Kevin Rudd: The people’s psychopath

Julia Gillard was ousted, and now Australia has Kevin Rudd again: the party’s answer to hatred of the party.

By the time Julia Gillard was addressing staff from the stairs of the Lodge, her official residence for the past three years, she was no longer wearing the black skirt suit she’d had on in caucus, and she was no longer prime minister. She was a mere backbencher and was wearing jeans. Wayne Swan, the treasury minister who later resigned rather than serve Kevin Rudd, the new prime minister and Gillard’s bitter rival, was there as well.

They spoke without bitterness. There were no tears. Apologies were made to staff, many of whom would lose their jobs. Festivities continued until only light beer was left – and then it was drunk, too.

To understand the events of 26 June – the replacing by caucus ballot of Australia’s 27th prime minister with its 26th – is to understand the desperation of the Australian Labor Party. Rudd stands atop the ruins of a government he played no small part in wrecking. Ever since he was removed from the leadership in 2010, accused of dysfunction and a vicious temper, he has campaigned relentlessly against the woman who replaced him.

Ministers have resigned rather than work with him. A former Labor leader has called for him to be expelled from the party. He is described on his own side as a “psychopath” – and yet his party decided he is the people’s psychopath. He has been elected to run an election campaign: that being his great talent.

Gender had a part to play in the demise of Gillard. This is the woman who has been described as “deliberately barren”. Her empty fruit bowl was worried over by the nation. Her “small breasts, huge thighs” and “big red box” were mocked in a “Julia Gillard quail” on the menu at a recent Liberal Party fundraiser.

Gillard’s chief disadvantage against Rudd was that she could never escape the party; she came to it through university politics, built a career in a Laboraffiliated law firm, owed too great a debt to the union movement. Labor is built on union support, in a country where four in five people are no longer union members. Yet while union influence has waned in the workplace, it has grown inside Labor.

And so you have Rudd: the party’s answer to hatred of the party. The phrase “old politics” has become his slogan – a commitment to run for the public against a parliament it loathes. By 30 June, polls had Labor in contention to win an election it has looked like losing for three years.

Rudd’s ambition for the leadership was there from the time he joined Labor’s opposition benches in 1998. Colleagues mocked him as “delusional”. The former Labor leader Mark Latham writes about this time in his truculent memoir, The Latham Diaries: “Rudd is a terrible piece of work: addicted to the media and leaking. A junior minister in government, at best.”

But instead he is prime minister. Again.

 

Julia Gillard. Photograph: Getty Images

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

Getty
Show Hide image

How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.