National Security Committee Meetings and past and present PMs

Previous Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (left) walking in the garden thoroughfare of the Australian Parliament House complex with his Chief of Staff, Alister Jordan (right), photo from 2008

Kevin Rudd with Alister Jordan in 2008

Question: if, (as I suspect), on the occasions that Kevin Rudd had his senior staffer sit in for him on National Security Committee of Cabinet meetings, either Julia Gillard as Deputy PM and/or the Minister of Defence was there, is there really any problem at all with the judgement of any of the senior government ministers involved?

To take a limited lead from a fictional example set in a different country with a not-entirely-identical system, didn’t we all see Chief of Staff Leo McGarry chair JCS security meetings in the White House Situation Room while Jed Bartlet dealt with the presidential schedule on West Wing? None of the stock Republicans on The Hill rose in the House to excoriate President Bartlett for this, did they? If the Head Of Government not attending every such security meeting really is such a big deal, wouldn’t a TV drama based on how such things get spun as part of partisan politics have played at least once with the idea in 7(?) seasons?
 

Seriously, just how many senior members of Cabinet really need to be present for every single NSCC meeting?

This leak smacks totally of senior defence and/or police personnel feeling slighted by the age of Alister Jordan sitting in as Rudd’s representative. Jordan may “only” be 31, but he was Rudd’s Chief of Staff, the most senior person in the PMO after Rudd himself, not some junior office boy. The Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office is surely entirely the right person for Rudd to delegate as his representative at meetings that he cannot himself attend. Questions that have been raised regarding Rudd’s judgement in appointing Jordan in the first place are, or at least damn well should be, an entirely separate issue from whether the PM’s Chief of Staff is an adequately serious and responsible level of prime-ministerial representation at senior-level meetings that the PM cannot, for whatever reason, attend.

The Opposition says the revelations show that Mr Rudd is not fit to be a minister in a future Labor government.

The committee, attended by senior officials including the chief of the Defence Force and the Australian Federal Police commissioner, is where some of the most important decisions of government are made.

One senior official said that in his nearly 30 years of dealing with this committee and its earlier incarnations he could not remember a prime minister treating it with such disdain.

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop says, if true, the claims mean Mr Rudd should not be considered for any ministerial position in a future government.

The Opposition is also trying so hard to paint this leak as coming from a Labor Cabinet figure – disunity in Labor! Danger, El Ectorate, danger! – that, in combination with the quote I’ve bolded above, it only makes me more sure that it’s actually coming from an old-school-Tory-leaning defence or police official.

It’s interesting to note how the two-smears-for-the-price-of-one spin on Rudd’s first day campaigning in his own electorate as “sucking oxygen from Gillard’s federal campaign” echoed this narrative: the idea that Rudd is such a loose (and disloyal) cannon, obviously not fit for senior office and that thus Gillard is not fit for senior office either if she gives him a Cabinet position. Oh yes, how dare he get his office to send out press releases about where he would be for his local election campaign (shock! the gall!), and then not give the milling press pack any juicy #spill soundbites?

Then we get another two-smears-for-the-price-of-one spin on Rudd’s consideration of taking up a position on a UN panel for climate change:

Mr Rudd, who discussed the post further with Mr Ban when in New York last week, said the panel would be comprised of many former and current heads of government, foreign ministers and ministers from developed and developing nations.

Obviously, if Rudd is re-elected as MP for Griffith (high probability) and then given the Minister for Foreign Affairs post (also high probability), being part of such a panel would actually be part of his duties, not some part-time perk at all. Surely he should be considering the role seriously given his understanding of his future prospects, and talking about it is being transparent about how he sees what the job of Foreign Minister entails. Gillard surely should be happy to have someone so willing to look into larger aspects of the Foreign Minister’s international role. But yet again, it’s being spun as Rudd the loose cannon and Gillard being irresponsible to want him in her Cabinet.

a red-white-blue poster in the style of the Obama HOPE poster, showing Opposition Leader Tony Abbott with the word NOPE underneathDon’t fall for it, Julia. Don’t fall for it, Kevin. The LibNats and the media magnates are so shit-scared that there will be a rapprochement between Rudd and Gillard that will look good to the electorate, that they are trying to set up great walls of division between them. Don’t let them get in the way of the larger message.

crossposted at Hoyden about Town

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Posted in federal election 2010, government, media
53 comments on “National Security Committee Meetings and past and present PMs
  1. patrickb says:

    I think this is an excuse for ABC personnel to say “ABC News 24” more often.

