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New South Wales

Oct 26, 2012

McKew book: how internal polling brought Rudd undone

Maxine McKew's new book reveals more about the role Labor's own internal research was used to undermine Kevin Rudd.

Former MP Maxine McKew has reopened Labor wounds over the events of June 2010 with her account of her brief period in politics and again focused attention on the roles of both Julia Gillard herself and the Labor Party machine in the removal of Kevin Rudd from the Prime Ministership.

In Tales from the political trenches, the staunchly pro-Rudd McKew suggests Gillard was involved in the plot to overthrow him and that claims about the dysfunctionality of his prime ministership were a cover story for a union of Gillard’s ambition and the resentment of key factional powerbrokers about their lack of influence over Rudd.

It’s an account bitterly contested by a range of cabinet ministers who need little prompting to detail, often at length, just how poor an executive Rudd was.

But McKew’s account has focused attention on the role of internal party polling in Rudd’s overthrow; part of her chapter on the events of June 2010 is devoted to the way the plotters used qualitative polling commissioned by Labor’s Victorian branch and conducted by UMR in early June, which purported to demonstrate the superior electoral appeal of Gillard. McKew quotes Rudd supporter Robert McClelland as claiming close Gillard ally Brendan O’Connor showed him the polling, a claim point-blank denied yesterday by O’Connor, and an unnamed MP who says Gillard herself showed them the polling “in the days prior to the coup” — a claim that would be explosive if it could be verified.

McKew also quotes Labor veteran John Faulkner, a key participant in the events of June 23, 2010 who has held his counsel ever since, calling the use of internal research to undermine a party leader “sheer bastardry”.

Labor MPs have told Crikey there was more than one set of polling in circulation in Parliament House in the days leading up to and on the night of 23 June. In addition to the UMR research discussed by McKew, Karl Bitar, former NSW party secretary and by then national secretary, and key plotter Mark Arbib — a pairing effectively joined at the hip — also showed or tried to show to MPs NSW marginal seat polling demonstrating a disastrous outcome, particularly in western Sydney, if the party persevered with Rudd. NSW Labor had lost the state seat of Penrith on an anti-Labor swing of more than 24% on June 19.

A number of MPs told Lenore Taylor in 2010 that the polling was a critical factor in their decision to back the putsch against Rudd.

But Rudd was by no means the first Labor leader to be the victim of internal polling. Internal polling and the leaking of internal party review material were used against Simon Crean and internal polling was used in NSW against Nathan Rees.

The tactic, and the implication of the party hierarchy working to undermine the parliamentary leader, incenses Faulkner sufficiently that he has been prepared to repeatedly go on the record on the issue. But he believes that the party is realising how poisonous it can be. “I do believe that there’s a growing acknowledgement that this sort of practice is unacceptable,” Faulkner told Crikey. “In recent times more party figures who hold positions of responsibility have accepted that these practices are totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated.”

Faulkner lashed out at the tactic in the aftermath of the 2010 election, when launching Rod Cavalier’s controversial account of the NSW Labor Party’s recent turmoil, Power Crisis, saying “the misuse and manipulation of party research to influence internal party affairs or parliamentary party ballots is just plain unconscionable.”

The widely-loathed Bitar, who is now an adviser to James Packer, was replaced by the unaligned and well-regarded George Wright as national secretary, and NSW Labor, seen as the source of much that is tactically and strategically wrong with Labor, is now overseen by Sam Dastyari, who has been pushing for internal party reform, including some of the reforms advocated by Faulkner along with Bob Carr and Steve Bracks in their review of the 2010 election campaign. Dastyari did not respond to Crikey’s request for comment.

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44 comments

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44 thoughts on “McKew book: how internal polling brought Rudd undone

  1. susan winstanley

    “…McKew also quotes Labor veteran John Faulkner….the use of internal research to undermine a party leader “sheer bastardry”.”

    Just like McKew is doing now?

  2. susan winstanley

    ”I do believe that there’s a growing acknowledgement that this sort of practice is unacceptable,” Faulkner told Crikey.

    Seem to recall polling by the Qld Missos Union was leaked just last week to show that Rudd would beat Gillard in marginals.

  3. Norman Hanscombe

    A more interesting story might be one from those who saw Maxine in action after her election, including the contrasting electioneering styles of both major Bennelong candidates? As for ‘reform’, which of our Labor ‘leaders’ is seriously attempting to make Local Branch members relevant in either policy formulation or candidate selection?

  4. Borisholly

    Why do labor party members want to scuttle the ship and hand over power to Tony Abbott? Why not release your stories after the election? The material is priceless for an opposition, not just one labor member but two who want to stick the boot in (for who knows what reason). How will you feel when Tony Abbott is PM..? Just face it, no-one liked Kevin. Get over it.

  5. beachcomber

    Maxine McKew is sabotaging her leader, by claiming her leader sabotaged her leader. And she hopes to make a buck of writing a book about it. It is sad Maxine has not recovered from being rejected by the voters at the first opportunity. But first prize for irony and opportunism Maxine.

  6. Mike Flanagan

    Wasn’t much of a journalist, proved to be not much of a politician and is proving to be less of a representative of the labor movement

  7. David Hand

    I think the issue Faulkner has is not the actual publishing of internal polling but the use of it for internal power plays. It could lead to a mis-use of party resources. It could have parallels with, say, using union funds for your own election campaign, or maybe, setting up a union slush fund to fund insiders during union elections.

    Labor people who want to fight the corruption that has almost destroyed the party’s soul are simply standing up for what they believe in.

  8. Mike Flanagan

    David H;
    While I do agree that both parties need to reflect on their internal mechanations, protocols and missions with an eye to the ethics of their actions but the above is hardly an ‘internal power play’. It is a ‘look at me” grab for the money with the aid of a publishing house.

  9. Chris Jones

    Ms McKew was a typical ‘celebrity candidate’ – By all accounts, after her election night party there were more sighting of the Yeti than of her in Bennelong. Instead of working to build the strong local relationships essential to preserve a political career when the Party is on the nose, she spent all her time in Canberra schmoozing. When the schmoozee got whacked, she was collateral damage – and promptly trounced by another celebrity windbag. There are several literary awards. If they start one for ‘Best Dummy Spit’, Maxine would be a shoe-in.

  10. Mark from Melbourne

    Internal polling, explosive. Crikey are you descending into a pit of rubbish journalism. It’s called counting the numbers and its been done since time immemorial by all parties of all persuasions across the globe. Get a grip!

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