Kevin Rudd has got the jump on the conservatives when it comes to fostering better labour relations.
IF the powerbrokers in the Liberal Party had any foresight they’d start putting feelers out to Australia’s trade union leaders to pave the way for what could become a historic rearrangement of labour relations.
Unfortunately, conservatives too often sit on their hands, hoping for the best while expecting the worst.
The signal that the time is right to launch such a move was the recent announcement by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that he’ll put a blueprint to caucus to ensure Labor leaders become virtually immune to being toppled between elections.
In future, he says, caucus plus Labor’s rank and file members would elect the party’s leader.
This received some support with Rudd backers, who have alleged it will mean Labor’s so-called ‘faceless men’ can never again topple a leader, as happened to Mr Rudd in mid-2010.
The only problem with all this is that he wasn’t toppled because the faceless men wanted him out, as was repeated ad nauseam in the media afterwards.
Rather, Mr Rudd was ousted as PM because of his ongoing childish and bullying conduct, especially towards colleagues (meaning caucus members).
They eventually became thoroughly sick and tired of it, and so quietly arranged his removal for, as one insightful observer stated, “his own wellbeing”.
Mr Rudd simply wasn’t up to the task.
The one who put it best was Mr Rudd’s onetime adviser on mental health policy, John Mendoza, who’d endured Rudd-style misbehaviour and decided enough was enough, so resigned.
“He wasn’t knifed in the back; in fact he was removed for his own wellbeing,” Professor Mendoza said.
Also, Mr Rudd’s prime ministerial office was administrative bedlam; he habitually resorted to foul language, threw the occasional temper tantrum (one being videoed and broadcast on YouTube), and more.
This included leaving senior public servants waiting outside his office for hours on end, without explanation or apology, and viciously dressing down a Royal Australian Air Force hostess for not serving the type of sandwiches he relished.
So unbearable was he that, by early 2010, several Labor MPs who’d endured one of his notorious tongue lashings secretly contacted fellow members about terminating their collective nightmare.
To claim faceless men were responsible for his ousting not only deceives voters, but is further evidence of failure to find and confront the truth; namely that Mr Rudd’s conduct was the alpha and omega of his ousting by the majority of caucus members, all of whose faces are easily recognised.
Just because a few Labor outsiders (aka faceless men) belatedly became involved in his removal doesn’t mean they initiated it.
Because Mr Rudd remains bitter and twisted about his ignominious demise, he’s set out to punish those who’d lost patience with him, but subsequently felt compelled to reinstate him since Ms Gillard failed to meet electoral expectations.
Like Mr Rudd, she proved incapable of doing the job. Unlike him, however, Ms Gillard has chosen to leave Canberra.
Mr Rudd, on the other hand, plans to stay, and intends launching a camouflaged vendetta against those who toppled him by discarding Labor’s leadership selection process that’s served it fairly well since 1901.
Among that process’s alumni are Chris Watson, Andrew Fisher, James Scullin, John Curtin, Ben Chifley, Bob Hawke, Kim Beazley, and, unfortunately for Australia, Mr Rudd twice.
Why then has two-times leader Mr Rudd suddenly seen a need for change?
The most obvious factor is his ignominious ousting in 2010 due to his persistent and disgraceful misbehaviour.
However, some insiders see more to this unilaterally devised and announced move.
They see it as Mr Rudd’s way of unhitching the ALP’s parliamentary wing from its 1890s-established union-based foundation.
And it’s because of this proposed rupture that an imaginative Liberal Party would recognise an opportunity to forge a historic agreement with that industrial wing, which Mr Rudd may cast adrift from Labor’s parliamentary wing.
What the Liberals should do is announce they’ll consider an arrangement with the unions to implement a 36-month long labour accord before all elections.
There’s much to be learned here from the way America’s great and far-sighted pioneering union leader, Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), energetically fostered non-class warfare attitudes and dealt with elected representatives of every political ilk.
American labour wisely never opted for an exclusive or monopoly tie-up with just one party, preferring to deal in a diverse and competitive environment.
Since Mr Rudd has begun treading the path towards divorce with Labor’s industrial wing – trade unions – the Liberals would be wise to get into their starting blocks to help ensure this happens expeditiously and give Mr Rudd more than he’s bargained for.