In the interest of the future of the Labor Party, Kevin Rudd has stood down and handed over leadership to Julia Gillard. She becomes the first female Prime Minister of Australia.
A big day for women everywhere, but the cost to her and her leadership is of course unknown at this point. I am certain the waters of the Australian public will be well and truly tested before an election is called. She is going to have to work out Labor’s position on asylum seekers, the Emission Trading Scheme and the mining tax, and while she is left of left, it is assumed she would be pushed to the right on these issues.
Rudd stated last night that if he were to continue as Prime Minister, he would no longer be lurched to the right on these issues. It is uncertain whether he would hold true. But, I like to believe that this challenge was a ‘Bartlet’* jolt for Rudd, and that he would be a little less politically safe and make some solid moves on these important justice issues.
Left or right, the important thing from a justice perspective is not who is in power, rather, that the person in power will hold true to their fight for a ‘just’ Australia. For me, the lesson from Rudd in the justice realm is essential. If you are going to support a vulnerable group of people, you must continue to support them, even when your organisation, and indeed, your friends desert you. Ironically, in a practical sense, if Rudd had done that, he would likely be in exactly the same position as he is now.
The big issues for Gillard?
- Gillard needs to make a stand for climate change. Rudd had to cave on environment, even though this was a platform issue for him, stating it was the ‘greatest moral and economic issue of our time’. (In fairness to Rudd, the GFC hit, and he managed to get Australia through this time without going into recession, one of the only developed nations to do so. Perhaps Rudd can get a job in Greece!) Will Gillard do the same?
- The super profits mining tax, which calls for an increased tax on mining magnates earning astronomical profits, is another political hot potato. The argument for the tax states that multi billionaires making money off the natural resources of Australia should give more to the Australian people. The argument against says that if you annoy rich people, they will tighten their purse strings and lay off a bunch of ‘blue collar’ miners. What will she do? Who will she side with?
- And then there are asylum seekers. The call is for a ‘move to the right’ which will see more asylum seekers turned around and returned ‘home’, more asylum seekers detained, increased language calling asylum seekers ‘cheats’, and illegal. Will she stand up for the rights of this incredibly vulnerable group? Or will she buy votes from those who claim we have no room left in Australia to maintain our human rights obligations?
My hope is that she will pursue justice, and not let politics get in the way.
Let Bartlet be Bartlet, or in other words, let those who want to fight for justice be unleashed, regardless of their popularity in the polls. For the Liberal and Labor parties, this is incredibly difficult. For The Salvation Army, it should be easy. We don’t have constituents. We are apolitical. And yet, we too are often careful for fear of losing public and government money. The great irony is that when you flip flop on justice issues in order to please others, you lose support just as quickly. We are the most trusted brand in Australia. People expect us to advocate, serve, and fight for justice. But more than anything, people expect us to LEAD. This is where Rudd is seen to have failed. He did not stand firm and lead on issues he told us were important. Let’s not make that mistake. We are not here to make friends. We are here to lead people toward a just Australia. Let’s not pander, let’s learn from this, and be bold. And let’s pray for the state of our nation.
Goodbye to Kevin 07. You are still a hero of mine! You brought hope and reconciliation to Indigenous Australians. You brought dignity to the under and unemployed. You gave inspiration to women through paid maternity leave, and by giving real leadership opportunities. You championed the environment, in spite of your cynics. You kept our country financially viable where others sank around you. While not quite the level of Gough, you come close in my book.
* Josiah Bartlet is a fictional character from the TV series The West Wing. The character is the President of the United States, and is regularly pushed backwards on justice issues, but stands firms on most occasions in miraculous, dramatic and very politically unrealistic ways.