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Forget Keating-Hawke soapie, give Rudd a hug


Kevin Rudd tearsLast Thursday Prime Minister Julia Gillard told journalists at the National Press Club that she is enjoying the latest public stoush between former Labor Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

'What I'd say is they are two great Australians passionate about their politics, passionate about their politics to this day, having a passionate discussion,' she said. 'I'd have to say as someone with an intense interest in politics I'm enjoying it and I think many in this room probably are as well.'

She is implying that the arguably indulgent second Blanche d'Alpuget biography of Hawke, and the vitriolic response from Paul Keating, represent little more than soap opera for political junkies. If, as it seems, that is true, it does underline the rapaciousness of dwelling on the political past in this manner.

On the other hand, good stories of the twists and turns of political legacies can make a serious contribution to nation building, and they should be given more attention. Perhaps the best example is the bond that has developed between former bitter enemies Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, which should not be written off as an amusing quirk of fate.

Instead it is the stuff of divine grace, and together they provide a model for national reconciliation. Rather than squabbling over the past, they have proved they can work together to contribute to improved governance. For example, before the last federal election, they made a joint statement stressing the link between ministerial accountability and political integrity. Their story witnesses the reality that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. It is worth repeating and celebrating.

Appropriate regard for the dignity of current political players will also prove crucial for Gillard. Whatever transpired in Parliament House on the evening of Tuesday 23 June, it remains in the balance whether former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will prove an asset or a liability for the Labor Government, assuming that it is returned to office at the election on 21 August.

When it's time to determine the makeup of the new Federal Cabinet, Gillard, and those whose opinion she values, including the public, can choose whether to give him the benefit of the doubt. With lessons to be learned from the examples of recent scorned Labor leaders Simon Crean, Kim Beazley and Mark Latham, there is a variety of opinions. One that is worth quoting is that of Frank Brennan, published in The Australian on Friday, who longs for a political morality to guide politicians at times of political upheaval.

'Some [politicians] have put store in loyalty; others have subscribed to the 'whatever it takes' school of politics. Before the election is called, it is appropriate to note that Rudd did a power of good leading us on issues such as the Aboriginal apology and sparing us the worst of the global financial crisis. We can express regret at the way Rudd was done in, regardless of which way we will vote at the election. And we can ask in a non-partisan way that he just be left alone or, as Malcolm Turnbull suggested, given a hug.'

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Simon Crean, Kim Beazley, Mark Latham, Gough Whitlam



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Existing comments

I have great respect and admiration for Kevin Rudd...he is a man of vision and compassion...perhaps a man before his time

However he was unable to articulate policies in a way which was understandable by the general herd and that is so important in politics.
As a generalisation our voting community lacks sophistication and is easily made fearful so the skills/strategies of a PM need to take these facts into consideration

I was unable to understand his position with mining companies and I tried.

propaganda ran rife and clouded the issues

GAJ | 19 July 2010  

I would like to give Kevin a hug. However I too was confused by his political style, he seemed to be a loner and I think that to be successful in government one has to be a team person

David | 19 July 2010  

"Get real, Dad!" is what my thirtysomething daughters say to me when I talk about morality in politics.
The way political parties have developed in Western democracies, especially in Australia, is a fact of life. With very few exceptions if one wants to be elected to parliament and to be part of a government one has to join a political party. Once inside a political party one has to play by the rules/traditions/mores of that party - or face the consequences.

It used to be that party members were the conduit by which the party learned what the electorate wanted - be it the plebs or the captains of industry. Then there were extra-parliamentary pressure groups. Now we have public opinion polls. To their credit pollsters continue to refine their methods so that the margin for error between a poll and a universal plebiscite gets smaller all the time.

With so much public opinion easily manipulated by the mass media in all its forms the task for the political machine people is to see how they can best harness the media to get their party the numbers required to win power. Morality, if it has any influence, is dispensible.

Uncle Pat | 19 July 2010  

I think political leaders do need to learn to treat one another with greater kindness and loyalty. I can't believe how quickly former Rudd Ministers are now happily promoting Ms Gillard. It's as if Rudd never existed.
This is not a good example for our society as to how we need to care for each other.

robert van zetten | 19 July 2010  

Old pollies do what serving pollies think about doing. Promoting themselves by insulting everyone else. They're all the same. Tip and no iceberg.

Graham Smith | 19 July 2010  

He articulated his policies perfectly well, it's just that he didn't get out and do it every day to feed the lazy media.

I am appalled by the politics of this because it was Gillard who made the largest mistakes and he was too much of a gentleman to point that out.