  2. Sam says:

    I reckon it came from the public service.

  3. Helen says:

    It might have been understandable if we’d heard complaints at the time, but since the “senior official” has waited till now to make a fuss, clearly it’s an Election Campaign Special.

  4. adrian says:

    According to Mark Simkin, who of course mentioned ABC News 24, it came from within the ALP.

  5. Paul Burns says:

    Okay. Its an ABC beat up. But it happened and is symptomatic of the way Rudd ran Government and the problems he had with time management. he was off micro-managing something else. Some time ago I remarked Rudd seemed to be approaching the level of incompetence. we just have to face up to the fact he turned into a dud, and that Gillard had to be brought in to rescue us from his appaling management style.
    (And arguing a pro-Rudd case from the bloody West Wing, is, with respect, stupid, and smacks of a dseperate justification. The West Wing was fiction, very good fiction, but still, fiction..)

  6. Charlie says:

    Wondering what Jordan is doing now?? Is he still with PMO or has he been moved forward somewhere else?

  7. adrian says:

    If that’s the case it’s certain people telling Gillard not to give Rudd a cabinet position. The same people who leaked to the media when Rudd was PM.

  8. kimberella says:

    Well said, tigtog.

    I think it could be from both a defence person and an ALP leaker. Ie – defence person tells ALP person, ALP person tells ABC.

    Are all these meetings really so *earth shattering*? Will terrorists swarm across our borders if the PM’s Chief of Staff is there?

    And when are some Labor bods going to wake up to the fact that making the story all about Rudd helps the Opposition?

  9. tigtog says:

    @Paul Burns, my post is not a pro-Rudd case, it is an anti-spin case.

    I’m on record as more of a fan of Gillard’s than of Rudd’s for several years now (although wishlisting for both/either of them to be more progressive than their centrist selves). I think she’s by far the better person for the job. But that doesn’t mean that I think Rudd is totally useless – far from it.

  10. adrian says:

    Paul, with all due respect, I am astounded that you believe this to be true and that even if it were true that it has any significance. It’s ‘symptomatic’ of SFA.
    .
    The ABC is beating it up out of all proportion because this is what they do and it gives them a chance to say ‘ABC News 24’ as much as possible.

    Tigtog’s right – they’ve got two smears for the price of one, plus the man has the hide to campaign in his electorate and not talk to the media.

    FFS he’s been removed from the top job but they still can’t leave him alone.

  11. Liam says:

    I don’t know about the Federal protocols for Cabinet committees but blow-ASIO’s-cover Julie Bishop talking about commitment to national security is pretty fucking rich.

  12. Paul Burns says:

    I realise its a beat up. But I don’t think its totally untrue.
    Apologies for calling you pro-Rudd tigtog when you’re obviously not.
    But I still don’t think the West Wing analogy holds.
    The fact remains, all the coverage of Rudd is distracting from the Labor campaign. (I could fulminate about the non climate policy, but the Greens do it so much better., and it would be OT. Anyway, I’m sure there will be an LP post on it.

  13. tigtog says:

    I realise its a beat up. But I don’t think its totally untrue

    Is it untrue that he occasionally sent his Chief of Staff to attend these meetings as his delegate?
    Almost certainly this is true.
    BUT
    Is it untrue that a PM occasionally sending one’s Chief of Staff to attend these meetings as one’s delegate is either a breach of protocol or disdainful or otherwise irresponsible?
    Almost certainly this is untrue.

