Labor MPs got more than they bargained for when they chose Kevin Rudd as their leader. He poses a far greater potential risk for the ALP than Mark Latham did. The benefit for the party is that Rudd gives his party its best chance in a decade of beating John Howard.
His public pronouncements reveal that Rudd might possess a quality that Kim Beazley didn't display nearly often enough, and it is a quality that even John Howard's opponents concede to the prime minister. The new Labor leader might have the courage of his convictions.
In response to media questions over the past few days, Rudd has spoken about his esteem for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor put to death by the Nazis in 1945. In an essay in The Monthly in October, Rudd called Bonhoeffer "the man I admire most in the history of the 20th century". Bonhoeffer was repelled by the evils of fascism and fought overtly and then covertly against the Nazi regime. He was executed when his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler was discovered.
There are no shades of grey about Bonhoeffer's actions. Even though he was a pacifist, and had devoted his life to trying to achieve peace, ultimately he understood that there was no alternative than to plan for the murder of Hitler.
It would have been easy for Rudd never to have discussed Bonhoeffer or to have chosen a less problematic hero. The traditional legends of Curtin and Chifley are safe, and are the ones usually invoked by aspiring ALP leaders. That he opted not to go down this route is telling.
Rudd would be the first person to realise that he is heading a Labor Party, some of whose members are profoundly uneasy about the notion that anyone can achieve the sort of moral clarity reached by Bonhoeffer. As a Christian, Rudd would also know that there would be few members of any Christian denomination in Australia who would unambiguously condone assassination.
But moral clarity is exactly what will be required in the coming decades as Australia and other liberal democracies fight a war against radical Islam. It is a war that could last a generation. John Howard, Tony Blair and George Bush have all endorsed freedom and democracy over every other alternative, and it is precisely their clarity that has so unnerved their critics. All three leaders know that on some questions there is simply no scope for negotiation. Fortunately, it appears this is also the position of the new Labor leader.
Rudd is brave enough to confront those who believe that the challenge to liberal democracy can be solved through discussion. As he wrote two months ago "of discomfort to certain elements of the far left would be the truthful conclusion that there is a fundamental problem within militant Islamism, which values violent jihad in its own right and is not amenable to engagement, dialogue or persuasion".
The one fault with this statement is that Rudd believes that only "certain elements" of the "far left" are discomforted by the fact that militant Islamism can't be negotiated with. What he describes is an attitude that exists in his own party and cuts across the political spectrum. It is a view that questions not how to fight militant Islamism, but whether to fight it at all.
According to Rudd, "of discomfort to the right is the conclusion that the politics of economic underdevelopment in much of the Islamic world breeds resentment, denies opportunity and therefore provides fertile recruitment fields for jihadists". Actually, for those on the right such an analysis is not at all troubling. Much of the Islamic world is ruled by totalitarian dictators or governed as a one-party state so it is no surprise that economic underdevelopment is the result. The phenomena that Rudd describes are much bigger problems for the left than the right.
Rudd spoke about domestic matters after his elevation. All are important, but they are minor and easy compared with foreign policy challenges.
If, after a Labor win at the next federal election, Labor withdraws Australian troops from Iraq it would be a mistake. But our elected politicians are going to be required to make decisions even more significant than about the future Iraq. They will have to choose whether to negotiate with, or confront those who threaten the way of life we enjoy.
The risk for Labor is that one day as prime minister, Rudd may be required to match his deeds with his words.
John Roskam is Executive Director of the IPA. This article was originally printed in The Age, reproduced with generous permission.