15/04/2009 - 22:00

Cranky Kevin flies off the handle

15/04/2009 - 22:00


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There’s no excuse for leaders losing their cool, particularly with those unable to defend themselves.

Cranky Kevin flies off the handle

EVIDENCE keeps surfacing which shows that that old salesman's adage, 'what ya sees is what ya gets', is regularly off-target when applied to political leaders.

This point is well made by one-time Labor minister and Geraldton MP, Jeff Carr, in his recently-released autobiography, I Do Recall: Reflections on a Social and Political Journey.

While state energy minister he had to decide whether the then State Energy Commission would acquire another coal-fired power station or a far cheaper gas-fired unit.

Just before announcing his decision he met then leader and premier, Carmen Lawrence, who was pro coal.

"I was convinced it [gas-fired] was the best option and that was certainly what I would be recommending," Mr Carr writes.

"Her exact response was, 'We will be having a big shit-fight about that'."

Mr Carr elaborates on her colorful remark.

"While this quote may come as a surprise to many people who only ever saw Carmen on television sounding like their favourite CWA aunty, it is a reflection of the language she occasionally used in private and in caucus," he writes.

This proclivity, plus regular outbursts of anger are part and parcel of so many leaders.

Earlier Mr Carr canvasses the dumping of Dr Lawrence's predecessor, Peter Dowding, who was removed in a cabinet coup d'etat because so many ministers simply wanted him gone, the sooner the better.

But Mr Dowding's ascendancy was due to markedly different perceptions.

Four hopefuls - Mr Dowding, David Parker, Julian Grill and Bob Pearce - had emerged as potential successors of Brian Burke, who left the premiership on what Mr Carr correctly describes as "a high note".

In Mr Carr's words, he'd transformed "the Labor Party from a stumbling rabble into a winning political force at the 1983 election and was still widely appreciated and his five years as premier had produced an overwhelmingly positive feeling throughout the state."

However, Mr Burke wasn't about to stand aside without playing a determining role in deciding his successor.

"Brian had commissioned some public opinion polling, which had shown Peter to register the most positive public response," Mr Carr writes.

"In time a consensus emerged in his [Mr Dowding's] favour."

Not widely known was that the immediate outcome of those polls was the decision by Mal Bryce, Labor's deputy, to leave politics with Mr Burke.

Mr Carr explains this as follows.

"Mal had clashed quite strongly on a number of occasions with Peter Dowding, particularly in the first year of the government when Mal was minister for industrial development and Peter was minister for mines, fuel and energy.

"Mal did not believe it would be possible for him and Peter to have a viable working relationship."

Clearly Mr Bryce was far more prescient that others who eventually combined to banish Mr Dowding and promote the sometimes sharp-tongued Dr Lawrence.

Unfortunately Mr Carr isn't as forthcoming with examples of remarks that so quickly made Mr Dowding persona non grata with so many ministers.

But he lifts the veil just a little.

For instance, he reports that throughout 1989 there had been rumbling against the Dowding leadership.

He also reveals that Mr Dowding, had "challenged all cabinet ministers one by one at a cabinet meeting prior to his departure [for Switzerland] to state whether they knew anything about any plans to challenge his leadership.

"I explained that I had overheard some discussion of a possible challenge in the middle of the coming year ..."

Why such a tell-all chat?

"Firstly, Peter was always a feisty character who took an aggressive approach to politics and didn't tolerate fools or people who disagreed with him," Mr Carr writes.

So feisty, aggressive, and intolerant of anyone daring to disagree were hallmarks of Mr Dowding, according to Mr Carr; not exactly in line with what had shown up in the Burke-commissioned polling.

But we know Mr Burke was aware of Mr Dowding's Achilles heel and he'd cautioned him about it.

It was that behaviour that sparked cabinet's Dowding coup d'etat, leading to the emergence of Dr Lawrence.

Elsewhere Mr Carr reveals his view of the about-to-be toppled Mr Dowding, though once again in a toned down manner.

"I explained that I was uncomfortable with Peter's style and foresaw the increased difficulty of Peter governing in the face of growing allegations of government deals carried out under his premiership," he writes.

Clearly, Mr Dowding had, because of his alleged feistiness, aggressiveness and intolerance made some extremely powerful enemies.

Moreover, then party secretary and now Australia's foreign minister, Stephen Smith, had come to the view that he was electoral baggage.

"A particular element of the tension was that relations between Peter and state secretary, Stephen Smith, had become increasingly strained," writes Mr Carr.

"Stephen was a Machiavellian character, who saw opinion polls as being the guiding light for policies that the government should pursue."

Why highlight all these two decades or so old internecine proclivities and tussles? Well, they may become relevant at Labor's national level.

Twenty-eight months ago, after a year of appearances on Channel 7's Sunrise, Kevin Rudd had come to be seen by many as more than simply a frigid bureaucratic boffin.

He'd grown on people, especially women, who saw him as a nice, friendly, innocuous, ever-so-kind and precise chap.

After toppling Western Australian, Kim Beazley, he was promptly dubbed Kevin-07, with voters increasingly seeing him as a cuddly Tin Tin reincarnated.

Some even referred to him as Saint Kevin.

But was that the real Kevin Rudd, or has the real one been, at long last, exposed, the one some now call Kevin Rude?

Apparently 16 of his staffers have resigned in as many months.

Not a good sign, though we'd need to know their reasons for moving on.

However, the news of bullying a young RAAF female flight attendant is something else.

That outrageous behaviour against a defenceless defence forces member was reportedly denied by the prime minister's office when media inquiries were made.

"He's been quite appropriately nicknamed Kevin Rude ... as a result of this episode," Liberal Senator Nick Minchin said.

"Those of us who work and live in Parliament House have known for years that there are two sides to Kevin Rudd, and that behind closed doors he's prone to temper tantrums and this sort of belittling and very bad behavior with his own staff.

"For him to reduce a 23-year-old air hostess to tears because of a temper tantrum over his meal is completely and utterly unforgivable.

"I think Australians are now seeing gradually another side to the bloke they elected prime minister 18 months ago."

Even his Sunrise offsider Liberal frontbencher Joe Hockey, weighed-in, claiming moves to cover-up the incident were worse than the outburst.

Mr Rudd, while in London for the G20 summit, was photographed carrying a book titled, China's Rise.

Perhaps he should read Mr Carr's book.

Better still why not speak to the allegedly Machiavellian foreign minister, Stephen Smith.

He, better than even Mr Carr, could explain how feistiness, intolerance and aggressiveness lead to cabinet coup d'etats, once polls have turned.

Australians don't like PMs or premiers with road rage personalities. That's why Mark Latham lost in 2004 and Mr Dowding was dumped in 1990.



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