Last night Kevin Rudd appeared on Late Night Live with Phillip Adams. It was his first media appearance since his operation and really since his defeat as PM (one appearance at a school not withstanding). In the interview he declared he was not the leaker of stories to Laurie Oakes and that he was fully committed to helping Labor defeat Tony Abbott.
Some in the media didn’t quite grasp the content of his statements because this morning on ABC Breakfast we had Michael Rowland asking “how damaging will this be for Labor”? Yep damaging – Kevin Rudd coming out and supporting Labor would be damaging. Likewise Dennis Shanahan over on The Oz was of the same mindset – frantically finding a way to keep up the narrative that Rudd is destabilising:
The former prime minister has declared that he'll attend the Labor campaign launch if he's well enough after surgery, and if he's wanted. But his appearance there will overshadow Gillard's appearance in Brisbane and Labor will be divided.
He's recognised that the election is on a "knife edge" and pushed aside any claims to be promoted to foreign minister if Labor is re-elected. But Rudd's show of magnanimity by not indulging in "wouldya, couldya, shouldya" introspection has left Labor possibly worse off than before his act of forgiveness and offer to co-operate.
What? Nothing Rudd said last night was in any way divisive. It was a rally the troops moment. It was Rudd stepping up and taking one for the team.
Others said this would take oxygen away from Gillard, not realising that today it wasn’t Julia announcing anything big, but Tony Abbott – his health plan which looks pretty much the same as does Labor’s, or if different not different in any way that is really going to change any votes. But Abbott’s policy was now going to lose some space in the prime time news 3 minute segment to Rudd’s interview. But because the interview was over the phone, the damage may not have been too bad…
… and then Rudd showed that he is still a master campaigner because at 3pm he stepped in front of the cameras and made a speech that reiterated much of what he said to Adams, but went even further and fully rammed home the message that he was on board, and importantly gave nice visual for the News Bulletins:
“I fought for too many years to help build our country up. I haven't got everything right - but you know something? I don't intend to stand idly by and simply watch Mr Abbott tear all that down.
“I am haunted by the words of Peter Costello years ago that he could never make Mr Abbott his treasurer because Mr Abbott had no interest in the economy ... that's not good enough”
”But there are much bigger things at stake than my future and that is our country's future. Elections are a serious business - they are about who governs ... they are about fundamental choices, about who we put into power. There is a real danger at present because of the rolling political controversy about myself that Mr Abbott is simply able to slide quickly into the office of prime minister without any proper scrutiny ... or any real debate about how he would govern Australia.
“I can't be silent while knowing Mr Abbott has opposed those measures which kept Australia out of the global recession.”
He had accepted a call from Gillard to campaign nationally. He was going to meet her on Saturday and begin campaigning on Sunday, the same day as the Liberal Party launch in Brisbane.
That sound you heard was the huge suck of oxygen exiting Abbott’s major $3.5b policy announcement.
But taking away oxygen wasn’t the big impact of Rudd’s speech.
You see Rudd’s address was strong and positive, and yeah that was good. He argued the case against Abbott, and yeah that was good. But what was most important about his speech was that he was telling Queenslanders that it was all ok; that he was ok. His speech gave Queenslanders permission to vote for the ALP and not feel guilty about it because of what had happened to him.
He was in effect forgiving Julia – or as AAP journalist Sandra O’Malley perfectly put it, he granted her absolution. And he was also most importantly letting Queenslanders know that if they wanted to express your anger at what had happened to him, don’t vote for Abbott – that would only make things worse.
The impact of Rudd’s sacking on Queensland voters was something I had underestimated despite having lived there for 11 years. I looked at the polls and thought, well they hate him anyway – why would they care?
But I forgot the big brother-little brother principle.
You see all big brothers are allowed to pick on their little brother. They are allowed to punch them in the arm and tell them they are annoying and to bugger off; they are allowed to tell them to go to hell. But if some other kid comes across and punches him? Well now. That’s different. That’s not allowed. The bigger brother will defend the little pest of a brother who just a minute before he was telling to piss off.
Rudd was the little brother who Queensland wanted to piss off, and come the election and he was leader they most likely would have told him to go to hell and given him a mighty dead arm. But when Julia knocked him off, well then suddenly he was the little brother who had been beaten up by the school bully. And it’s hard to vote for the school bully when your little brother is crying.
We see this a lot in the broader cultural context. Australian celebrities will embarrass us and we’ll wish they would just shut up. But then some American or British media person has a go at them and whoah! Suddenly they’re “Our-Celebrity” And before you can say New Weekly, they’re on the front pages on Sunday Newspapers with headlines screaming “Lay Off Our Kylie, Nic, Russ, Leyton” etc etc.
