Saturday, February 18, 2012

Hawke and Hayden, Rudd and Gillard - the gaining and maintaining of leadership

I never thought I'd say this, but the US impeachment process is looking like a highly desirable political mechanism at the moment.  You see, Networkers,  in the USA the President is elected quite separately from Congress or the Senate and the President can only be turfed out by impeachment.  Impeachment is rare and it has to be for a very good reason.  The Republicans of the time would have loved to do it to Clinton but try as they might - and they used all sorts of horrendous tactics - they couldn't quite get there.

Looks like we have another mechanism for turfing out Prime Ministers in Australia.  Once upon a time the most signally abhorrent thing one could do to an Australian Prime Minister was to kick him out of his own seat at a general election - and that shameful incident has only happened on two occasions in over 100 years.  Sure there are the party room swings and roundabouts but it is doubtful this process has been quite so abhorrent as it is to-day.  And I have to wonder if the Australian electorate is not what it used to be either.


What is happening to Gillard has happened once before in modern times and no one turned a hair.  Gillard's mentor, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, played the role now played by ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. In the role of patsy back in 1983 was Bill Hayden.

Bill had been diligently slugging away ever since the Whitlam dismissal to get the ALP into a winnable position.  There was one election when things looked good. 1980.   Good policies in place.  Party balance restored.  But no.  Fraser still held on albeit with a much reduced majority.   The 1980 election brought Hawke into Parliament - complete with the Field-Marshall's baton in his knapsack.  People had predicted great things for Bob Hawke since he was a child - now, in the eyes of many, the future Prime Minister had entered Parliament.  When would he assume his rightful office?

Then came the election of March 1983.   Things looked very good this time.  All that effort of Bill and the party to bring the ALP into serious contention looked like it was about to pay off.  Government was within grasp.

Hawke, like Rudd, was always a threat. If Hawke wasn't the 'cleverest man in the room' as Rudd is thought to regard himself, then he was - arguably - the most popular man in the room. If many thought that a future Prime Minister had entered Parliament in 1980, it was not only people in the Australian Labor Party - and the business community- who held this view.  So did Malcolm Fraser.

It was clear Fraser's fortunes were declining.  Bill Hayden just might pull it off.  However, Hawk was there anxiously pacing in the wings.  Fraser knew who he would rather fight in a general election.  He didn't want to lose but there was still the possibility that, like last time, Hayden wouldn't quite make it.  If Hawke was Labor leader at an election, there was every likelihood of a Labor win.

Fraser was not the only one to make this assessment. A clutch of significant and influential hard-heads in the ALP believed this to be the case as well.  Fraser not only wanted an election for the House of Representatives.  He wanted a Double Dissolution with the Senate off to election as well.  However, Fraser had to provide grounds for a double dissolution to the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen

As can be seen from this article, there is a difference of opinion on events in Canberra on February 3 1983.  And, Networkers, if like me you believe in a sort of natural universal justice without a human judiciary, February 3 1983 is a stand-out day.

Fraser became Prime Minister in 1975 in, what many regard, a reprehensible act by the then Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. Kerr could have forced Whitlam to a general election.  Instead he sacked the Prime Minister.  He installed the unelected Fraser in the office of Prime Minister and the ALP was forced to campaign without the trappings and assistance of office while the keys to Prime Ministerial wonderland and Government were handed, without benefit of election, to Malcolm Fraser.  And the Australian electorate currently is said to be concerned about the manner in which Gillard came to the office of Prime Minister!

On 3 February 1983, events fell in such a way that it seemed justice had been meted out to Malcolm Fraser and Sir Ninian Stephen had redeemed the good name of the office of Governor-General from the odium brought about by Kerr.  And, as in 1972, it was all a matter of timing.  Stephen had to give due consideration, in a day of scheduled appointments, to Fraser's request for and grounds in justification of a double dissolution election.

That was how it was in Canberra.  Far away in Brisbane, Hayden had had the realities of political life explained to him and what Fraser feared most occurred.  Hawke became Leader of the Opposition in time to fight the 1983 election.  By the time Fraser, got the nod for a double dissolution from Sir Ninian Hawke was Leader of the Opposition.  If Sir Ninian had been able to turn around his decision more quickly, the ALP would have remained, for the time being, under the leadership of Hayden.

Hawke had snatched the leadership of the ALP from the hard-working and diligent Hayden.  The ALP felt somewhat bad about this but regret did not halt the march to political victory.  What did happen though was that Hayden could name his price for the resignation and going quietly.  His price was the office of Governor-General. He assumed this position six years later in 1989.  And the Australian electorate understood the reality and silently consented to all of this.

......this is Part One.  Now go to Part Two.

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