HAS Australia gone completely mad, or is it just the ALP that's stark raving bonkers?
Kevin Rudd's resignation as Foreign Minister has left more questions than answers, despite his insistence that it was time for some plain speaking (something we regrettably saw precious little of during his time as Prime Minister). For the moment, Rudd has left his options open and will consult his family, community and colleagues - in that order - on what he'll do next. What's more, he says he wants to give Queenslanders some "clean air" to decide their fate at the upcoming state election.
On top of that, Rudd insists that the Labor Party has to change its culture to rid itself of those dreaded "faceless men" - the same ones, of course, that he feels snatched power from him in 2010. On this point he sounds a little like Mark Latham Mark II, and arguably more than a little hypocritical. There were, after all, more than a few faceless men leaking against Julia Gillard on his behalf during the 2010 election campaign, which helped cost the ALP he claims to love power in its own right.
Perhaps we could infer from these statements that Rudd intends to resign not just from the ministry, but the parliament and the Labor Party. That would certainly end the soap opera that we are all, apparently, so heartily sick of.
The problem with this scenario, of course, is that if Rudd resigns from parliament he will very likely take the government with him. Could he really be that vengeful?
What we can be sure of is that this saga won't end by Rudd returning meekly to the backbench. Ask Bob Hawke if his position was strengthened when Keating unsuccessfully challenged for the leadership in June 1991. Keating was PM by December. Yet most commentators are of the opinion that Rudd doesn't yet have anywhere near the numbers required to replace Gillard.
So, like sands through the hourglass, the soap opera rolls on. Rudd will return to Brisbane and a media frenzy tomorrow. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, who is a good friend of Rudd's (as Rudd noted), won't be saying thanks while both the Gillard and Rudd camps work the phones, and her campaign for re-election unravels.
Rudd has already tried to remake the ALP in his own image and, in his own mind, he was punished for that. He was enormously popular with the public, as long as he wasn't doing anything too threatening. There's no doubt he was widely loathed within his own ranks. But that was as much for his autocratic personality, work habits and tendency to fly off the handle as for being factionally unaligned.
Although Rudd's popularity sank like a stone after his deferral of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, Australian voters resented never having the chance to make their own assessment before the so-called faceless men moved against their man. He was, after all, a first-term PM who had been elected with a clear mandate for more change than perhaps he himself had the stomach for.
It's just one of many reasons why Gillard is wildly unpopular - although she's probably achieved more in a hung parliament than Rudd ever did in his time as PM. The irony is that her opponent Tony Abbott is similarly detested and that the man he replaced, Malcolm Turnbull would probably attract greater support from both sides of politics were he to somehow regain the Liberal leadership. For the time being at least, there's no way his own party will let him anywhere near it again.
Australia's democracy at the moment is locked in a kind of sick purgatory. We are lumbered with two leaders we don't want by parties that can't abide their respective alternatives. Spin doctors manipulate the message while in the background, policy is increasingly being bought off by rent-seekers, particularly the mining industry, which is waging a larger and larger stake in the country's political direction.
What did we do to deserve this?