Tonight’s leadership spill in which Kevin Rudd won the Australian Labor Party leadership back from PM Julia Gillard shouldn’t be overstated. Labor’s problems run far deeper than personalities. Having lived in Australia for almost a year, I can reasonably conclude that the ALP is one of the most dysfunctional mainstream democratic parties I’ve ever seen. Despite some good policies, the organisation resembles an amalgamation of left and right factional forces (Socialist Left and Labor Unity respectively) that engage in contradictory and self-interested alliances and deals between the politicians and trade unions leadership that leave me, a left winger, taken aback. The three year popularity contest between Kevin and Julia has been shallow, backstabby, and super-bitchy; it’s the plot of Mean Girls in a nutshell. Well, except that the Plastics never learn morals about the true meaning of popularity, which will inevitably result in an alternative knife fight ending in which Bill Shorten will eventually sashay into the leadership after shanking Kevin to political death. Kevin will still preside over these factional interests unless he tackles the party organisation itself.
One can have sympathy for the sexist double standard that Julia endured with braveness throughout her three years of political leadership. Female politicians are still held to a different standard. Straight male leaders don’t tend to to be called ‘the Iron Gentleman’ or ‘ballbuster’ for being tough, and rarely have their sexuality or that of their spouses questioned. Politics is a game that still, by and large, follows a narrow interpretation of masculinity: power, aggression, cunning, and the strategic nous not to be the one caught plunging the knife. Female politicians feel an extra pressure to overcompensate on key issues such as police, defence, and welfare based on irrational fears that they’re ‘weak’, but when they do act tough, they’re seen as ‘bitchy’, ‘Stalinist’, and/ or lesbian. I look forward to the next female Australian Prime Minister who will hopefully be given a fairer go.
Besides this, Julia Gillard was a bad politician in a broken system. The good actions of her government in education and National Disability Insurance cannot be reconciled with the diabolical reintroduction of the Pacific Solution and ‘No Advantage’ test for people seeking asylum, cuts to Centrelink payment for solo parents, and what I believe is an entirely politically and factionally driven opposition to gay marriage (she used to live in Fitzroy in Melbourne, and is a Socialist Left faction member – trust me, she doesn’t give a toss about traditional marriage). She fits under my definition of a garbage person – a person who uses their power to commit actions that hurt the most vulnerable – both as a cynical poll-driven politician and as a creature of ALP power broker interests. I have been dreading the Federal Election in September because it has been a choice between not one but two garbage people – Julia and Tony Abbott. While I don’t particularly like Kevin, at least he had the vision to apologise for the Stolen Generations, signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, and ended John Howard’s Pacific Solution. Though I believe that the public probably likes the idea of Kevin rather than the policies or the reality, at least this might make the election more of a contest of ideas. Worst case scenario, it will likely rob Tony of a majority in the Australian Senate and be beholden to the Greens, village idiot Pauline Hanson, cartoonish super-villain billionaire Clive Palmer, and “Queensland Winston Peters” Bob Katter.