Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister: Then, And Now

WITH THE LAUNCH this weekend of the first Coalition TVCs of the election season, the battle between Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd is set to commence in earnest; today we look at Rudd’s first period as Prime Minister between 2007 and 2010, and again since last month as Rudd resumes where he left off.

Before we begin, readers will be delighted (I’m sure) to know that this is one of those posts that comes with a little something from YouTube to listen to whilst they read: entirely appropriate, and I hope everyone enjoys the trip down memory lane.

ON THE MOVE: Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

The pretext for writing this article, oddly enough, came from a discussion I was having yesterday with two splendid fellows I went to school with; I haven’t seen either of them in almost 25 years, but social media is a wonderful way to reconnect with people.

It seems that the Liberal Party TV advertisements will be a positive-negative split; half of the campaign will focus on Rudd’s record as Prime Minister the first time around, hitting hard at the direct and indirect failings of his tenure leading to the train wreck that is the ALP’s record to defend after six years in power.

The other half will emphasise positive messages, focused on Tony Abbott and the swathe of Coalition policies already released, either in full or as measures under development and rolled out progressively (such as the food bowl plan for northern Australia).

The reason I alluded to for compiling this post stems from the fact there seems to be a lot of confusion about who stands for what, who did what, who has policies and who doesn’t: and of course, the deeper into election season we go, the heavier the focus in this column will be on precisely those considerations.

But the discussion yesterday with old school chums simply reinforced what I have been hearing from a hell of a lot of “ordinary” voters: that is, people with an ear on national goings-on but who aren’t deeply immersed and tied up in politics per se to the extent hardcore political junkies (yes, I’m guilty there 🙂  ) across even the smallest detail are.

Everyone knows that courtesy of the attacks he was incessantly faced with from former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Abbott was branded as “Dr No:” a truly “oppositionist” opposition leader who criticised everything but stood for nothing of his own.

It’s a label that has stuck, and unfairly so; under Abbott the Coalition has been steadily releasing policy for well over a year, on everything from tax to (yes) border security, from food security to family policy, and from communications to industrial relations.

To some extent it genuinely surprises me that such a large contingent of the voting population either believes Abbott hasn’t got any policies, or has so little knowledge of them; I’m always keen to gauge people’s thoughts among those removed from the game to keep sense of what Joe Public and his/her mood is at any given time.

These new Coalition ads will help, and as the election draws closer I do intend to focus on the respective offerings of the two parties from an information perspective as much as to comment and analyse.

Once the TVCs are available, I will post them here for readers to access.

The other thing I’m hearing at ground level (which is no surprise to anyone who follows politics even on the most detached basis) is that like a departed lover from a bad relationship, the memory of Kevin Rudd’s first period as PM seems to be etched in the positives; everyone remembers what they liked about him, and the bad stuff they wanted to fight with him over — well, that’s faded away as time marched on after June 2010.

Coincidentally, there are two excellent opinion articles on just this subject in today’s edition of the Weekend Australian that I’d like to share this morning as well.

Henry Ergas provides a detailed and gripping recap of the earlier Rudd years; his critique makes for a compellingly thorough refresher on the great, the good, the bad and the terrible of what Rudd’s first stint in the job looked like — and a more sound basis on which to evaluate his record (and actions now) than some of the misty-eyed and unduly fond sentiments he tends to elicit now, simply on account of the passage of time.

I might add that the fact Rudd was followed by three years of Julia Gillard’s leadership has probably also made him look disproportionately good to many people; smart lady she may have been, but when it came to actual politics (as opposed to policy) and communications, Gillard is easily the worst Prime Minister this country has seen.

Ross Fitzgerald’s column continues the then-and-now assessment of Rudd, focusing primarily on the key area of foreign affairs: and whether you agree or disagree with the respective positions of Messrs Abbott and Rudd, this is a policy area that will feature heavily in the campaigns of the two sides at the coming election, whenever it may be held.

(I am also going to include a link to a third opinion piece here from today’s Oz by Peter van Onselen, dealing with the proposed reforms of the ALP Rudd is pushing, and this is really something for those readers of Labor orientation: whilst van Onselen’s arguments largely mirror my own, he’s right — and this is something rank and file Labor people should be galvanising against in the best long-term interests of their party, even if it means a slap in the face for Rudd in the immediate term).

Obviously, we’re not really analysing anything with this particular post; rather, it’s simply aimed at tilling a little ground in areas that are about to spring sharply into focus as the election campaign proper moves up a notch.

