Nicholas Stuart’s Rudd’s Way and the spectre of Kevin07

There’s been extensive discussion of Nicholas Stuart’s new book, Rudd’s Way on Brian’s thread about the political demise of Kevin Rudd.

I’ve been dipping into it and have written a post about it for the ABC’s Campaign Diary blog. I think Stuart shows us that the accepted narrative of Kevin Rudd’s failure, now ‘overshadowing’ the issues of this year’s federal election, is only a partial one, and without much nuance. You can read why here.

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Posted in culture, federal election 2010, history, politics
11 comments on “Nicholas Stuart’s Rudd’s Way and the spectre of Kevin07
  1. adrian says:

    Good article, Mark.

  2. mbahnisch says:

    Thanks, adrian!

  3. akn says:

    That’s more like it. I doubt Rudd is finished and look forward to a comeback.

  4. jane says:

    Must get hold of Rudd’s Way. I suspect that a few years down the track, Kevin Rudd’s Prime Ministership will be judged very kindly. I, for one, was sad to see him removed.

  5. MIKE says:

    The more we see of Julia doing nothing (even pulling the old community consultation thimble trick) the more Rudd is starting to look like a giant. No wonder he was a lone band in govt (if true) when he had to fight this sort of inertia. I wouldn’t have talked to any of the nobodies myself.

  6. codger says:

    Lying, Blonde, now Red…what do you think Mark? Rodent city eh?

  7. Brian says:

    This is all a bit less than optimal, Mark. You haven’t read the whole book and by my calculation I have about 70,000 words to go. I’ve read the sections entitled “Co-operative Federalism” (mostly about Health), “Leadership” (a general assessment), “The Fall” and “Epilogue: The Verdict”. What I’ve read concentrates on 2010, but makes generalisations with examples that cover the whole Rudd ascendancy.

    First let me say that I’ve never said much that was favourable about Gillard’s achievements in education. I doubt I’d ever make a summative judgement, because there are areas (TAFE and universities, for example) that I don’t know much about. My main worry in the schools area is that she doesn’t appear to have been consultative or inclusive in policy development, which are supposed to be hallmarks of her prospective leadership as PM.

    And on the Ruddster, I did do a post to make sure that the achievements of his government were not overlooked. I think inevitably now when the history of Rudd’s PMship is written about, there will be an effort to separate out Rudd’s role in each of the achievements.

    There were some projects that clearly required Rudd’s involvement, for example Health, where COAG and federalism were in play. Stuart’s portrayal of what happened seems to indicate that Rudd hindered more than helped the resolution. Stuart doesn’t go so far, but Norman Swan the other day characterised it as a sell-out. Swan reckons the fine print leaves the states in control. Stuart says Rudd acted like a bully, used the media relentlessly to talk past the premiers and chucked enough money at it that the states couldn’t refuse, rather than working on solving the actual problems.

    Health wasn’t the only cave-in. The biggest was probably the CPRS, where arguably the polluters got paid, rather than the other way around.

    There are questions as to whether Rudd intervened in the right places and whether his interventions helped. Stuart seems to answer both in the negative, in many cases. On the GFC he says that it was fixed by throwing money at it but a chance of restructuring the economy was missed.

    I don’t always agree with Stuart’s assessments (he seems to think the NBN is a big waste of money, for example) but his insights and judgements are always worth thinking about.

    On the other thread I outlined Robert Manne’s article in The Monthly which says there were three chapters in the Rudd saga. In the third chapter, from Copenhagen onwards, Rudd faltered. Stuart’s account of the same period is relentlessly devastating. Overall he’s harder on the guy than I would have been.

    He talks about his “chaotic office”, his centralisation of policy, his habit of doing it his way:

    On most issues, he insisted on being the one to decide both the course of action to be taken and the details of how the policy would be rolled out and unveiled – not just to the public, but also to stakeholders who might have otherwise felt the desire to assist in creating the right framework.

