Red Dog for Prime Minister

Faithful, dedicated, hard working, focused and roundly loved by all - everything a PM would aspire to be.

Australians are going to see one movie in their droves. Its about a dog: a red dog, that is faithful, honourable and sincere. Everything they want in their politicians, Australians are finding in a dog.  “Red Dog” is a real story set in a mythic Pilbara that never existed except in the sentimental hearts of urban Australians.  More than anything “Red Dog” exemplifies the spirit of Austraila in 2011. The political world is so dire, so utterly without merit that more than anything else the need is for escape to a better, kinder world.  Given the times, don’t be surprised if “Red Dog” becomes the highest grossing film in Australian history!

Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are the worst leaders of political parties to have ever emerged in Australian politics. Of course there have been leaders who were equally un-inspiring: Billy Mc Mahon and Arthur Calwell come to mind. But never, simultaneously, have the major parties elected two leaders who are so utterly without merit.

Worse the pity is that all of the parliament house insiders, all of the factional leaders of both political parties and even the Independents think otherwise. You see they know better than ordinary Australians. Gillard and Abbott are the ultimate insider leaders.  Gillard’s supporters point to the fact that there have been as many bills presented to parliament as in the first year of John Howard’s conservative government back in 1996/7. Abbott’s supporters point to the fact that if, for example, the more impressive Malcolm Turnbull was leader, the Liberal party would be hopelessly divided on the carbon tax. No insider – journalist or politician – cares that neither Gillard or Abbott have any sort of trust or legitimacy with the larger Australian community.  Because this is the system of government you see. The thoughts and views of ordinary people do not matter in this calculation. Only the partliamentary caucuses, which are themselves a result of a closed circuit of choices, matter.

What will happen? Many insiders have the view that Gillard, who has two years before she has to face an election providing there are no by-elections and the independents and Greens remain solid,  should simply stay the course. The problem with this argument is that every minute Gillard stays in power she reminds Australians of how much they want her to go. The insiders contend that the 27 per cent low opinion polls are the low point and that everything must go up from here. But the truth is that they will get worse and things will get worse for Labor. If things stay the same there will be a monumental and most undeserved landslide victory for Tony Abbott. This would also be a very unhealthy state of affairs.

In NSW the Labor party was decimated in the last election. Rarely has there been an election in which Australians – who are usually equally supportive of Labor and Liberals – literally danced on the graves of the departing NSW Labor parliamentarians.  The bitterness is still there.  It may be that the older members of the electorate will have to die before the bad feelings against NSW Labor dissipate. Such was the level of trust that was lost by NSW Labor. Under Gillard the rancour continues and has found a national base.

Across the nation the feeling that many of us had inside the Labor party for the past decade, that it was morally corrupt, stagnant and rotten, is now a widespread common feeling. Because Labor had such lofty ideals of working for the under dog, promoting egalitarianism and fair play, it fell so much harder than the Liberal National party could ever fall.  We do not place such high standards of the business oriented Liberal Nationals.  So when the Liberal National party processes appear to be more democratic than the lofty Labor party there is only one way the chips can fall.

The way that Labor can recover is to install “Red Dog” back as leader, the much flawed, but now much loved Kevin Rudd. The veins of the Labor Party are so filled with self interest that I doubt it is possible that the many chiefs of the many subfactions could ever figure out how to re-install Kevin. But there is a way. The only sacrifice would have to be Julia herself who would have to return to the back benches for a considerable time. The more considerable the better her chances of re-establishing a strong parliamentary career.

For the factional leaders responsible for the initial blunder, the beauty of re-installing “Red Dog” back as prime minister would mean that they could breathe again behind closed doors and go back to scheming how they could, one day become Prime Minister. They would have erased the taint, the smell of the past misdemeanours. The bad morale of the government under the formerly ego centric Rudd has been restored under Julia – although some are starting to detect an element of arrogance in the way Julia now rules as Prime Minister.  If “Red Dog” were to be re-installed there would have to be a strong agreement that the way in which both cabinet and caucus were run would continue. There would also have to be an agreement that the existing Ministerial line up would stay the same.

The trickiest part of the transition to Rudd would be the continuance of the contract with the Independents. All have a strong personal relationship with Julia Gillard and perhaps the most impressive element of her rule has been the way she has included them in the process of government. Again some clear thinking about the way in which this transition could occur would solve the problem. All of the independents face sure electoral defeat if the government were to fall. So not matter if Kevin Rudd were himself to continue to play the role Julia Gillard had played they would have to stick. If they didn’t Labor has a much stronger chance of winning an election under Rudd than any other figure in parliament.

One of the big question marks is: Does Kevin still have the desire and mojo to be leader? Everything will hinge on the energy and wisdom he would now bring. Out of the flames of defeat sometimes comes renewed life.  I saw something in Kevin Rudd many years ago which I did not see when he became Prime Minister.  It was about his capacity to penetrate through the thickets of verbal rhetoric and get down to a basic, human, practical level. He told me in an interview that I did with him in his parliamentary office before he became leader that when he resigned, he wanted his seat to go to the most meritorious member of the Labor Party in the local area, regardless of the factional or family connections they might have. He saw the Labor party as an organisation that did good independently of who their political representatives were.  This is what is so missing about even Julia Gillard’s implementation of the Carr, Bracks, Faulkner reforms of the Labor party this week.  What Carr, Bracks and Faulkner don’t get and what Gillard didn’t get is that the Labor party is more than just the way political representatives are elected, being a member of the Labor party should be about helping  ordinary people do good in their communities.  In effect moving to a US Democratic style pre-selection process once again simply focuses on what all insiders want to focus on and that is the ultimate power of electing people to representative jobs in local government, State and Federal parliaments. But improving this process will not improve the way in which ordinary people now view the Labor party. Effectively the Carr, Bracks, Faulkner reforms simply mean that the Labor party can say that is as democratic as the Liberal party.

Restoring Labor is about the values, however sentimental, of “Red Dog”. The Labor Party has to be a place where people do good.  It has to be a place where regardless of opinion there is respect for another people’s point of view. It has to be a place where the least powerful voice can still be heard. It has to be a vehicle for making a community, a region and a nation a better place.  It has to be a place where the most important people are the members not the representatives. It has to be a place where the qualities of individuals are known and  valued. It has to be a place where people can make a contribution through deeds and actions. Labor has lost these things.

So I say bring back Red Dog as Prime Minister. He is really Labor’s only hope.