If Kevin Rudd doesn’t sort himself out pretty quickly he won’t be Prime Minister come Christmas. Either Tony Abbott will have done for him, or Julia Gillard.
It’s the first rule of crisis management that you should admit your mistakes. But the second rule is not “admit to mistakes you haven’t made”. Kevin Rudd has gone so far with his mea culpae that journalists are interpreting them, somewhat accurately, though not entirely, as encompassing everything that his government has done. So Kerry O’Brien on tonight’s 7.30 Report asked Julie Gillard what she had to apologise for. You could have blunted a stone mason’s chisel on Julia’s face after this sally.
When Kevin Rudd became Labor leader he mused about “playing with John Howard’s mind”. Watching his performance over the last week or so I’m asking myself whether this was prediction or projection. Did he use this turn of phrase because he is well-acquainted with funk himself?
Since the global financial crisis the Rudd Government appears to have been consumed by panic. They didn’t need to spend $44 Billion to rescue Australia. The proof of that is that most of the $44 Billion didn’t get spent during the crisis. It is being spent now and over the next few years and pushing interest rates up as it crowds out productive investment.
Part of that panic was the home insulation program, which has now mestastised the panic through the government via the ham-fisted performance of Peter Garrett and his department, and subsequently Rudd’s equally porcine behaviour.
Rule number two in the crisis management handbook actually is “Only admit to those mistakes you have actually made”. Rule number three is “Be genuine”. Rule number four is “Make sure your organisation understands what you are doing and why and bring them with you.” Rule number five is “Ensure there is only one company spokesman”.
Rudd has broken all four. Tonight’s 7.30 report is the evidence.
Because Rudd admitted to mistakes he has not made, it allowed Kerry O’Brien to ask Gillard where she has failed and to comment on where her colleagues like Nicola Roxon the Health Minister, and others may have failed. O’Brien even cheekily referred to the PM as “Kevin ‘I’m sorry’ Rudd”. Gillard was understandably unimpressed, and as a result broke the corporate line (see rules 4 and 5). There was also plenty of footage of Rudd standing beside Gillard looking completely disengaged whilst she explained what he really meant. (Try this at around 4:25) That breaks rule number three.
Journalists don’t behave like this unless the beast is badly wounded. You can just hear the producers pleading with the PM’s office – “Look we can’t guarantee that Mr OBrienwon’ refer to him as “Kevin ‘I’m sorry’ Rudd” but can you persuade your boss to come on?” It’s not as though the ABC has even a significant share of the audience that Rudd needs to win the next election, so O’Brien is taking a calculated risk that Rudd is so weak that upsetting him doesn’t matter.
Rudd’s colleagues (I suspect he uses the term advisedly) will be watching this footage. Can he recover? Should they move now? What are the risks that Abbott will win the next election? They should not be quick to install Gillard to the office, despite what polls and her boosters might say.
Rudd and Gillard are a little like Hawke and Keating, but “off Broadway”. Rudd has tried to be the great conciliator and bring everyone together and deserves credit for that. Hawke was an elitist, but he managed to takeoff an average bloke pretty well. Rudd is an elitist who will never manage the trick, no matter how many people he calls “mate”. Gillard is the point person. And whereas Keating had a manic turn of phrase that could reverse the flow of public opinion Gillard delivers multiple stab wounds in a voice which suggests her father or her mother had Dalek DNA.
What a dilemma to have. And yet today’s Newspoll suggests that things may not be so bad afterall!