View from The Hill

Get it done: Gillard should call a ballot, Rudd should stand

Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd need to sort out the Labor leadership before the election. AAP/Alan Porritt

Labor’s paralysis over the prime ministership has become a disgrace.

To have this bitter infighting drag on through the final fortnight of parliament is extraordinary self-indulgence.

It reflects the stubbornness of Julia Gillard, the bloody-mindedness of Kevin Rudd and his forces, the weakness of the caucus, and the absence of independent senior figures in the parliamentary party who are willing step up to force a resolution.

We are waiting now apparently until late next week for matters to come to some sort of head (or not).

Why then? Mainly because the Rudd camp believes this gives it maximum time to round up numbers and inflict greatest damage on Gillard (or for her to inflict it on herself).

There is also the matter of the opposition moving a no confidence motion if change came earlier. (Well, that would just test Rudd’s negotiating skills.)

Some wonder if Rudd – who has sought a draft in a party that is too divided to make that realistic – really does want to be leader.

If he reclaimed the job, how he would do at the election is uncertain. But if the party refuses him, he’s remembered as the one who might have been the saviour.

The Gillard forces don’t want any early resolution because theirs is a waiting game – see the week out and that really does seem the end of a Rudd challenge (well, presumably – we did think March was the end, especially as Rudd said so).

If Labor people were thinking of the good of the government, they would resolve the crisis on Monday. If numbers or key figures are going to shift, couldn’t they do so sooner rather than later, to stop adding more damage to the inestimable amount already done to the party?

The caucus knows the arguments. What more is anyone going to learn in the course of the week?

Basically, it comes down to this. The Rudd side points to the former leader’s popularity and says he would save a lot of seats that will be lost under Gillard.

Do caucus members accept that? Do they believe the negatives involved in a change – and we can’t know exactly how they’d play out – would be outweighed by whatever benefit Rudd could bring?

Given the hatreds that drive senior players, the indecision that grips many backbenchers, and the political complexities involved, it might not be a simple judgement for some in Labor.

But it is a judgement that could be made as easily at the beginning of the week as at the end. Labor, however, seems determined to keep bleeding as long as it can.

I believe the caucus should take a chance on Rudd. This is despite the fact that his recent behaviour does not inspire confidence. Nor is it likely that he really has learned from his mistakes, whatever he says.

It’s also true that opinion polls are one thing, and how much support Rudd would command once back in office is another. Many voters might conclude, quite reasonably, that the ALP has made such a hash of things it deserves to be banished to opposition.

But Gillard’s ability to rebuild her party’s vote has been trashed – by herself and by others – and Rudd does represent the prospect of Labor being able to make a fight of the election.

Somebody should force Gillard to open the leadership and should insist that Rudd challenge. The loser should bow out of politics (and take a long holiday while the campaign is on).

This pair has done so much to harm the Labor party. Gillard by bringing Rudd down, Rudd by repeatedly undermining Gillard. And that’s apart from the mistakes they made in their actual governing.

Regardless of how various players apportion the blame between them, they have thrown away the opportunity the voting public gave Labor in 2007. History and the party should judge them harshly on that ground alone. And the party should judge itself harshly for allowing them to do so.

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