    Apologies for calling you pro-Rudd tigtog when you’re obviously not.

    No problem.

    But I still don’t think the West Wing analogy holds.

    I did hedge it with several introductory caveats for a reason there, but the main reason I included it was to point out a parallel with at least as much credibility as Uhlmann’s sources for this story.

  14. anthony nolan says:

    Adrian is correct. Once you start 24/7 news run by people who don’t know what news is then they have to manufacture something as news. This crap is what we get.

  15. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Top post, TT. Lovely to read something that acknowledges and negotiates complexities.

    blow-ASIO’s-cover Julie Bishop talking about commitment to national security is pretty fucking rich.

    Yes, that was my first thought too. I also liked the moment yesterday when she talked about the UN as though it were some sort of hostile foreign country.

  16. tssk says:

    Obviously the result that we need is the following.

    1. Julia must express her disgust/disdain by the outrageous abandonment of duty by an ex-PM with a reputation for micromanagement. WHAT WAS HE DOING DURING THOSE MEETINGS! WE HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW!

    2. Julia must ask Rudd to stand down. WHY DOESN’T RUDD DO THE RIGHT THING!

    3. Rudd must then respond to the betrayel by Julia.

    4. Recriminations must be exchanged. Latham style if possible. After all. We all know Rudd has a nasty side. WHY DOES HE REFUSE TO SHOW THIS TO THE MEDIA!

    5. Profit.

    6. ABC 24/7 gets an exclusive interview with the new PM Abbott who then gives them the exclusive news that the ABC will be sold off to News Ltd.

    I’m starting to believe that Rudd is incompetant and worse than Whitlam. I have to. Otherwise the alternative is that a decent man was crucified by the Libs, the media and his own party.

    It’s just like the schoolyard again. Best to believe the nerd getting a kicking somehow deserved it for being too big for his boots.

  17. adrian says:

    Very perceptive post tssk.

  18. Jamo says:

    So we’re now using “West Wing”to justify this!

    I think the major difference between here and the States is that the Presidents Chief of Staff is actually an elected representative and an automatic member of the cabinet. The Australian PM’s chief of staff is not a member of cabinet or an elected representative. There is also differences between the status of the respective committees in ther US and Aus.

    But I believe this isnt the issue. What is the issue is the fact that leaks are coming thick and fast. She surely cannot give Rudd a spot in cabinet if she wins!

  19. tigtog says:

    I think the major difference between here and the States is that the Presidents Chief of Staff is actually an elected representative and an automatic member of the cabinet.

    Nope, at least on the elected representative part.

  20. tssk says:

    Rudd is a strong performer, a social liberal (in the left wing sense) and a benefit to the ALP. I agree, the ALP must not give him a front bench position. They must really try and disendorse him before the election. Otherwise how on earth are the Libs going to gain Rudd’s seat?

    Plenty of my Howard loving mates who were distraught at Howard’s end are rubbing their hands. “Mate, you deposed Howard. Now you have someone that’s Howard times two.”

    (This is why I was sad when Turnbull was deposed. the rest of you laughed. But I know a lot of people who will vote Abbott even if it hurts their interests as it will give the lefty elite the black eye it deserves for being so smug.)

  21. Mindy says:

    What a non story. So the PM can’t be there and he sends his CoS to take notes and brief him later. Big deal, happens all the time.

  22. Ken Lovell says:

    ‘… the Presidents Chief of Staff is actually an elected representative and an automatic member of the cabinet.’

    Say what? That will come as news to the yanks.

    Interestingly, the ABC story tigtog links to no longer includes this line from an earlier story (http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/07/22/2961618.htm):

    ‘Late today, a senior Labor figure said that since day one of this government, staffers have represented their ministers on the committees of cabinet.’

    In other words the ‘story’ is a pathetic beat-up. Coming soon: Rudd consistently ignored the ‘please wash your own cup’ sign in the tea room!