I’ll be posting again later today with a more orthodox article by the standards of this column, but in the meantime I trust everyone will enjoy/evaluate/discuss (and comment on here, if desired) the items I have linked to from today’s paper.

Oh, and the characters in the YouTube clip are not a younger Kevin Rudd and his wife…


Pink Batts: A Sign Of Things To Come

THE COALITION is accusing Kevin Rudd of not being “a fit and proper person” to hold the Prime Ministership in the wake of a damning coroner’s report into the “Pink Batts” fiasco that occurred on Rudd’s first watch as PM; the Coalition may be right, and Rudd’s past may be about to catch him up.

The timing may be coincidental, but the release of a coroner’s report this week into the so-called “Pink Batts” debacle that devoured a large slab of the Rudd government’s stimulus spending in 2009 is an indictment on the Labor Party.

It is something from which Rudd appears unable to hide; there are suggestions not only that the federal government knew of the dangers associated with the rollout of the program, but — perhaps most incredibly — that sacked minister Peter Garrett, who tried to warn Cabinet about those dangers, was ignored.

As is all too well known, four young men were electrocuted whilst installing the batts under the scheme; whilst the coroner’s report will not bring them back, it may help their families obtain closure — and justice.

Already, Kevin Rudd has made a public apology to the families of the dead men (and I have to point out it was prefaced with the phrase “as Prime Minister of this country…” — something Rudd will need to stop saying very quickly, unless his objective is to enrage as many people as possible on account of his egomaniacal conceit, but that’s another story).

And he has said that he is prepared to meet the families personally to offer condolences: literally, the very least he can do.

At the time of writing, lawyers for at least one of the families have indicated the offer of a meeting will be accepted.

The parents of one of the other three said they wanted nothing to do with Rudd, saying they hoped he would “disappear.”

But the opposition — rightly — smells blood, and has vowed to pursue this affair vigorously; the whole episode stinks of a cover-up, as many of us were saying at the time.

In some respects, the “Pink Batts” fiasco represents everything that was wrong with the government in its first incarnation under Rudd: ad-hoc, shambolic, poorly prepared, and flying by the seat of its collective pants.

Due diligence and process is one thing that always seemed to be an afterthought.

Value for money, incidentally, is another, not that money is a decent subject either when discussing the deaths of four young lads.

And the fact a coronial inquest has pointed the finger of responsibility in the government’s direction should give some in Labor ranks pause for thought.

What else is there waiting to leap out of the cupboard that wasn’t properly conducted during Rudd’s initial stint as Prime Minister?

And what might be lying in the deep freeze, buried in Rudd’s past career as a senior Queensland government public servant, that is also a potential disaster waiting to happen?

This column is deeply sympathetic to the families of the young men who died in the “Pink Batts” fiasco; their deaths were needless and senseless, and at the very minimum it seems Australians may finally get to the bottom of what happened, who knew what, and when.

But the resurfacing issue raises another problem — a political one for the ALP.

Only the most diehard of Labor types could possibly make the case that Mr Rudd’s new phase as Prime Minister is off to a smooth or positive start.

Yes, the anticipated bounce in the polls materialised, and it remains to be seen whether there is any further upside to it.

But the bounce wasn’t as high as widely expected, and Rudd is doing himself no favours as he seeks to attract new friends, or to win back the old.

In the space of a week we have seen a ministry filled with no-hopers sworn in on the simple basis they were prepared to serve with him, and no better reason.

We have seen a cavalcade of Labor MPs announce their retirements from the ministry and/or their seats in Parliament.

We’ve seen Rudd engaging in ridiculous stunts — bereft of any real credibility — in a desperate attempt to hoodwink voters into believing his is a “new” government.

And we’ve already seen glimpses of the same arrogant, bellicose, self-obsessed imbecile Rudd increasingly presented as in 2009-10 before his colleagues’ patience with him was finally exhausted.

Fairly soon, Labor MPs — and senior figures in the wider Labor movement — are going to realise they are lumbered with the same dickhead they disposed of three years ago.

By then, it will be too late: the horse will have bolted in terms of the opportunity to reconnect with voters, and it will be too late to switch horses a second time.

In any case, most of the possible alternative leadership candidates are quitting politics.

In the meantime, “Pink Batts” is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

It may just be the start of Rudd’s inglorious past beginning to catch him up.