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Kevin Rudd wants to see more courage in Australian politics

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Years after he left office, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd urges Labor to embrace bold and innovative policy (image by Chatham House via Flickr)

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is one of the most high-profile voices to highlight the threats to Australian democracy posed by big media, political corruption and rising social and economic inequalities.

In 2020, he called for a royal commission into the domination of the Murdoch media. By early November 2020, it had received more than 500,000 signatures. It was met with a  predictable response and a list of glib reasons why the responsible Minister, Paul Fletcher, would not advise the Governor-General to establish a royal commission. He claimed the Australian media landscape was already diverse.

Rudd’s latest contribution to the debate is The Case for Courage, part of a series curated by Australian publishing doyen Louise Adler and published by Monash University Publishing. 

This little red book, easily read in one sitting, is a call to arms to the Australian Labor party and its supporters. But it is a wake-up call for all of us. Rudd asks Labor to be brave and act with courage to hold the conservatives to account and guarantee media diversity by breaking Murdoch’s media domination, in order to protect and strengthen Australian social democracy.

The book starts with a critique of the Murdoch oligarchy and ends with a vision for a "big Australia", a fourth way, as Rudd describes it: 

‘... neither conservative, nor neoliberal, nor embracing the blind socialism of the utopias.’ 

The Murdoch media empire’s domination in Australia and other western countries is a direct and significant threat to democracy. As Rudd argues, Murdoch’s master plan is for an anxious Australia and an Australian populous that is perpetually fearful, angry and divided.

The book could be criticised for doing no more than preaching to the converted, but it is more than this. While Labor supporters are the key target of this short book, it encourages citizens to demand more from their leaders. 

Labor, Rudd argues, must 'redefine its social contract’. Labor must rejig its policy vision based on five ‘mega challenges’ that now threaten the nation: economic growth, helping working families, China, climate change, and current and future pandemics. 

The arguments presented here are clear and the plan to implement them is explicit. 

It is not just a Labor project for change; this is also a critique of Liberal Party policy. Rudd makes no bones about it. The Liberal Party at its core, writes Rudd, does not believe in large scale planning. It is ideologically resistant, politically uninterested, and above all, intellectually bone-lazy. 

The Liberals, with their conservative agenda, are willing to appease big media if their interests are protected. It is not just Murdoch’s media domination that constitutes a clear and present danger but new media platforms such as Google and Facebook, a weakened ABC and political corruption that sees money flow to those who seek to undermine Australian democracy. 

It is courage, determination and bravery that is needed to address such serious threats. 

Rudd argues that if Labor doesn’t act decisively now, it will face certain political demise. It is unlikely, due to Murdoch’s media domination, that without courage that Labor will be returned to national government for any more than one electoral cycle. Rudd carefully outlines his plan for reform in list form. At times, the structure becomes tiresome: another series of lists.

But his message is clear. This is a call to real, and entirely possible, action. 

It is not an easy task to take on the Murdoch beast as it seeks to undermine and destroy any opposition. What is needed, in part, is an overhaul of media ownership laws. 

Rudd’s plan for Labor is to set it apart from the Liberal Party.

He states that the Liberal Party’s ‘essential values remain individual and corporate greed’. This will take courage, along with discipline and energy. 

Rudd outlines his plan to drive Australian economic growth, climate change leadership and improve economic equality.

Courage involves reimagining the social contract in which citizens will accept Labor’s legitimacy to govern and thereby rewriting the political rules of behaviour, mitigating social inequality, addressing the climate emergency and the rise of China.

Despite the multiple threats to democracy outlined in this small book, Rudd, ultimately, wants it to contain a message of hope.

The ideas presented offer real-world solutions: 

‘There is still enormous power in the essential idea of a free people, freely able to choose their own government, that continue to animate and inspire people everywhere.'

In the final analysis, this is an important book; one that offers clearly defined instructions and hopefully one that will spark a crucial and well-timed debate.

In its pursuit of political success, Labor finds itself at a crossroads: it is time to reassess its vision and its policy direction. This book sets out new rules for Labor’s political tactics. Rudd maintains that Labor needs to meet Liberal negativity with a negative response of its own by pointing to Liberal corruption, failures and lies. 

Rudd is angry but not despondently so; his is a strategy for action.

Rudd is a divisive character in Labor politics. One wonders how this will be received by his past colleagues and current leaders. Will they listen? We can only hope so.

Dr Amanda McLeod is a writer and historian from West Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. She holds a PhD in consumer history from Monash University and has written widely on capitalism and its discontents.

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