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A Few Words on Kevin Rudd

Finally, Kevin Rudd has his revenge. Julia Gillard had barely reached Yaralumla when he sent out an email with the headline: Prime Minister to address the media. His speech had been written and practiced, over and over again. Like a church Minister...
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Κείμενο Carly Learson
27.6.13

Finally, Kevin Rudd has his revenge. Julia Gillard had barely reached Yaralumla when he sent out an email with the headline: Prime Minister to address the media. His speech had been written and practiced, over and over again. Like a church Minister trying to sound cool, he addressed us. Young people, let's start cooking with gas!

Many will say that Julia Gillard got what she deserved, that she did the same thing to Kevin Rudd almost exactly three years ago. The circumstances are similar – the last week of parliament, less than three months before an election, with Bill Shorten essentially deciding the vote. But there are big differences between the two.

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I worked in Parliament House before and during the 2010 spill. Everyone knew Kevin Rudd was only Prime Minister because he'd done so well building up his personal popularity in the electorate. Within the ALP caucus he was despised. It was only after the coup that MPs made it clear why they could no longer support him; that is, that he is an egomaniac who puts himself before both the ALP and the nation. He was known for purposely making MPs wait for hours to see him, even when he'd requested the meeting. He'd scream at staff, blame them for mistakes he'd made, ask for summaries of documents that would take hours to produce, then insist on reading the entire document himself anyway. Often he'd do these things out of a passive aggressive desire to control everyone, rather than genuine interest in the content. He trusted no-one, but demanded loyalty. He'd throw things in anger. He surrounded himself with clever but young men who he could dominate. He'd invite them in for meetings and proceed to slowly, and noisily, take large bites out of an apple and bark juicy demands at them while munching away.

Julia Gillard, on the other hand, had been a loyal and hardworking Deputy, avoiding Rudd whenever possible and trying to get on with education reforms. She's always been far more focused on finding ways to give kids a better education, getting workers back their rights and dealing with climate change than she has been on finding ways to get herself more publicity, get herself more votes in caucus or become Prime Minister. When she did become Prime Minister, she remained focused on those policy areas and expanded her interest to include foreign affairs, striking important trade deals with China and the US.

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Kevin Rudd has been focused on nothing more than Kevin Rudd over the past three years. He doesn't want to be Prime Minister to address climate change or help kids. He wants to go back to those times where he was all-powerful. He has proven to be someone who would sacrifice Labor's chances at winning an election for personal gain. And he's proven that being divisive, self-centred and even going against Labor policy can work. What a role model.

Those Ministers and MPs who can't bear to work with him again have quit, and there are a lot of them. The ALP now consists mostly of inexperienced backbenchers and Rudd supporters. Perfect, thinks Kevin. It's just the way he wants it to be. You want to be a big fish, reduce the size of the pond. The reason Bill Shorten looked like he was going to vomit when he gave his press conference was that he knew that Kevin had not changed, that he was setting himself up to work for someone who is impossible to get along with, and he was putting that person ahead of someone he has supported and respected for a long time.

Yesterday the parliament also lost two of its hardest working and best-loved MPs – Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. Both of their seats will be won by the National Party, delivering two more safe seats to the Coalition. Peter Garrett is also quitting politics altogether. His seat in Eastern Sydney is on just a 5% margin. While polls show that installing Rudd will improve chances for Labor across the board, they haven't measured what the impact will be on seats like Kingsford-Smith. Will the voters be angry at the loss of their popular MP? His seat may be subject to a preselection battle – Kristina Keneally, former Premier of NSW, is looking for a Federal seat, but her association with Eddie Obeid may hinder her chances of winning. Craig Emerson has been the Member for Rankin in Brisbane for five terms, and it's doubtful whether a new candidate, most likely Jim Chalmers, former Chief of Staff to Wayne Swan, can get enough support needed. Peter Beattie has been surfacing in the media recently – maybe it's an opportunity for another former Premier to revive his career.

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Julia Gillard was sacrificed so that the ALP has a better chance of beating Tony Abbott, and the polls taken last night suggest they do have a slight chance of beating him. If Kevin Rudd calls the election for early August, we are unlikely to see another leadership challenge. But if he goes for a later election, who knows what will happen. If polls show Abbott being beaten, there's nothing to stop the Liberals doing the same thing. Kevin can beat Tony Abbott, but he can't beat Malcolm Turnbull.

Polls can only predict so much, and looking at a nationwide survey of sentiment doesn't translate into a clear picture of which seats Labor will lose. Eden-Monaro is marginal, but Mike Kelly will probably hold onto it because of his local popularity. On the other hand, some seats in Western Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne on bigger margins could suffer massive swings, mostly because of fears of boat people. Tony Abbott has far more credibility than Kevin Rudd when it comes to stopping the boats, as bizarre an issue as it may be, simply because when the Coalition was in power there were fewer boats arriving. He must also do something about the carbon tax. It is, after all, an extra $15 a month for some of us. You can get two beers for that.

The spill is the culmination of an extremely strange set of political circumstances where more importance has been placed on selling than on doing, more focus has been on internal fighting than on the real fight between Labor and the Coalition, and more attention is paid to the Prime Minister's hobbies than to the Coalition's policy positions.

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Yesterday Julia Gillard and Peter Garrett got their education reform bill through Parliament. No-one has or will report this as the massive achievement it is. It's the way it's been for her entire time as Prime Minister. I hope she knows that regular Australians appreciate what she's done. She will not suffer from her loss of power as Kevin Rudd did because she never sought it, and the power associated with the job was not what drove her.

We should be proud of what Julia Gillard has helped this country achieved, and I believe we should not endorse the behaviour demonstrated by Rudd over the past three years. Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne look like nice guys in comparison. Does Tony Abbott deserve to be Prime Minister? No. But does Kevin Rudd deserve a thrashing this election? Absolutely.

Follow Carly at @carlylearson

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