With his leadership career “dead, buried and cremated” and a political career many suggest will soon suffer a similar fate, you might think Kevin Rudd’s influence in Canberra is waning.
But still, the ghost of Rudd looms large.
The legacy of Kevin ’07 – the micromanagement, the temper, the megalomania and the unique brand of diplomacy – still reverberates through both sides of the political divide in the nation’s capital.
Indeed it was Rudd’s prime ministerial successor Tony Abbott who led the charge of Kevin impressions this week.
After chiding Rudd for more than six years for his overbearing management style, Abbott effectively gagged his MPs from giving interviews without the express approval of his office.
It’s the kind of move that would have landed Rudd another front-page spread clad in Nazi attire, but coming from the nation’s newly minted fearless leader it was sold as an exercise in unity.
“It’s very important that the government responds cohesively and consistently to the various issues of the day, and in opposition before my senior colleagues did media they normally called in with my office,” he said.
Rather ironically, Abbott’s move was exposed via an email from the PM’s office to staffers that was quickly leaked. Perhaps a bit late to the party, Tony?
In a rare moment of bipartisanship, Greens leader Christine Milne supported Abbott’s stringent control over MPs’ media appearances. True to the protest party’s roots though Milne took them to a new extreme – suggesting she would impose the ban to all staff members, especially begrudged, loose-lipped chiefs of staff.
Speaking of sinking ships, Abbott’s media muzzle came just days after the announcement of the next evolution of the Coalition’s stop the boats policy – deny the boats.
The first rule of operation sovereign borders is you do not talk about operation sovereign borders, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison declared.
Not one to be left behind – except in terms of Y chromosomes – foreign minister Julie Bishop also couldn’t resist playing the Rudd card, using her first international foray in the position to honour some of the former PM’s greatest diplomatic faux pas.
Details of the foreign minister’s meeting with Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa were leaked to media outlets, with a sharp emphasis on the potential for the Coalition’s turning back of asylum seeker boats to damage relations between the nations.
Shortly before the election Rudd warned the Coalition’s asylum seeker policies threatened military conflict between Australian and Indonesia.
And that was the sleeping dog that wouldn’t lie for Abbott this week. No matter how he tried to dismiss tensions with Jakarta over asylum boats as a “passing irritant” – akin to those incessant gays and this damned climate change nonsense – it was hard to see the unfortunate series of events as anything other than a poor imitation of one Kevin Rudd.
Seems the latest prerequisite for governing in Australia is a propensity to misread, offend and generally take for granted our key Asian allies. Kudos, all.
Meanwhile, over on team Labor, the man who all but secured Rudd’s return in June was also afflicted by a residual bout of admiration for KR.
En route to the first leadership debate with challenger Anthony Albanese, Bill Shorten was accused of behaving arrogantly towards a cab driver.
What is it about Labor men acting poorly ahead of debates?
First the make-up artist, then the cab driver – if Labor insists on personally insulting every one of its beloved “battlers” the Coalition can look forward to an even bigger swing next election from its opposition’s working class heartland.
In a further blow, Shorten was caught out planting a question for his debate.
More offensive than the skullduggery itself was Shorten’s choice of planted question. He could have gone with “why did you back Kevin Rudd unrelentingly for six years?” or “what was Simon Crean smoking when he called a leadership spill in March?”
But no instead, Shorten planted this question: “What type of prime minister would you like to be remembered as?” Inspired Bill, truly.
While Shorten answered his own question with a “prime minister for the powerless,” Albo borrowed one of Abbott’s tried and tested lines saying he sought to be known as “infrastructure prime minister.”
In reality, the best answer either could give would have been “one that didn’t get knifed”.
And herein lies the only hope of vanquishing the ghost of Kevin. Failure to do so is to condemn us all to a “fair dinkum” life full of “gotta zip”.
Tweet of the week
“My mother made sure as a teenager that I learned to touch-type on the basis that a girl could always get a job if she knew how to type.”
It wasn’t until later in life that Julia Gillard’s mother taught her the importance of winning the affection of factional warlords.
“The incoming government will not do foolish things.”
Tony Abbott. You heard it here first.
“If elected leader, you will hear less about I and more about we. The era of the messiah is over. No more messiahs.”
With no more Labor leaders-in-waiting left to help install, and staring down the top job himself, Bill Shorten realises it would be wise to hose down expectations.
“We are not getting into the tactical discussion of things that happen at sea.”
At least Jaymes Diaz shouldn’t have any problems with Scott Morrison’s ‘deny the boats’ policy.
The last gasp
With the news of a book deal and a series of public appearances, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard looks set to plunge the Labor party into a potentially bitter history war – as it concurrently sets about rebuilding from a historic electoral defeat.
In discussing her upcoming book, Gillard said she wanted to “share my perspective on the issues of our times and how I strove to make a difference for the better every day I had the privilege of serving as prime minister.”
Just as Kevin Rudd set about rewriting history in his return to the top job, paying only fleeting acknowledgement to his predecessor, Gillard too will look to finesse the party’s recent history in her favour.
The real question will be whether she maintains a graceful silence in criticising those Labor and wider forces that moved against her, or, whether she uses this as a platform to unleash a tide of pent-up emotion – given the words ‘lack of warmth’ were a lasting criticism of her communication style.
The latter will likely make for a better book, but perhaps won’t serve the interest of her beloved Labor Party. Whichever way Gillard leans in the book, it will do little to aid Labor’s publicly-stated goal of “drawing a line under the Rudd-Gillard era.”