Book Article: Legal fights that made Kevin Rudd

Originally published in the South-East Advertiser – 7 November 2017

By Brian Bennion

Two drawn-out legal battles are at the centre of Kevin Rudd’s political legacy.

The one southsiders know too well is his battle against Brisbane Airport Corporation’s parallel runway project.

As Member for Griffith he invested more than $30,000 of his own personal funds into a court battle which was ultimately exhausted.

“It felt a bit like being in The Castle,” Mr Rudd said. “At times I felt like Dennis Denuto, the lawyer.

“As a non-lawyer taking the Brisbane Airport Corporation and then federal government to court on four occasions … I spent months reading legal briefs.

“You have to wrap your mind around precedents, the common law, the statute law, a lot of the relevant precedents here, how do they apply to this case etc. It took a lot of bloody work.”

The community ended up raising funds through a charity dinner at Oxford St to repay Mr Rudd’s legal costs, an example of the community spirit which he says he is indebted to to this day.

“It was a long fight. I think no-one in history could accuse me of not trying.”

The court battle that is not as obviously linked to Mr Rudd is the seven-year long case against a private developer granted approval by the National Party government in 1989 to build a theme park and hotel at the base of the Kangaroo Point cliffs.

Mr Rudd was chief of staff to Wayne Goss.

“The state government with me being its principal activist internally said this is just not right,” he said. “This should be complete public space for the people of Brisbane to enjoy.

Mr Rudd said he spoke to then premier Wayne Goss and deputy premier Tom Burns and then lord mayor Jim Soorley about the Lake Burley Griffin walkway in Canberra, a concept which became the Riverside Walkway.

“One of my proudest legacies and I think Wayne Goss if he was alive today would say the same, and I think Burnsy would say the same if he was alive today, is laying all of that open for the people of Brisbane. And we did it.

“And it was a massive legal case in order to overturn an appalling decision by the previous National Party government to throw most of that into the hands of a private developer.”

The achievement he is most proud as prime minister is what the economic stimulus package during the global financial crisis delivered to schools with several thousand new libraries, assembly halls and facilities at primary schools throughout the country.

“What I am proud of is when you walk in to a school and you see all of these kids who now think the coolest place to be is in the library at lunch time because it is literally cool and its nice to be in and you’ve got everything online and physical books and opportunities to do other things. I think, that’s not a bad legacy.”

One of the funnier tales in the book is when a falling gum tree branch clocked him while he was watching his son play cricket on the Churchie ovals in 1998.

“I’m staggering to my feet, wondering where the hell I am with more than minor concussion with all these parents faces looking down on me, most of them Churchie parents and therefore not natural Labor voters, and one bloke hauls me to my feet and said, ‘bloody hell mate, that’s a bit rough. I thought we might have a by-election there.”

While the Rudds have sold their Norman Park home and moved in to an apartment in the city, he said they still call the south-east suburbs home.

“For me I have two anchorings in life. One is where I grew up around Eumundi and where I learnt to swim as a kid at Noosa when it was just a fish and chips town in the ’60s. The other part is in the nineties, raising a family on Brisbane’s southside.

“When I think of home it’s our church which is still St John’s in Bulimba at Oxford St, that’s us, that’s where we’ve been for 25 years. The other is home in that area between Eumundi and Noosa even though I live and now work in New York. Therese and I go backwards and forwards between Brissy and New York.

He said a lot of the book was about raising family on Brisbane’s southside and becoming involved in community life.

“You’ll find this is very much a local story … I hope locals find it an entertaining read in terms of the things I got right and some of the things I got wrong and some of the things that were just damn funny.”