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Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 07:09 | SYDNEY

Australia booms despite septic politics


Nick Bryant


28 February 2012 11:55

Journalists the world over have turned these past few years to WikiLeaks and its Australian founder, Julian Assange, to shine a light on the murky, inner workings of government. In Canberra these past few days, however, all reporters have had to do is put a microphone in front of an Australian government minister.

We have witnessed the verbal equivalent of a document dump of secret cables, although the statements and observations have been anything but diplomatic. What has been laundered in public has not just been dirty, but dripping with bile.

Kevin Rudd has obviously been the main target of the character assassination. Former senior ministerial colleagues have portrayed him as chaotic and undisciplined, with an arrogant and almost sociopathic disregard for those who worked under him (and, more treacherously, for these past eighteen months, one who worked above him). The verdict of the Labor caucus was scornful, particularly from the occupants of the Party's twenty most marginal seats, fifteen of whom seemingly preferred to countenance defeat than the return of a much-loathed leader. 

For outsiders looking in, the hatred aimed at Kevin Rudd has helped make sense of that most peculiar of paradoxes: of how a once-popular prime minister who commandeered his country through the worst of the GFC suffered the ignominy of losing his job shortly afterwards. However, the politics of the Australian Labor Party might still strike them as anomalous, for the Canberra story remains at such odds with the broader Australian story.

Rarely, if ever, has Australia commanded such economic, commercial, diplomatic and cultural respect beyond its shores. But rarely, if ever, has the country's politics come across as so furious, septic and insular – a sick national polity from a country seemingly in such rude health.

Just as the national polls could not be harnessed to produce a Rudd revival, nor could his favourable reputation abroad. Were it not for the character flaws exposed so mercilessly by his colleagues, it would be tempting to write that the country's most outward-looking politician has become a victim of the Capitol Circle's parochialism.

There is another irony, which concerns the timing of the latest leadership ructions. They have coincided with the publication of two surely seminal books that read as rebuttals to the 'Lucky Country' thinking that has dominated the national conversation since Donald Horne's scorching polemic was first published in 1964.

Peter Hartcher in The Sweet Spot and George Megalogenis in The Australian Moment both argue forcefully and persuasively that the country has been the chief author of its own success, rather than riding the sheep's back or relying on its quarries. To watch Canberra these past few days, however, has been to see Horne's Lucky Country make an untimely comeback: a country blessed by an abundance of resources but lacking the same depth of political talent.

Those of us who wrote back in 2010 that Kevin 747 had been grounded got it badly wrong. After being ejected from The Lodge, he became a long-haul foreign affairs minister. And doubtless the world has not seen the last of 'One K Rudd', as he has recently taken to calling himself. He has long been a darling of the Davos set, and his name regularly comes up in connection with various UN posts. That said, Rudd has signaled his intention to remain in parliament beyond the next election, which shows he is already positioning himself as an alternative leader in the event of the expected Labor defeat.

Twitter has had enormous fun these past few days suggesting songs that could provide the soundtrack for the 'spill' – from 'Monday, Ruddy Monday' to 'How do we Sleep While our Seats are Burning?'. But as the former prime minister ponders his future, perhaps another melody might drift into his mind: 'New York, New York.'

Photo by Flickr user AK Photo.