out of the country for a few weeks but social media meant I could stay in touch with what was happening at home. That was nice enough at the beginning of my trip, but the ‘warm Aussie glow’ you feel when abroad waned as I observed the antics of those in the federal government.
The activity around the federal leadership showdown was peaking as we were preparing to return home. We even caught the same flight back to Brisbane as Rudd, with the now requisite media pack waiting at the airport.
This whole long saga has been extraordinary.
It was extraordinary to me in June 2010 when the ALP replaced Rudd with Gillard while in government. Gillard had specifically ruled out wanting the role of Prime Minister, and publicly at least, it was a poorly justified move.
It was extraordinary to me in August 2010 when there were leaks against the Gillard government during the election campaign. Would anyone really actively undermine their own party and diminish their chances of winning government?
It was extraordinary to me in 2011 when Rudd continued to deny that he wanted his old job back. For such questions to continue to surface, it seemed something or someone was stoking the story and such disunity would not help the government.
It was extraordinary to me last week when Federal ministers were lashing out at Rudd. What could possibly be gained by trashing a serving Minister?
Yet perhaps what I found most extraordinary over the last 48 hours or so is that I have heard Tony Abbott’s name so much.
The ALP are in government. They have been elected to lead and govern the country. Yet the conversation seems to be revolving around who can ‘beat Abbott’ which is a strange obsession given the incumbency of the ALP, and the political culture of Australia.
When your party is in power, the greatest reasons you can give for being a leader is your ability to provide vision, influence people and implement effectively – in short, to lead.
Further, in Australian political culture, the benefits of incumbency are significant. Elections are lost, rather than won, and if you’re doing a good job, we’ll rarely toss you out.
So it’s all quite extraordinary.
If the ALP were in opposition I could understand dallying with leadership change. I would also expect leadership contenders to sell their ability to beat the other party. Yet the ALP are in power, and the leadership challenge is (or should be) about who should lead the country for the next 18 months.
When a candidate for leadership of a party in government is so focused on ‘beating’ rather than ‘leading’, it does not bode well for the rest of the government’s term. When the chatter of those already in power is about choosing someone who can ‘beat Abbott’, it makes the government appear insecure about their own value, and ultimately more interested in keeping power than positively leading the nation.
Democracy needs principled politicians who see political power as an opportunity to serve and strengthen the nation, rather than opportunities for personal aggrandisement or petty revenge.
Such a thought shouldn’t be so extraordinary.