Change: Is it 75%? is it 30%? is it nothing?

Kevin Rudd as PM again (Rudd2.0) provides some interesting change management behaviour to ponder. One of the selling points of Rudd2.0 was that he had learned, changed, and would be more collegiate, and would respect the cabinet process.

Under the slogan of “The PM you vote for is the PM you get” he has announced changes to ALP Parliament Party process which he will shortly take to caucus for endorsement. Full Federal Ministry (Cabinet+minor ministers) agreed Monday, its publically announced, and caucus is set in a fortnight to review – yes that is the order. Presumably there is sufficient wisdom outside the cabinet, ministry and caucus (which more explicitly IS inside the PM’s office) for them to simply agree and sign on – seems quite Rudd1.0 to me.

Part of the announced changes are:
1. Parliamentary leader (PM) elected by party members (30 day process) and caucus – 50/50 weighting.
2. 75% of caucus needed (up from 30%) to force a leadership spill. Leader can still require a spill.
3. 20% of caucus to endorse a candidate for leader in new Parl ALP leader election process

So what are the intended effects?
Certainly a reduction in the power of the unions, and caucus. Whether this is enough to break their power over the party is debatable, but likely not more than a reduction. It will also mean that Parliamentary Party leadership is now achieved by both back room, and rank and file (ALP love this phrase) party support. As such it will strength a candidate with a strong public profile, like K Rudd, and weaken a candidate like J Gillard with a weak public, but stronger internal profile.

How would this have played out previously?
The leadership changes in power and immediately prior to winning elections are Hayden/Hawke/Keating, and Beazley/Rudd/Gillard/Rudd. It is likely IMO that none of these changes would actually have occurred if there was a requirement for 75% to support a spill. Certainly based on the reported caucus votes at the time this seems likely. I qualify this with IMO because it is nonsense to put new rules in place and assume identical behaviour when back testing.

The Australian Democrats are the only other party, that I am aware of, in which the broad party membership has elected their Parliamentary leader. It was problematic for them, and a source of frustration for the parliamentary party. They knew at different times that the Parliamentary Party leader under which they would be most effective was not that which the broad party membership was prepared to provide.

What are the difficulties/oddities?
There are very many PMs in Australian history who have served a final term with a baton pass 12 months out from the next election (with varying levels of willingness it should be said). And it is also a truism of Australian parliamentary history that the first new leader of a party tossed out of government doesn’t survive the first term as opposition leader, and doesn’t get recalled later. How this revising of the % support for a spill will muzzle this option is interesting. There is talk of a lower % for leader whilst in opposition.

The PM is not the gift of party. Under the constitution it is the GGs commission tested (proven) by the confidence of the lower house of Federal Parliament. This is not some theoretical issue. An ALP prime minister in which some 25% of the ALP parliamentary party were prepared to vote against in a confidence motion is not the PM – well not for very long.

The application of the GG’s role is a bit of an ALP blind spot (‘75 scars) but in practice we have had changes of PM and indeed governing party mid term. ‘75 was notable for the fact that we went immediately to election.

Under the current 30% requirement to force a spill it is simply not used. As Gillard eloquently put on ABC’s 7:30 Report on my birthday (26/06/2013) “Call me old-fashioned, but the way in which these things are normally done is a challenger approaches the leader of the Labor Party and asks them to call a ballot for the leadership, you shake hands and then a ballot is held. That hasn’t happened. But in these circumstances I do think it’s in the best interests of the nation and in the best interests of the Labor Party for this matter to be resolved. So, whilst I haven’t been approached by anyone saying that they wish to be Prime Minister or Labor leader, it is my intention to call a ballot for the Labor leadership at 7 pm tonight.”

I can forsee a circumstance under which Rudd2.0 would refuse to call a spill (as sitting leader) despite having lost the support of the parliamentary party.

Rudd’s reforms are not in synch with Westminster
As the stated intention of these reforms is to provide “The PM you vote for is the PM you get” it is worth questioning the validity of this intention at all. We have a Westminster system with a neutered GG, not a US model with a directly elected presidential leader. We don’t vote for PM.

Interestingly these reforms will NOT include the party wide election of Deputy PM, or Leader of the Senate.

What do we (re)learn about Rudd1.0/Rudd2.0?
We shouldn’t forget that Rudd is a Queenslander, with Queensland state government experience. As staffer to Wayne Goss and known for his independent and ruthless action. And then NOT as a staffer (he’d well and truly moved on) for Peter Beattie the next ALP Premier. Rob Borbidge was the National Premier between.

Peter Beattie ran a reform line pretty continuously and positioned himself as the outsider who was on the people’s side and against his own party – a model to understand Rudd2.0?

Rudd2.0 also already seems somewhat presidential in decision making and policy development, and his understanding of Cabinet governance may fall well short of what his Cabinet believed he had committed to.

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