Ted and Kevin: Separated at Birth

14 / 03 / 2013

By Sarah Capper

In a long lost 80s Ivan Reitman film, beefcake-turned-future-Republican-Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger is matched up with the vertically challenged grubby Danny DeVito as long lost ‘twins’.

An experiment to make the perfect human gone wrong, it’s explained that while Schwarzenegger’s character received all the desirable ‘good’ genes, DeVito was the anomaly, being left with all the nasty dregs.

Leaving aside that last little ahem detail, politically speaking, comparisons can be made with the leadership exits of former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. No saying who makes up the dregs.

Both leaders were removed in their first term of office.

Both fell from previously sailing popular heights to suddenly fallen, untenable ones.

Both had lost the confidence of members in their party room.

Both were removed from office with such swift precision, that each instance would have certainly caught members of the public by surprise.

Yet because both come from opposite sides of the political fence, any parallels in the situations are being hosed down, especially from the side which has helped dramatise the first incident for their own political mileage.

On former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s removal as leader, Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott has been relentlessly scathing – Kevin Rudd was “knifed” in the middle of the night by “faceless men” of the Australian Labor Party, making Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s leadership “illegitimate” (a point he has continued to drive home after Gillard successfully negotiated a minority government after the last election – a completely legitimate move after a hung vote, and a legitimate move Abbott failed to secure himself).

But on his own side’s state-based replacement of Ted Baillieu with Denis Napthine?

The line from Camp Abbott was there was a “world of difference” between the scenarios.  Abbott himself used the phrase, as did Greg Hunt, Federal MP for Flinders.

The Baillieu situation was, Abbott remarked, instead an “orderly transition”:

“Ted resigned, he resigned and he was replaced by a supporter as the premier. I just don’t think there is any comparison.”

Nothing to see here. But like Baillieu, Rudd too “resigned”, and was replaced by someone who too could be seen as a “supporter”.

Writing for ‘Strewth’, the Australian newspaper’s political send-up column, James Jeffrey was quick to take on Abbott’s “no comparison” line, contrasting how the ABC covered the two events:

“Mr Baillieu yesterday stood down as premier amid a dramatic day in Victorian politics, after realising he no longer had the support of his colleagues.”

Versus, the June 2010 report:

“The following day, once it was clear he did not have the numbers, Rudd conceded defeat and declined to contest the leadership challenge.”

As Strewth notes, “Hmm, perhaps a tiny bit of overlap.”

The recent upheaval in Victorian politics also highlights that the Liberal Party has factions and [insert dramatic music] “faceless men”.  And they are arguably more “faceless” than the powers that be in the Labor Party, which have increasingly identifiable faces.

Fortunately for the Liberal Party’s own survival sakes, the same public profile of a factional political power system is not as on display as the ALP’s machinations (frighteningly detailed in last Monday night’s Four Corners program on Eddie Obeid’s influence in the NSW factions). The Libs just seem to do a better job of keeping the powers that be behind closed doors.

Yet the denial of similarities continued with Federal Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella, who described the Victorian takeover as “an orderly transition to an experienced leader, unlike Julia stalking Kevin with a gang of faceless men behind her.” *sigh*, while new Premier Denis Napthine said “the difference between my elevation and Julia Gillard’s is that we have a united team, we don’t have blood all over the floor and we didn’t stab in the back an incumbent prime minister against their wishes.”

Pot. Kettle. Black. And what was that line about dramatising the situation? Someone call Ivan Reitman.

Former Bracks Government Minister Mary Delahunty looked at the two situations in an Age opinion piece last Monday, and in response to Napthine’s interpretation noted, “Oh really? So no one stabbed Baillieu, yet just hours before he resigned he told the media he was “confident” of staying on as premier”.

It’s inconceivable that Napthine will suffer the same frenzied “knifer” taunts for as long as or as much as Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who, even last week in mainstream media cartoons and caricatures appeared alongside Kevin Rudd, in the context of “knifing” him.

It’s been over two and half years, people!

As documented in the Victorian Women’s Trust publication ‘A Switch in Time’, written by Executive Director Mary Crooks, federal politics has “witnessed at least 26 leadership ballots within the Coalition and Labor parties”, or in other words, on average one contest every two years (up until recently, all concerning men).  The ‘pink book’ also notes that Gillard’s rematch with Kevin Rudd (71-31) was one of the most “decisive” of ballots, with many more having much tighter margins.

One of those more marginal decisions was Tony Abbott’s take-up of the leadership,  beating Malcolm Turnbull by just one vote (as Crooks noted at the Switch Melbourne event, presumably his own). Yet Abbott is not continually parodied with knifing labels.

In comparing the two leadership transitions and responses, Mary Delahunty’s opinion piece asks the money question – “is it different because they are Liberals, or because Gillard is a woman?”

Writing for the Australian, Peter Van Onselen notes that “Abbott is clearly more forgiving when turmoil befalls his own side. Government MPs hope Abbott will be forced to drop his constant references to Rudd’s removal lest journalists take the opportunity to ask whether he see things in Victoria the same way.”

If his 60 Minutes interview last Sunday is anything to go by, Abbott can pretty much say anything. Call it a purple patch, at least in the eyes of big chunks of the mainstream media. Past comments about abortion and homosexuality? That was then, this is now. The “real Tony” currently on display can shrug it off and talk with a straight face about “changing his opinion”. Purple patch, indeed.

But the Prime Minister who continues to be dogged by fluctuating opinion polls, relentless leadership speculation (partly thanks to forces within her own party driven by egotistical agendas), accusations of pork barrelling and god forbid electioneering, and being shouted at with cries of “Juliar” from the public gallery (a new low in disrespect), can’t afford such a luxury. Instead, she is left with the double standards we have come to know.