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Is the Rudd Sell-out beyond Redemption?

By Mirko Bagaric - posted Thursday, 25 October 2007

To make the world a better place sometimes you need to work within the system rather than railing against it on the outer. This often involves selling oneself out in order to achieve the greater good. But how low can a person go in terms of abdicating their principles before they are beyond redemption?

This is the question that is most weighing on the minds of Labor voters and no doubt Opposition leader Kevin Rudd as a result of his near total imitation of Liberal party policies - no matter how mean-minded - in recent months.

Kevin Rudd is not a fanatical economic rationalist. Despite the messages of recent months, he believes that there are more important things in life than balancing the books. The whole ethos of the Labor party movement is that social justice and humanistic causes sometimes trump economic imperatives.


Kevin Rudd has flatly refused to take a stance on any social issue which would put him at odds with government policy. Thus, he has backed the radical Aboriginal intervention policy in the Northern Territory, supported the pulp mill in Tasmania, barracked for the hanging of the Bali Bombers and even got behind the racist plan to limit African refugees.

I hope, and on balance believe, that Rudd does not think that any of these policies are correct. He presumably refuses to criticise them because he is streets ahead in the polls and does not want the Prime Minister to out flank him by playing a card which will appeal to the racist or economic sentiments of voters.

The lessons of Tampa have been permanently etched into the memories of the Labor party.

Rudd’s plan is simple. He has a huge lead. Voters will only change to Howard if there is a demonstrable reason to do so. By shadowing Howard, and becoming the "me-too man" on all matters which are potentially socially divisive, he removes the capacity of the Liberal party to agitate for a change to the status quo.

Rudd is no doubt thinking that whatever carnage is caused by backing the Liberals' mean-minded policies in the months leading up to the election can be rectified once he has the reigns of power.

Thus, Rudd is prepared to disavow his own principles and those of his party in the singular pursuit of the principle: "we will say and do whatever it takes to get into power".


In theory Rudd’s tactic is sound and should not preclude anyone voting for him. The damage that he has contributed to by, for example, not debunking racism can be fixed once he gets into power.

Yet, in reality there is a problem with this tactic. Power is seductive and once obtained can be an end in itself. Thus, once Rudd gets into power his own humanistic considerations might operate so as to make the ultimate end not the greater good, but the good of Kevin and those close to him.

This will require Rudd (unless he only wants to serve the one term) to continue to cater to existing prejudices and misjudged community values instead of making unpopular but fair decisions which will enhance social justice outcomes in Australia and even beyond our shores.

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About the Author

Mirko Bagaric, BA LLB(Hons) LLM PhD (Monash), is a Croatian born Australian based author and lawyer who writes on law and moral and political philosophy. He is dean of law at Swinburne University and author of Australian Human Rights Law.

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