So with the spill Rudd went from poison to pity. And the Liberal Party were making much of it. It is easy to forget Rudd was the first elected QLD Prime Minister since Andrew Fischer. And for those of you new to the scene who haven’t been following politics for very long, we’re talking since 1915. And when Julia beat Rudd she took that away from them.
It is utterly absurd, but state parochialism is very strong in this country even though we’ve never had a civil-war.
I predicted Julia would be embraced by South Australians – and the polls very much suggest she has been. Friends of mine from Sydney didn’t understand it, “She left South Australia” they said. I told them that didn’t matter. South Australians were used to that – all that mattered was she grew up there, went to school there and her parents still lived there. I haven’t lived in South Australia for 16 years and yet I still pay more attention to the cricket when a South Australian is in the test team. For South Aussies it’s not so important where you live, it’s what you answer when asked “Where are you from?” Julia in her first press conference as PM answered “South Australia”.
At that moment I felt Chris Pyne let out a little groan of pain.
But up in the Sunshine State we felt Peter Dutton let out a little yelp for joy (if so joyless a figure as Dutton could yelp… ok he couldn’t so let’s say it was a grimace of near-joy).
Rudd campaigning in Dickson? Rudd doing his nerdy thing with the whacky locals? Rudd having tea with the oldies – talking about his time in hospital, his operation (perhaps Dutton thinks pensioners will be bored by hearing about Rudd’s health problems…). Oh geez, that’s not good if you are a Liberal in a marginal seat in Queensland. We should never forget how good a campaigner is Rudd – he loves getting out with the hoi polloi – you only had to see him in action at his Community Cabinets to see that. And now just imagine the older women who will come up to him in shopping centres wanting to give him a hug – you know to let him know they feel for him. And then watch him say thanks and tell them that he needs them to do one more favour – stick with Labor, because that will be the best cure for his pain. You can just hear him saying “you know what, if you really want to stick up for me, don’t vote for Tony Abbott”.
And watch Julia being able to spend more time in NSW.
I think Rudd’s worth anything up to 4% in QLD (because they are polling about 4.4% behind what they did in 2007). If he can help lock down QLD, then the Libs can’t win. And that’s reality. Put it this way on the current state polling numbers, Antony Green’s electoral calculator has the ALP winning 76 seats, the Lib 71 and 3 Independents. That’s too close for comfort. But give the ALP 2% more on 2 PP in QLD than it is currently polling and suddenly the score is ALP 80-LNP 67.
Forget talk about him hogging the spotlight – sure he will at first, but really how can Rudd telling people in Queensland to vote Labor hurt Labor in Queensland? Sure some journalist (if he or she is as dumb as Joe Hockey is on economics) will ask Rudd if he thinks he will one day be PM. But no one thinks that is going to happen. And so what Rudd has done today is kill completely any stories of a destabilised ALP – and the Libs had been running hard on that. Now that’s gone. Perhaps there has been a stronger show of loyalty to a party than what Rudd did today, but I can’t think of it.
Which brings me to motive. I think there are four:
- He is a Labor man: Yes I know… he may not be a as Labor as some would like, but he must have some big regard for the party to do what he did.
- He knows his legacy depends on this: As I wrote yesterday- if Julia loses, Rudd’s time as PM will be rendered a joke. No one of Rudd’s ego (and they all have big egos) could let that happen if he could possibly help it.
- His ego: And I do not mean this in a bad way. The guy had been kicked to death – and cast out by the ALP. But now if Julia wins, Rudd will go down as one of the Labor heroes. A place in the ALP Pantheon guaranteed forever. He’ll also have his pick of jobs. He may or may not actually want to be Foreign Minister – I still think he’ll leave by Christmas for a foreign position somewhere. But by doing what he did today means (if the ALP wins) he’ll be able to go out on his own terms – and as a winner and not the loser who was kicked out by his own party. Who, in his position, wouldn’t want to be the hero?
- Revenge: It is the best revenge for Rudd – he gets a chance to show Julia and the ALP that she and they really needed him, and he also gets to defeat Abbott who claims boasts about having killed Rudd.
So what will happen from here? Well for a start forget the polls until at the very least Monday, and probably not till mid-next week. Forget the narrative. Forget momentum. This election still has over two weeks to go; anyone who thinks the polls and the votes are set is kidding themselves.
Two weeks to go. Good luck predicting what will happen from here.