In August 2008 Kevin Rudd told the National Press Club, “While prosecuting a policy of responsible economic management, the Government has also been determined to honour its pre-election commitments … When we formed government, I said I had no intention of recycling the absolute cynicism of previous governments: making a swag of pre-election commitments, then reneging on them as non-core promises”.
By the time he was toppled by his party last week, however, he had broken promises on climate change, refugee boats and government advertising, to name but three. And the result of his big push to ‘fix health care’ left out WA, short-changed mental health, and still won’t end the ‘blame game’ between Canberra and the states.
Other gaps had appeared between the image and the reality: he sold himself as a good Christian, going to church every Sunday, respectfully consulting the Christian Lobby, continuing Government funding of the Exclusive Brethren schools. But he had visited at least one strip club, behaved uncharitably towards staff, and was reportedly an office tyrant with a potty mouth.
He was touted as a brilliant manager, with a terrific grasp of detail. Yet he pushed through stimulus spending measures, like the insulation scheme, so poorly designed that almost anyone could sign up and stick their snouts in the trough. And leave behind a trail of death and destruction that will cost more to fix than the original scheme.
Like clean-cut DA Harvey Dent, who morphed into crime boss Two-Face, Kevin Rudd changed from a man principled determined to keep his promises, to a distrustful solitary capo, defended by a small group of henchmen.
Not for nothing did everyone refer to “the Rudd government”, not “the Labor government”. This was a one-man band. Rudd failed to build alliances or make friends, even among his own ministers.
Unable to see the wood for the trees, unable to trust his colleagues enough to share the workload with them, drowning in detail, too fatigued to see the likely consequences of his actions. The last prime minister I can recall falling into this trap — and being unceremoniously removed in the same fashion — was Margaret Thatcher, whom he had come increasingly to resemble.
Surviving on little sleep, working obsessively, suspicious of anyone who was not ‘one of us’, relying only on a narrow cabal of advisers, she too lost touch with reality and had to be deposed.
Ironic, then, that Julia Gillard’s mother said of her daughter, “She’ll be alright — so long as she doesn’t turn into Margaret Thatcher”.
Or Kevin Rudd.