    He told us on TV:

    “Well, in our system of government, I am responsible for the lot of it”

    Stuart says this shows a preference for a presidential style rather than the traditional cabinet governmment. Then there’s this from p262:

    But once he’d arrived at what he thought was the right solution, he insisted that everyone else should just accept his brilliance and his ideas, and bow to his judgement. The vital tasks of convincing and cajoling appeared to have been replaced by an almost Chinese idea of discipline. There was no room for alternate approaches or differing views.

    While Stuart piles it on he does recognise his strengths, which he says were on display as he went out the door, his vision for a better world and his commitment to achieving it. Nevertheless, he says finally the problem was Rudd himself.

    The prime minister was the problem. Personality flaws that would normally be hidden were exposed in glaring detail under the spotlight of government.

    If Stuart is right, then rehabilitation will not be impossible but will certainly not be easy.

    But as you say, we need more information, and also, if Rudd had gone the double dissolution way on the CPRS and the health insurance subsidy, then Manne’s chapter three would have been entirely different and Rudd would have become a Labor hero.

    This scenario is not incompatible with Stuart’s view, as the cracks didn’t really start to show until Rudd was down there with his notebook in front of parliament telling insulators that he’d heard and he’d fix it, and then going on TV with mea culpas, admitting the whole thing was a stuff-up, that Labor deserved go get a whacking in the polls.

    There’s an issue worth looking at, I think, as to whether Garrett was really such a bad minister, or whether he was inflicted with a program that was always going to be problematic. We accept deaths on the roads with a great deal of comparative equanimity. We do so also in the building industry, but not in people’s ceilings on a government funded program.

    It has been noted on this blog that the insulation scheme had a reduced incidence of deaths. Everyone out there, Stuart, journos like Tingle and Lenore Taylor, everyone thinks the insulation scheme was a “debacle” (the word Stuart uses). Rudd seems to agree, and there is a question, although I haven’t been following all the detail, as to whether Rudd was more to blame than Garrett. Time may tell.

  8. Labor Outsider says:

    Very nice post Brian.

    Unfortunately, much of the discussion about Rudd’s legacy and deposition has been filtered through the prism of what people want to believe is true, rather than a dispassionate assessment of all the available evidence.

    It will probably be some years before a more objective account is written, when Labor is out of government again and public servants, MPs and other senior party figures are prepared to go on the record over the events of the period.

  9. mbahnisch says:

    Brian, I made it clear in the post that I hadn’t read the whole book.

    I have now.

    FWIW, I think Stuart is far too hard on Rudd, and that’s partly to do with the fact that he himself doesn’t appear to understand much of how policy works, and partly to do with the fact that he doesn’t evaluate what his sources are telling him.

    For example, the bulk of the chapter on foreign affairs deals with China, and the thrust of the critique appears to be that he was insufficiently malleable from China’s perspective – for instance, in his speech in Beijing where he mentioned human rights.

    It’s pretty clear to me that most of what he’s saying in that chapter comes from foreign affairs officials who were pissed off by budget cuts and not used to a government actually making foreign policy as opposed to doing what the department wanted (which is what happened under Downer with the exception of Iraq).

    Similarly, he seems to fall into the trap of expecting things to have happened instantly – the same attitude the media has, or of not seeing that other factors are at play. Policies on social housing and redressing Indigenous disadvantage are supposed to be long term ones. If not enough housing was built in the NT in one year, there’s a problem of implementation, not necessarily of the policy goal. And Macklin is one of the Ministers that he said had carte blanche.

    Or, as with the example I used in the post of the G20 – it’s just wrong to ascribe blame to Rudd that some of what was initially proposed didn’t eventuate. I can’t see how he is meant to be able to stop Merkel and Sarkozy from wanting to pursue their own course on fiscal policy and financial regulation single handedly.

    Incidentally, reading the book didn’t give me a great deal of confidence that many of the Ministers who will now supposedly under Gillard have free reign are either very competent or have much to offer in policy terms.

    And I’d also note that it’s possible to draw aspects from the sections on Rudd’s downfall which are significantly at odds with the prevailing narrative. That was my point in the post – it’s all been wrapped up in a very one sided story, which is demonstrably – in some matters – wrong, if Stuart is right.