  23. Nick says:

    I don’t get it. Now Rudd is being criticised for delegating? Oh, the irony.

  24. mbahnisch says:

    ‘… the Presidents Chief of Staff is actually an elected representative and an automatic member of the cabinet.’

    Not elected, not a member of cabinet, not subject to Senate confirmation.

  25. tssk says:

    Nick it’s simple. I got the hang of this during the Howard years. Let me explain it to you slowly. (Types hard and slow…)

    Kevin Rudd is unsuitable because he’s an intolerant angry power mad micromanager as well as a lazy shirker who cries because he’s too soft.

    See also people on the dole are lucky because they get free money and free time and work hard to work the system but are too lazy too work.

    The ABC is leftist pro Rudd however even they criticise the ALP which means they must be lauded for telling truth to power but must be criticised for taking taxpayer monies.

    Also night is the same as day and day is the same as night which is why we must dismantle the outmoded system of overtime rates.

    Shorter version. LP good. ALP bad. At least that makes it easy and doesn’t involve the cognitive dissonance of the above.

  26. MG says:

    Chris Ullman is at it again. Here we have a brand spanking ABC-24 and what is the great news story they lead off with? Kevin Rudd not attending each and every meeting of the National Security Committee. How trivial can you get? Well, Rudd sent his CoS instead. But wait, he is only 31 years old. Is there an acceptable age for a CoS? May be 40 or 45 or lets ask Chris Ullman what the age should be? Congratulations ABC on reverse ageism on your first political story on ABC-24. Well done!!!

    Chris Ullman is a like a dog with a bone with anything related to Rudd.
    The ABC along with the OZ destroyed Kevin Rudd, I thought that will be the end of it. No,no,no not till Rudd is totally destroyed.

  27. adrian says:

    ‘Chris Ullman is a like a dog with a bone with anything related to Rudd’

    How very true. I remember his first interview on AM with Rudd when he was opposition leader. It was the rudest political interview that I have heard before or since.

    But hey, it’s probably some crazy connspiracy theory, moving forward.

  28. Jamo says:

    Please note the following copied and pasted from the White House website.

    The following positions have the status of Cabinet-rank:

    White House Chief of Staff
    Rahm I. Emanuel

    Who of course was an Illinois senator before he became W/house CoS. Please get over the “bash the media” thing and start actually debating policy!!

  29. Russell says:

    “Jordan may “only” be 31, but he was Rudd’s Chief of Staff, the most senior person in the PMO after Rudd himself, not some junior office boy. The Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office is surely entirely the right person for Rudd to delegate as his representative at meetings that he cannot himself attend.”

    As someone not paying a lot of attention to all this, what offends me is the 31 year old being Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office and sent to these meetings. Reverse ageism, I know, but it’s difficult to believe that a 31 year old has sufficient experience and maturity for the position – surely there were better qualified people. Or was he the only person Rudd trusted?

    It’s OK that Rudd would miss the meetings and that the Deputy PM or Defence Minister would represent him, but not a 31 year old office manager.

  30. tssk says:

    Chris Uhlman will be a great replacement for Kerry O’Brien when he resigns.

  31. adrian says:

    What policy, Jamo?

  32. Lefty E says:

    Yeah, I dont know about you guys, but Im not *exactly* finding the “internal ALP leak against Rudd” thesis hard to believe, in view of recent events. No doubt aided and abetted by Barrie somehow, and then ballooned by Scoop Toolman. Though quite possibly it was an ALP leak before the knifing.

    And… what Liam said too.

  33. adrian says:

    Scoop Toolman. Ha! You’ve got to get your laughs where you can these days.

  34. Mindy says:

    Russell – Jordan would have been there to take notes and brief the PM later only. He would have played no role in the Committee. In the absence of the PM the Deputy PM would have taken the Chair. That is why this is such a non story. Juniors going to take notes and brief higher ups happens all the time. I’ve even been there and done that, albeit not on a Ministerial level.

