Downer on Rudd

In a few hours it will be Prime Minister Julia Gilliard. iPredict have her at 96% and the bookies at $1.20.

The numbers are flocking to Gilliard and there is now pressure on Rudd not to force a ballot. Even the Treasurer has gone to her side.

So how did go from almost the most popular Prime Minister in a generation, to being the only Prime Minister ever to be rolled in their first term of office?

An essay last Thursday by Alexander Downer has some answers:

Members of the Federal Parliament all know each other; not necessarily well, but at least a little. Over the past 20 years, few, if any, MPs have been less popular than Kevin Rudd. All politicians are at the very least a trifle vain. They like to be the centre of attention, to be in the media, to be ‘consulted’. There is barely an exception. All of them think they are a bit better than they really are. Nearly all of them are ambitious, many furiously so. But on all of those counts, no one in recorded Australian political history has ever exceeded Kevin Rudd.

And this very much includes his own Cabinet and Caucus. There was respect but never popularity.

What MPs didn’t like about Rudd, the backbencher, and Rudd, the shadow minister, was his conceit and vanity. On 9 September 2004, an Islamist fanatic tried to blow up the Australian embassy in Jakarta. I was in Victor Harbor that day when the ambassador rang me directly on my mobile to tell me the terrible news. I told my staff we ought to go immediately to Jakarta and to take the head of the AFP, DFAT officials and intelligence people as well. We needed a VIP plane to load our officials in Canberra, fly to Adelaide to pick me up and push on to Jakarta. We could be there before bedtime.

I told John Howard of my plans and he said I ought to also take the opposition spokesman for foreign affairs, who happened to be Kevin Rudd; this was, after all, during the election campaign. Indirectly, I let Rudd know he was invited. I drove to my office to prepare for my departure. There was a message to call Rudd. He was furious. The f***ing VIP plane wasn’t going via Brisbane to pick him up. It f***ing had to. He ordered me to change its f***ing flight schedule.

I explained two things to him. First, the plane was too small to add him and his staffer unless we offloaded the AFP Commissioner or the intelligence officer. I wasn’t prepared to do that. Secondly, to travel via Brisbane would add hours to the journey. Instead, we would pay for a commercial flight for him.

This was not met with grace. A fusillade of abuse, much of it with sexual references, ensued, and then a demand that I tell him the flight schedules from Brisbane to Jakarta. ‘I am not,’ I crudely said, ‘your f***ing travel agent. DFAT will help you.’

The point is clear: people at the embassy had died, we needed to get the Indonesians onto the case to establish who the culprits were, we had to show support to the embassy staff at this time of crisis. It wasn’t about me and it certainly wasn’t about the shadow minister for foreign affairs, Mr Kevin Rudd. But for the member for Griffith it was about one thing: himself.

This is an incredibly telling story. It fits very much into the essay by the leftish David Marr on Rudd.

Marr is probably right. The secret of what Rudd is all about lies in his childhood. That’s probably true of all of us. Something happened then which made him determined one day to be famous. He has succeeded — spectacularly. But like all people who seek fame for themselves at the expense of others, his fame will eat him up. Fame fed with substance can make a person great. Fame alone will destroy you.

It has taken an incredible three years for the Australian public to realise who their national leader really is. I sat with a Labor luminary having a late-night drink in June 2008. He turned to me and said: ‘Mate, one day the Australian public will grow to hate Kevin Rudd as much as I do.’ That day has arrived.

It is going to be a fascinating day. I am spending it with various Federal Liberal Party people. For them it may be mixed emotions. They will be celebrating the fall of Kevin Rudd. It is no mean thing to put enough pressure on a Government (mind you a lot was self inflicted) that they roll the Prime Minister.

The downside for my Liberal friends is that Gilliard is not Rudd. She will have a honeymoon, and that could well last past the election. On the other hand she has to deal with some nasty messes left behind by Rudd such as the resources super tax.

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