Originally published in The Weekend Australian Magazine – 28 October 2017
By Phillip Adams
No one who saw that press conference, his family frozen in grief, can forget it.
Smith, the member for the district, died one day, and we forgot about him the next. Not that a politician is ever remembered much after he dies. But Smith had been a blind, bigoted old Tory and was better dead. Politicians are mainly better dead, so far as other people and their country is concerned.”
– from Dad in Politics by Steele Rudd, writing about Queensland in 1908
Eighty years later I’d see Queensland politics through the eyes of another Rudd, Kevin, whose early life in rural poverty – like my own – evokes memories of Dad and Dave. And there are many on both sides of the house who wish Rudd dead and forgotten.
While chairing an ABC discussion on the turbulent topic of Queensland politics many years ago, I was impressed by the contributions of a Goss government bureaucrat. Just another voice in my headphones, but an articulate one. “Who was that?” I’d asked my producer. “Kevin something… Rudd.”
“Let’s keep an eye on him,” I said, and did.
Despite profound differences on religion we became, and remain, friends. I saw Rudd as the only potential leader who could beat Howard. Simon Crean? Bomber Beazley? Latham, for God’s sake? (I characterised the Kim versus Mad Mark tussle as a choice “between the Bomber and the Bomb”, warning the latter would inevitably implode, explode or both.)
Kevin and I spent a lot of time together at my home. I tried to recruit Keating and other party heavies to support him while repeatedly using my newspaper column to urge caucus to elect him in the all-too frequent leadership battles. Finally, in desperation, they did. And Rudd went on to win in a landslide.
A few years later, while preparing that night’s Late Night Liveprogram with Laura Tingle, we heard rumours of a coup against Rudd. Neither of us could believe it. If true, the ALP was making a bad mistake. Mistake? It was committing suicide. So we discounted the rumours on air. Another bad mistake.
The Kerr coup was engineered by Labor’s political enemies and we could maintain the rage. Rudd’s coup was worse. It was family. I rarely concur with John Winston Howard but agree with his bemused assessment that Rudd would easily have won the next election. Instead of waiting her turn (and to the applause of the mining industry), Julia Gillard allowed her ambitions to be weaponised. And the ALP is still recovering from the consequences.
No one who saw Rudd’s press conference, surrounded by a family frozen in grief and disbelief, can forget it. A cruel and tragic moment in political history. It was time. After decades in the ALP I resigned and have declined all invitations to rejoin.
These memories returned as I prepared to interview Rudd about his autobiography, Not for the Faint-hearted. Those expecting a vengeful book, as most political bios are, will be disappointed. The book ends on his first day as PM. Long before the coup, his second term, and before Turnbull’s personal betrayal of Rudd’s campaign to become secretary general of the UN. The second volume will be the bitter book.
Yes, Kevin has his flaws – name me a PM, past or present, who doesn’t have whoppers. (Having known them all since the ’60s, I’m ready to be devil’s advocate should any of them be proposed for beatification.) But I didn’t and don’t recognise Rudd in the caricatures proffered by his enemies. Nor did many of his closest colleagues – including “conscience of the party” John Faulkner. Read this remarkable book and you’ll get to know the Rudd I hold in high regard. And why.