  35. Katz says:

    Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop says, if true, the claims mean Mr Rudd should not be considered for any ministerial position in a future government.

    Is this the same Julie Bishop who opined that it was fine for Israel to forge Australian government documents?

    Does Julie Bishop think that she is suitable for a seat on the NSCC?

  36. mbahnisch says:

    @Jamo – Rahm Emmanuel’s status as ‘Cabinet rank’ doesn’t mean he’s a member of Cabinet.

  37. Razor says:

    Well, I am still on the Rudd bandwagon – absolutely brilliant strategy after being overwhelmingly dumped by both the electorate and his own party to remain on the backbench, demand a Cabinet Post and stand for re-election. Nothing negative would come from that – just plusses all round. Keep up the good work!

  38. DaveMcRae says:

    Election Special indeed – I am gobsmacked that this is newsworthy – His age

    His freaking age!!

    He didn’t breech national security and he would’ve passed security vetting so I fail to grasp why this is newsworthy.

    I saw the ad this morning re ABC24/7 that claimed Uhlmann was going to get his news for sources as diverse as the cafe – well that looks to be true – I wonder if I should tell them that submariners have security clearances and many are in their 20s, oh they’ll shit themselves.

  39. Sam says:

    The West Wing is an entirely appropriate reference. Many in the former Prime Minister’s and current Treasurer’s Office seemed to have learnt everything they knew, at the time of being elected, about being a political staffer from watching that show. Many a budding Josh Lyman among them – some talented, others acting the part well.

  40. Matt says:

    Is that image pinched from Vexnews? I’m surprised Landeryou hasn’t demanded a credit

  41. ossie says:

    Have to say that when I read this “story” my reflex was “why are you telling me this?” Has Chris Ullman never worked in an organisation which has meetings? The implication that Alistair Jordan was on the verge of ordering the military or ASIO to undertake some grand venture, and the brass just jumping to attention and saluting is just silly.

    On Jordan’s age, surely few people could help raising their eyebrows? Even though I was no fan of Rudd’s, he was the Prime Minister, and that’s enough for me to trust his judgment on who he hires as his chief of staff.

  42. jane says:

    Coming soon: Rudd consistently ignored the ‘please wash your own cup’ sign in the tea room!

    And he shotgunned all the tin tams!

  43. Chade says:

    I’ve got one of my pet hates set off by the constant bashing of Jordan’s age – “He’s only 31!!!111zomg”…

    Because, you know, only (relatively) young(er) people could ever make a mistake, or be irresponsible with their (apparent) power… or something.

  44. adrian says:

    Rudd has denied the veracity of Toolman’s report. Of course the Australian Bullshit Corporation ignores the substantive points thaty Rudd made and focuses on Toolman’s response. Anything to keep the ‘story’ alive withoud addressing the substantive issues raised by Rudd/

  45. Ken Lovell says:

    ‘Mr Rudd believes two senior cabinet ministers spoke with the ABC yesterday to deny the claims being made against him.’

    Why in god’s name can nobody ever be identified any more in news reports? Everything is attributed to nameless people. Is everybody so reluctant to take personal responsibility for anything they refuse to out themselves even in cases like this where there seem to be no grounds whatsoever for anonymity? What are they scared of – Julia will be mad at them for sticking up for Kevin? What a pathetic bunch of opportunistic cowards.

    The effect is to make journalists into the high priests of the information age; the only ones who are privy to the gossip and hearsay which they selectively convey to us. And I have as much faith in them to tell the truth as I do in priests from other institutions.

  46. Labor Outsider says:

    The issue is not Jordan’s age, it is his expertise. He has none in foreign policy. In the West Wing, Leo McGarry was a foreign policy expert and Bartlett’s peer. Indeed, one of the underlying tensions in the West Wing is that at the beginning, Bartlett leant heavily on McGarry for foreign policy advice and over time developed his own sense of how to manage policy, which was at odds with the advice McGarry was giving.

