08/10/2014 - 14:00

Labor’s bitter past resurfaces

08/10/2014 - 14:00


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Julia Gillard’s autobiography has poured salt into a few old wounds.

Labor’s bitter past resurfaces
CHARACTER: Julia Gillard viewed the man she ousted, Kevin Rudd, as deeply flawed.

The release of Julia Gillard’s autobiography, My Story, has pushed a number of skeletons out of a closet many in Labor had hoped would remain firmly closed.

We learned Ms Gillard had come to view her former comrade, Kevin Rudd, as deeply flawed because of his difficult childhood years, which meant he couldn’t get “enough applause, approval, [and] love”.

Although Mr Rudd hasn’t – not yet, anyway – released an autobiography, we know his view of Ms Gillard, if onetime Labor minister Kate Ellis is to be believed.

According to several witnesses who backed Ms Ellis’s version of a March 2012 discussion at an Adelaide hotel function with South Australian Gillard-backer Don Farrell, Mr Rudd said: “I’ve been wondering how you reconcile your conservative brand of Catholicism with a childless, atheist, ex-communist as Labor leader.”

Add also Mr Rudd’s claim that Ms Gillard was regarded, during the 2010 election campaign, by voters as a backstabber.

None of these descriptions is overly surprising, although when they were first publicised I recall thinking that dubbing Ms Gillard an ex-communist was somewhat over the top.

Hard core leftist, yes, but hardly a communist.

It’s true she’d convened a group called the Socialist Forum in the 1980s.

But my recollection of that entity was that it was created at the behest of several dozen Melbourne ex-communists, plus a few long-time ardent socialists.

None of the former was at the time involved in one of Australia’s remnant communist groupings.

By the time the Socialist Forum became active, communism had been utterly discredited and was a shambles.

China by then had well and truly launched Deng Xiaoping’s era of full-scale Communist Party-controlled wild capitalism; Polish Solidarnosc’s trade union leaders, many hundreds of them, had been jailed, thanks to military general Wojciech Jaruzelski; and Australia’s various communist groupings were in such disarray they hardly mattered.

Communists, thankfully, no longer had something to write home about.

So Mr Rudd’s claim that Ms Gillard was a communist is a bridge too far.

But his backstabbing claim, even though valid, is rather amazing; and not for reasons he may suspect.

I say this because the one really tantalising blank spot in recent Australian political history is the nuts and bolts of Mr Rudd’s acquisition of Labor’s leadership from Kim Beazley.

Yes, we know Mr Rudd was markedly helped along by weekly appearances with current Treasurer Joe Hockey on Channel Seven’s morning Sunrise program.

We also know he’d later shrewdly bamboozled voters by claiming he was an economic conservative, like John Howard.

That one, of course, was quite a sleight of hand, since Mr Howard more closely resembles a big-spending social democrat, like his long-time fan Tony Abbott is shaping up as being.

But here Ms Gillard’s claim (or is it more accurately described as a real insight?) that Mr Rudd’s unusual childhood, which resulted in him being unable to get “enough applause, approval, [and] love”, proved to temporarily be his greatest asset

For it meant he’d cultivated the knack of being able to turn on the charm whenever needed in public, with that big smile and the taking of selfies with strangers rather than having to kiss babies, so managed to become regarded as a jovial local Tintin.

Glimpses of another Kevin Rudd periodically emerged; that of a short-tempered, inconsiderate micromanager who was known to take his frustrations out on hapless flight attendants or make senior public servants wait for hours outside his office door.

“He had become so wretched while leader,” Ms Gillard writes in My Story.

This we’ve known for some time.

But still unknown is the full story of how he’d finalised backstabbing his predecessor, Mr Beazley.

That’s what I’d like to know.

More specifically, what’s never been fully revealed is the role, if any, played by onetime Western Australian premier Brian Burke in transforming him into Kevin-07.

Cast your mind back to 2006 when, unbeknown to voters, Mr Rudd made not one, not two, but three, if not secret then certainly low-key visits to Perth.

The man who played host to Mr Rudd was long-time Burke ally, Graham Edwards, then MHR for the seat of Cowan.

Whenever in WA, Mr Rudd had several lengthy meetings with Mr Burke, who was then still a major player within Labor’s powerful right faction, based in NSW.

Which means only three people know what transpired during those yet-to-be disclosed pow-wows preceding the Rudd-Gillard backstabbing of Mr Beazley.

Since neither Messrs Rudd, Bourke nor Edwards has published their autobiographies, we may never know.

However, even if they should put pen to paper they could so easily forget or avoid this important episode.

But of course another risk, as so well stated by America’s greatest living scholar, Thomas Sowell, autobiographies should be seen as belonging to a special category of fiction.


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