John Howard had one major public consultation - the 1998 Convention. Kevin Rudd had his very early in the piece - the 2020 Summit. The comparison is stark - not only in the sort of people they think worth consulting and their attitudes to transparency and process, but above all whether they are decisive.
With the recent release of the 2020 Summit Final Report we can well and truly compare Kevin Rudd’s prime ministerial style with that of John Howard’s.
Rudd was widely assumed to be similar to Howard. But he is nothing of the sort, as a comparison of Rudd’s 2020 Summit with the 1998 Convention demonstrates. This is at its most glaring in the sort of people they wanted to include in their respective consultaion processes.
The Summit was restricted to the “best and brightest”, chosen by an opaque process. The Convention was half elected, part ex officio and part selected.
The Summit governance panel turned out to be at least 98 per cent republican, which led to charges of stacking. Only one constitutional monarchist slipped through (Senator George Brandis) - perhaps because he was assumed to be a republican.
Howard handed over all control of the Convention to Ian Sinclair and Barry Jones, both highly experienced in chairing parliamentary forums. And unlike Howard both are republicans. When the day after his appointment, Sinclair made headlines calling for a republic, monarchists complained to Howard that both chairmen were republicans.
Later monarchists conceded both were absolutely fair and effective chairs.
But most of John Howard’s Convention delegates were elected directly or indirectly. Only 36 of the 152 places were in Howard’s gift. He did not stack those with monarchists. In the crucial republican vote, only 10, less than one third, voted Howard’s way.
Rudd made himself and his close friend Glyn Davis co-chairmen of the Summit, and appointed News Limited head, John Hartigan and MP Maxine McKew co-chaired the governance panel. Both share Rudd’s and Davis’ republicanism, but neither have experience in parliamentary chairmanship - and it showed.
Howard participated as an ordinary delegate, while Rudd retained control as ultimate co-chair.
Howard saw the Convention debates were recorded in Hansard with the process and decisions completely transparent, fair and on the public record.
According to Robert Manne (The Monthly, May, 2008), the Summit was “chaotic” and “frenzied”, at one point resembling a Mad Hatter’s Party. He says that near the end David Marr called passionately for the inclusion of a decision on a republic, not realising this had already been voted on. He also says that in this chaotic atmosphere, the report of the Summit’s crucial decision on governance was “botched”.
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