    I can completely understand why senior defense and foreign policy officials would be somewhat taken aback by Jordan filling in for Rudd.

    Point taken that Jordan was taking notes, not chairing the meeting. But it goes to the issue of priorities. I would be quite interested to find out what Rudd was doing at the same time as these meetings were being held.

    Moreover, this was pretty common practice for Rudd. Again, when I was working there, he often filled his schedule too much and had to send people along to what, at least some people thought, were important meetings. The problem with that is that in Rudd’s abssence, the substitute chair was not always empowered to make important decisions. So, decisions would end up being deferred until such time Kevin could be bothered turning up or tuning in.

    It wasn’t a recipe for effective government.

  47. Nickws says:

    Lefty E: Yeah, I dont know about you guys, but Im not *exactly* finding the “internal ALP leak against Rudd” thesis hard to believe, in view of recent events. No doubt aided and abetted by Barrie somehow, and then ballooned by Scoop Toolman. Though quite possibly it was an ALP leak before the knifing.

    And this leaking, if it’s fresh, is either being done for petty personal reasons, or to claim one measly Cabinet seat for someone other than Rudd in the next parliament (and exactly what kind of factional player would be jonesing to succeed Smith at foreign affairs? Is there a Gareth Gareth or Bob Carr in the partyroom we haven’t noticed? Damned if I can see any current Labor bovver boy with an interest in that portfolio.)

    The fuckers really don’t know anything about risk assessment. If they ever ventured out of the ALP establishment bubble they would find that every new attack on Rudd is now an attack on the Gillard government. She owns his natl. sec. policy now, morons. The punters don’t care about staffer minutiae, particularly in an area that is supposed to be a Labor weakspot.

    Saying Rudd was a bad manager of the NSC is like saying he was weak on the hardnosed unions at the building commission. There is no way Gillard gets to pivot off of that and demonstrate her superior abilities in the field.

    And I reckon SBS’ Karen Middleton has been the leading gallery hack pushing the meme that Rudd’s supposed transgressions are an existential threat to the government. Someone remind me, just who was it Middleton worked for as a media adviser?

    Well, I am still on the Rudd bandwagon – absolutely brilliant strategy after being overwhelmingly dumped by both the electorate and his own party

    The election has already been held in your parallel universe, I take it.

  48. adrian says:

    Well said Nickws.
    Keep on spinning Labor Insider, you’re getting to be a one trick pony, but keep it up, you may convince someone one day.

  49. Razor says:

    Nickws – the reason Rudd was dumped was that the Opinion Polling was indicating a significant electoral defeat – you can spin it that he wasn’t deposed by an election, but he was deposed by the ALP before the Electorate was given the chance.

  50. GregM says:

    “Seriously, just how many senior members of Cabinet really need to be present for every single NSCC meeting?”

    Since it has the status of a Cabinet subcommittee I would think about four.

    The Prime Minister or his Deputy.

    The Minister of Defence or a junior Defence Minister.

    The Foreign Minister or a Minister with responsibility within that Department.

    The Attorney General or the Minister of Justice (if there is one).

    At any meeting, if it is to be credible, at least two should be senior Ministers.

    I have no idea what actually happened at the NSCC meetings but if there was a routine NSCC meeting and, while Kevin Rudd was absent, Julia Gillard or another senior Minister was chairing it, and another Cabinet Minister was present, if Rudd’s Chief of Staff turned up to the meeting as an observer/participant for the Prime Minister I can’t see what the problem would be.

  51. ossie says:

    GregM

    The most spot on comment on this issue I’ve heard all day!

  52. Labor Outsider says:

    Adrian, criticising Rudd’s management of the NSC is not the same thing as endorsing the leak. I find it very difficult to believe that anyone close to Gillard did it, as it is a distraction from the campaign.

  53. adrian says:

    My point is that there’s nothing to criticise, but as usual when it comes to Rudd you’ll find something.

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