Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why Tony Abbott has plenty to fear from Kevin Rudd

In Today’s Herald, Health Minister Tony Abbott questions Kevin Rudd’s long term leadership ability. He cites indigenous leader Noel Pearson and Age journalist Jason Koutsoukis to paint a picture of an arrogant and short-tempered egomaniac.

That may well be the case. But even Abbott must fear Rudd’s push to take Australian Christian politics back to the centre.

Back in mid-2001, I attended a political fundraiser for the then Federal MP for Parramatta Ross Cameron. Abbott was chief guest. Kerry Chikarovski was NSW Liberal opposition leader and was looking very shaky. I asked Abbott on that a question about what leadership qualities she should look for in herself and in possible preselection candidates. Abbott’s response went something like this:

"What the NSW Liberal Party needs to produce at this time isn’t ideological simpletons or factional warriors. What we need are people with genuine beliefs, big ideas and a fresh approach to selling them to the electorate."

Using Abbott’s own criteria, there’s a lot to be said for Rudd’s ability to lead on major policy issues. In his recent writings on religion and social democracy, Rudd shows ably that being a Christian doesn’t necessarily involve being socially conservative.

Today’s NSW Liberal Christian conservatives and their branch-stacking buddies aren’t always known for their big ideas. Rudd has already indicated he will target Christian conservatives within Coalition parties, especially those who use Christian rhetoric to pursue the most un-Christian and divisive politics in areas such as workplace relations.

Rudd’s more flexible use of Christian ideals (including family values) may well represent a useful method of co-opting Howard’s conservative rhetoric and using it against him. It could be a case of Rudd out-Howarding Howard in the opposite direction to what we were accustomed to with Kim Beazley in cultural, citizenship and security debates.

Rudd’s impeccable Christian credentials will assist him in sounding like more than just a cynical opposition leader coopting government rhetoric for political purposes. If Rudd is able to return genuine Christian compassion to politics, he will be doing Australians of all faiths and no faith in particular a huge service.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006