  10. Brian says:

    Hi Mark, I was thinking we may be able to have a stoush, but I don’t think so. I’d need to read the book. Reading that stuff is core business for you, but it is down the list for me, even in terms of the limited time I have for reading.

    FWIW I agree with this para:

    FWIW, I think Stuart is far too hard on Rudd, and that’s partly to do with the fact that he himself doesn’t appear to understand much of how policy works, and partly to do with the fact that he doesn’t evaluate what his sources are telling him.

    Journalists, which is what Stuart substantively is, typically don’t understand how policy works, nor about the administration of complex organisations or how political leaders have to manage their time. They always think pollies should have spend major slabs of time to give it their full attention. When I was in publis administration I had 18 committees and in one little study an average time on task of 8 minutes. When Carmen Lawrence was supposed to have misled parliament my judgement was that the time she had to think about what she did would have been measured in seconds.

    There is another debate to be had as to how public policy ought to be developed. The Rudd government’s policies on climate change came out of a weekend seminar in Brisbane in 2007, which got the science wrong, I think. Yet years later, if they deviate from policies and strategies established that weekend, which depended on who they invited and the interactions between them, and possibly the twist put on it by whoever wrote up the ‘outcomes’, politicians get plastered for changing their minds, doing backflips, not giving industry the certainty they need etc.

    Gillard’s ostensibly more deliberative approach, (the council of scientists, which is overlooked by the pig-stupid media, is more important than the citizens group, which is only advisory, another point missed by most of the reporting) may be worth doing if we get a better bead on what we need to do before we rush off to do it, fail, kick out that bunch of pollies and put in another bunch who in this case would be dedicated to unpicking everything the first lot did.

    For me Gillard’s ‘gobfest’ is heaps better than a weekend seminar, largely below the radar at the time and now forgotten, but I’m not sure Gillard’s chosen way is optimal.

    I agree with this paragraph also:

    Incidentally, reading the book didn’t give me a great deal of confidence that many of the Ministers who will now supposedly under Gillard have free reign are either very competent or have much to offer in policy terms.

    There were a couple of other’s Stuart gave a tick to, eg Tony Burke and Chris Bowen. If journos actually listened to Burke’s exposition of his sustainabilty brief they might understand it. Right now not even the better ones like Laura Tingle even come close.

    I’m not sure that “free reign” will be the go with Gillard. In the mining tax resolution, Swan and Ferguson had a brief negotiated with Gillard and I gather there was a cabinet meeting also. Gillard was certainly in and out of the meeting with the miners, which went on for days.

    Pretty much, I agree with your whole comment. Also the last sentence and this from LO:

    Unfortunately, much of the discussion about Rudd’s legacy and deposition has been filtered through the prism of what people want to believe is true, rather than a dispassionate assessment of all the available evidence.

    Finally, elsewhere I quoted a defence of Rudd’s administrative style from Pat Weller who spent four weeks in his office. On reflection, I think Weller being there would have altered the normal behaviour and dynamics of the office. Also in a comment quoted in the Fin Review, Weller defended Rudd’s style, not from what he saw there, but because he had a happy family life. One of the aspects mentioned by Stuart is that Rudd had markedly different personas in different life settings (though he doesn’t mention family in the parts I read).

    He’s a bit on an enigma, really.

  11. Brian says:

    BTW, I think Lenore Taylor and David Uren’s book Shitstorm might be a better treatment of the Rudd government’s response to the GFC. In her interview with Richard Fidler she gave a lot of credit to Rudd, both in the domestic response and in his international initiatives. But she was also critical of how Rudd ran the government. I bought it the other day, but have only had time for a cursory glance. It seems to be well-documented and properly referenced, as was, for example David Marr’s and Marion Wilkinson’s Dark Victory.

    Sorry, Stuart does mention Rudd and family, including an apparently cringe-worthy children’s book he wrote last Christmas, when Stuart thinks he should have been reading the Henry review for relaxation, but not, I think, in the sense Weller used to defend his administrative style.

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