If you don't believe me read the new book by Lenore Taylor and David Uren.

Marilyn | 19 July 2010  

Michael Mullins refers us to a piece by Frank Brennan in The Australian of Friday last which, among other things, says “We need to give up on the public trashing of Kevin Rudd - for the nation's good as well as Rudd's own wellbeing - whether or not it "could cost the ALP seats".

My first thoughts were upon the sheer awfulness of trashing anyone, whether he be a former Prime Minister or not. I thought about this for a time but then found myself wondering where Frank Brennan had been these past ten years while we have witnessed the public vilification and worse of John Howard by a large pack of journalists and other commentators, notably Phillip Adams. Perhaps, I mused, Frank Brennan had been overseas on study leave and was unaware of the sheer awfulness of the trashing of Howard, or surely he would have spoken up, just as he has on behalf of Kevin Rudd.
This conviction was reinforced by my belief that both Rudd and Howard are “good men” not just in the sense of being good blokes but in the Christian sense of the good man, who strives for justice and truth in the full knowledge that truth is not manifest, and that men of good will can differ on what is the truth.

GERARD | 19 July 2010  

I agree with Father Frank Brennan we should all acknowledge that Kevin Rudd steered us out of the financial crisis and instigated the apology to the Original Australians both requiring action instead instead of the usual talk. Where are our statesmanlike Politicians? While Rudd was in charge why could not Caucus or ideed the Gang of Four persuade him to consult with all of them? After all each member of Parliament represents many people and has been quite vocal to be elected. I admire Rudds behaviour since the DEED but have no respect for those who disposed him the ELECTED Prime MInister in their seemingly own interests in being re-elected

pamela byrnes | 19 July 2010  

Notwithstanding a very able and supportive front bench the Rudd government was very much a one man band so far as decision making was concerned and as Mr Rudd continually reminded the electorate the buck stopped with him.

That said, it is important for everyone, regardless of political persuasion,to stop the muck raking and move on by being solely concerned with issues that are concerned with making a stronger and fairer Australia.

David Pearson | 19 July 2010  

Father Frank Brennan admires Mr. Kevin Rudd and believes that we should give him a hug. If we should admire an ex-Prime Minister, surely is Mr. John Howard. He won four consecutive elections, because people trusted him. Mr. Howard is a compassionate, Pro-God, Pro-family, Pro-life and a true Christian. He did not go to Church on Sundays because journalists and cameras were waiting for him. From deficit he turned the budjet into surplus, had the lowest unemployment figure. He lost the 2007 election for one raeson only, the savage and distorted "work choice"campaign paid by the rich Trade Union movement together with the Howard's haters (the Labor Party). Now we have a three weeks old Prime Minister promising the world but unable to tell us how to acomplish her dream. All we know about her, she is a member of the Emily's list and she is an atheist.

Ron Cini | 20 July 2010  

It would be good for Australian parliaments to rejuvenate their ethics committees and outside the heat of election politicing (is there such a time?) establish living codes of conduct that they will commit to.
The politicians that I know are passionate about doing the "right thing"for this country and many time their weaknesses just reflect our own as a community. Their indecision and blurred vision are ours.

Joe McKay | 23 July 2010  

I have been trying to work this out for days - A political morality sounds like a fine idea but how would it differ from a morality for us all? Is it really anything more than 'Be fair' and "Tell the truth.'

As to how to respond to Kevin Rudd, the man who was in our living rooms when he admitted to blubbering, he needs to know that we are forever grateful to him for much of what he did but how do we tell him in the midst of all that media mania?

Lorna Hannan | 26 July 2010  

The media has much to answer for in interpreting what happens before - or indeed instead of - reporting it. We still do not know why or how Rudd was put out to pasture and perhaps we do not need to know. But we do need to know what the government and the pirme minister stand for and why on earth they dropped the emissions trading scheme

Lorna Hannan | 26 July 2010  

Unlike the leader of the opposition, Rudd understands the bigger picture. For whatever reasons, Rudd was experiencing a form of 'mental gridlock', communication-wise, he didn't seem to be able to counter it, and the better communicator took the helm. Yes he is hurt, though is undeniably aware that he is a very important member of The Australian Labor Movement, and always will be! Leadership changes occur in powerful political parties, huge corporations, national sporting bodies, and the like, every single day, all over the world. These corporations and movements then successfully go on to prosecute their agendas, as will Australia's Federal Labor Government! Go Julia!

Karen-Maree Kelly | 16 August 2010  

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