Coup anniversary: where are they now?
Paul Barry and Matthew Knott look back at the main players in the Night of the Long Knives: where are they now?
Jun 24, 2011
Paul Barry and Matthew Knott look back at the main players in the Night of the Long Knives: where are they now?
Yesterday Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane and senior journalist Paul Barry drew a portrait of a man at the height of enormous power, and how quickly Kevin Rudd’s base was eroded by his own hand. When Rudd’s public popularity collapsed, so too did his prime ministership …Today Paul Barry and Matthew Knott look back at the main players who featured in the downfall of a Prime Minister and chart the year since that pivotal 24 hours.
Before the 2010 election, Julia Gillard promised that the plotters who helped put her into power would not be rewarded. But they have been. And none more so than Bill Shorten — the man who first told her to challenge Rudd. A week before the coup, Shorten told Gillard that Labor would crash to defeat unless she took the reins. If she dared to challenge, he would deliver the numbers. And so it went. Shorten spent the night of the long knives holed up in a Vietnamese restaurant with Don Farrell and Kate Ellis, marshalling support for Gillard on his mobile.
The ambitious ex-AWU secretary felt under-appreciated by Rudd — although responsibility for Disability Services and the Black Saturday bushfire reconstruction effort was hardly small beer for a novice MP. Shorten now has a full policy plate as Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation. But that doesn’t mean his factional plays are behind him: he still runs the powerful Victorian Right grouping, known as the Short-Cons, in alliance with Stephen Conroy.
As Shorten and his fellow plotters juggled mobile phones and rice paper rolls in Canberra, the Australian Workers Union national secretary was in Sydney prepping for a now-notorious appearance on Lateline. Howes was the first Labor figure to publicly call for Rudd to go. The interview did wonders for Howes’ profile but angered many in the ALP. Tony Abbott spent the next few weeks whipping up community outrage about a prime minister knifed by unelected trade union thugs.
Howes argues the horse had bolted well before he sat down with Tony Jones– and he’s right. But the mythology of him as a powerful factional kingpin lives on. Labor insiders say his influence in the party is wildly overstated. “He doesn’t have the power he claims to have,” one senior NSW Labor figure says. “He didn’t swing a vote against Rudd that night,” claims a former Labor Right powerbroker.
Although Howes, 29, claims to regret making himself a part of the “Kill Kevin” story, his reputation as a media tart grows apace. Over the past year he has published a campaign diary, been profiled on Australian Story, penned scores of articles for News Limited, repeatedly slagged off Kevin Rudd and accused Rio Tinto of “sucking the blood of blue-collar workers”.
Howes had been mooted as a candidate for the safe south Sydney seat of Barton, but he says he will renominate for his AWU position. Stung by criticism about his role in the coup, the ex-Trotskyist is focused on building support among his members. This helps explain his about-face on climate change. Howes says his union will withdraw its support for the carbon tax if it costs one job. He also wants the steel industry to be exempt until there is a global price on carbon.
Howes doesn’t deny that he is keen to head to Canberra one day. Which is just as well: no-one would believe him if he did.
ALP insiders say it is Big Bill, not his protege Paul Howes, who is the true powerbroker in the AWU. He isn’t called “The Godfather” for nothing. Convinced Rudd lost the plot after the failed Copenhagen climate change conference, Ludwig was quick to swing his numbers behind Gillard when it became clear a challenge was on. And his numbers are formidable. The AWU is the only union that boasts its own faction, one that includes key Rudd defectors Wayne Swan and Bill Shorten.
Despite his advancing age — Ludwig is 76 — the AWU national president still wields significant power. At the AWU national conference in February, Julia Gillard praised him as a “big man with a big heart”. She could have added big mouth: Ludwig slammed Trade Minister Craig Emerson as a “dishonorable rat” for daring to say that he was not a fan of Paul Howes’ anti-Rio Tinto rhetoric. Close ALP watchers were not surprised when Wayne Swan – who has been a loyal lieutenant to Ludwig for almost 30 years — refused to publicly back Emerson and Gillard in the subsequent spat.
Ludwig has hinted that he may step down from his AWU post in 2013 but Howes is pushing for him to serve another four year term. And why not? Chicago’s famous political boss, Mayor Daley Snr, died in office. Why shouldn’t Big Bill do the same?
The former Victorian ALP secretary and close comrade of Bill Shorten has seen his fortunes rise since Rudd’s departure — but trouble looms on the horizon. A backbencher a year ago, Feeney was promoted to Parliamentary Secretary for Defence after the election. He has also replaced his NSW counterpart Mark Arbib in the powerful position as convenor of the ALP’s national Right faction. Yet Feeney’s very future in parliament is now under threat, thanks to the rising popularity of the Greens. He’s only number three on the Victorian Senate ticket for 2013. And guess how many Victorian ALP candidates won senate seats last time around: two.
The hardman of the South Australian religious Right — his nickname is The Pope — remains a key powerbroker. Farrell played a crucial role in roping in SA votes for Gillard last year and, like his fellow plotters, scored a promotion after the election. Farrell is now Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water. He was accused of handing out jobs to party mates in May when he appointed former Labor MP Leo McLeay to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust board.
