Leadership reform the right medicine

Kevin Rudd: used the system to oust Julia Gillard. Photo: Andrew MearesThis is the reform Labor has to have – the one that slams shut the revolving door of leadership, invites the disaffected supporters to re-engage and encourages government in the national interest.
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The irony, of course, is that it is proposed by the man who capitalised on the worst features of the existing system to help bring down Julia Gillard just a fortnight ago – and was himself a victim of that system in 2010.

It is the path championed by Mark Latham, another former Labor leader, who urged the party against rewarding the ”white-anting” of Gillard by Kevin Rudd and his supporters.

Most importantly, and finally, it draws a line under the political assassination of Rudd in 2010 that may well have been the biggest burden Gillard carried in her three years and three days in the job.

Potentially, at least, it means that opinion polls become what they used to be (useful indicators of community sentiment) rather than what they have become (calculated weapons in the destabilisation of leaders).

If embraced, it promises to be an antidote for the cynicism that has become all-pervasive, especially when it comes to Labor’s NSW branch, and inject new energy into a party that has been mired in internal machinations and power plays for way too long.

Of course, no one is better qualified to articulate the destructive nature of the status quo than Rudd, who, to varying degrees, has been a player in Labor’s six leadership changes in the space of a decade.

Too often, he remarked on Monday when announcing the proposed change, political leaders become timid and intimidated by the avalanche of opinion polls when difficult decisions are taken. Was he talking of his own experience on climate change in 2010?

Too often, the whole of government and governance declines because leaders feel compelled to look over their shoulder when tough decisions have to be taken.

As Rudd pointed out, this is not a revolutionary reform. It has been adopted by parties in other democracies to encourage membership participation.

Wisely, he is proposing that the diminution of the power of the caucus to tear down a prime minister is accompanied by giving the caucus back the power to choose the ministry and the other leadership positions.

The removal of the caucus power to elect the ministry is one explanation (or lame excuse) for the timidity of the ministry – with certain notable exceptions – during the time of Rudd first time around and Gillard.

Now, the Labor Party should also focus on another proposal championed by Latham and NSW state secretary Sam Dastyari: a primary system of preselection, where local party members and community supporters get to choose candidates.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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