As Rudd’s chief of staff, the media-shy Jordan was one of the most powerful men in Australia and he certainly behaved like it. The 31-year-old occasionally sat in for the PM at important national security briefings. And when Rudd became nervous about his grip on the leadership he got Jordan – rather than a numbers man in caucus – to check his level of support. This infuriated Gillard and is widely seen as the catalyst for her decision to launch a challenge.
Like Rudd’s other favoured wunderkinds — Andrew Charlton and Lachlan Harris — Jordan had few friends within the ALP. When the boss got the boot, so did they. Since September, Jordan has been working in Sydney as a senior manager with Wesfarmers Insurance. He no longer has to sleep at night in a sofa in his office.
The other Boy Charlton was a latecomer to Rudd’s office but soon became one of his closest confidantes. Before becoming Rudd’s principal economics adviser, the Rhodes scholar worked at management consulting firm Boston Consulting, received the Oxford University award for the best doctoral thesis in economics and wrote a book with Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.
Like Jordan, Charlton has moved on to that great resting place for fallen Laborites: Wesfarmers (former WA Premier Alan Carpenter is also on the payroll). He’s been working as the conglomerate’s business projects manager in Perth since November. In his spare time the ambitious 32-year old pens articles on economics and politics for the high-brow magazine The Monthly.
Kevin Rudd’s precocious and prickly press secretary admits that he is “looking for the next mountain to climb” in his life. Following the coup, Harris flew to New York for a holiday but was soon called back home by Gillard. Worried that Rudd would run riot, the PM convinced Harris to mind his former boss for the rest of the campaign. After the election, he founded Bondi Belts — a fashion chain whose mission is to “save the world from boring belts”.
The 31-year old creator of the “Kevin O7” slogan also writes a weekly column for the Sunday Telegraph, appears regularly on radio 2GB and advises companies on how to spin the media. He’d like to re-enter politics one day but Canberra press gallery veterans will be glad if he stays in Bondi: Harris became notorious for bullying and threatening journalists who ran negative stories about his boss.
After Gillard’s “blood-soaked knock at the door”, as Chris Pyne so poetically put it, the PM called in the elder statesman to help convince her to change her mind. The trio spent three hours in Rudd’s office thrashing it out — joined at one point by Rudd loyalist Anthony Albanese. Gillard allegedly told Rudd she would give him until October to reverse Labor’s flagging fortunes. But when she heard from supporters that the numbers were in her favour, she decided to go ahead with the putsch.
The then-Defence Minister quit the ministry only two weeks after Gillard’s ascension, claiming it was time for “generational change”. Following the election he has launched a crusade — via the 2010 ALP National Review and a withering speech earlier this month –for the Labor Party to expand and energise its membership base. Sceptical observers say it is too little, too late.
Let’s not forget today’s other important milestone: one year since the then-Finance Minister announced his resignation from parliament. Gillard and Tanner were once bitter rivals in the small world of the Victorian Labor politics, but Tanner claims his decision to quit had nothing to do with his fellow Leftie taking the top job. The former “kitchen cabinet” minister now works alongside Paul Keating as a part-time advisor with investment banking firm Lazard. Earlier this year he published Sideshow, a scathing critique of the Australian political media. Unsurprisingly, most hacks hated it.
“Karl has gone from shooting crap inside the Labor Party to shooting craps in the casino,” ex-NSW Premier Morris Iemma quipped last month when this key conspirator took the Packer shilling and signed on with Crown Casino. “Karl doesn’t understand public policy at all, but private interests he definitely does understand,” added former NSW minister Frank Sartor, “So maybe he’s found his true calling.”
But many ALP insiders think Packer has bought a lemon. Bitar left NSW Labor a smouldering ruin and almost burnt the house down in Canberra too when he became the party’s national secretary. He encouraged Rudd to shelve the emissions trading scheme — thus trashing the PM’s credibility — then agitated for Rudd’s removal as soon as his polling went south. One year late the polls are even worse and Bitar has fled the scene of the crime.
A key part of his new lobbying job is to encourage the government to abandon or water down its mandatory pre-commitment pokie reforms. It won’t be an easy task. His name is mud in the party — particularly the Left — and he’s up against the powerful anti-pokie crusader Andrew Wilkie who’s threatened to pull the pin on the government if his reforms aren’t made law.
The other half of the “Karl Marks” bromance can weather almost any storm — from failing to front for a Q&A post-election special to starring in WikiLeaks cables as a US embassy informer. He’s still powerful and active behind the scenes, despite the chaos he’s caused. But he’s no longer leader of the pack, given he has stepped down as convenor of the Labor Right. He’s also got his hands full with ministerial duties: Arbib is now Minister for Sport, Indigenous Employment and Social Housing. “Mark wants to be a serious player in government, so he has stepped back from factional games, because he can’t be seen as a plotter,” says a friend.
But if Arbib has given up his backroom manoevering that’s news to Bob McLelland and Daryl Melham. Both are being white-anted in their safe seats in southern Sydney by the Right wing powerbrokers who want them out. And Arbib is in the thick of it.
*This essay is a taste of what’s to come as part of the top-secret project from Paul Barry that Crikey subscribers will soon have access to …
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