Karen Hardy’s interview with Kevin Rudd on his memoirs: The PM Years

This article is extracted from Karen Hardy’s article in The Sydney Morning Herald:

Kevin Rudd: ‘There’s a tension between forgiveness and not forgetting’

It’s kind of hard to know what to make of Kevin Rudd. We’re meeting in the office of Senator Claire Moore, an old mate from Queensland, he says, tucked away in the far corridors of Parliament House. Sitting on a blanket-covered couch with a cup of pale tea, he’s wearing a blue tie, a neat suit, his white shirt a little tight around his middle.

Rudd is in Canberra, just overnight, for the launch of his latest memoir, The PM Years. Later, after our interview, he heads off for the official proceedings, his wife Thérèse Rein by his side. Politicians turn up, friends and foe, Julie Bishop, Barnaby Joyce, Anthony Albanese, Kim Carr, the media horde descends. He knows I’m not a political journalist and I’m wondering if this is the reason I was offered this one-on-one time. That I’d be afraid to ask the hard questions, that I wouldn’t even know what the hard questions were.

While I was researching for this story – and there’s only so much of a heavily annotated 700-page memoir you can squeeze in overnight – I asked more learned colleagues and friends their view on Rudd. Is he still relevant many questioned, some had direct experience and called him a tyrant, plenty of others used choice descriptors to describe him. But mainly everyone wanted to know why publish this book now – why unload on ex-colleagues five years after leaving parliament?

Rudd says that wasn’t his intention, it was to write his version of history, to bring about something of a sense of closure.

“It was about producing my own record … I think it’s far better to have time to reflect, to look at the evidence, to talk to others who were participating.

“I didn’t rush to do this, Gillard knocked one out within about six months of the change of government to capture the narrative as it were, I wanted that time to reflect.”

What would he say to people who call it vindictive?

“I don’t think they said that about the 10 books which came out before mine accusing me of every crime against humanity, from Gillard, from Wayne Swan, all the others.

“Most senior people in the party have thanked me for being silent in response to those earlier books. I said I’ll respond one day in my own form and here it is.”

He says people should read the first chapter of the book, read the positive things he has to say about that first cabinet back in 2007.

“When you get to the chapters about the coup, my critique is limited to half a dozen people.

“It’s actually a very generous account of the collaboration we had across the system to produce the reforms we did.”

Rudd is big on what he did.

“The fact we have almost 20 per cent of Australia’s energy being produced by renewables is because I legislated for that, the fact we have a paid parental leave scheme is because I legislated for that, the fact we didn’t go into recession and we protected the banks and people’s savings deposits is because we acted, we’re a member of the G20 because we co-founded it. We did stuff.”

Is there something he wishes he had have “got done”.

“Obviously if the Greens hadn’t formed a coalition of convenience with the conservatives to defeat the emissions trading scheme we’d be 10 years into a carbon price by now.”

When I question whether he should have played the game a little better, worked the numbers, politicked, he says that was never his way.

“Some would argue I didn’t play the game enough,” he admits.

“My attitude is kind of different because I’m basically a policy guy. What do you do to change the dial, move it forward, if your concern is the country’s future or equality of opportunity or supporting the poor or our role in the world, what do you have to do to move the dial?

“If you’re caught up in everything else it’s a pretty simple question of mathematics. If you spend two-thirds of your time performing acts of internal shiatsu massage within the party on a rolling basis, you have very little time left for governing the nation.”

He’s disheartened by the current state of Australian politics.

“It was great to be back in Canberra this morning, we went to university here, grew up here in a way, we owned two houses here, but do I miss this place?” he says, gesturing out towards the house.

“Oh, God no.

“We loved Canberra but we can’t stand what goes on in this building because it’s such a toxic environment.

“And it’s progressively become more toxic, a product of the personalities and the culture induced by the Murdoch media which is quite vicious in its tone and its content …

“Politics is no longer about policy, it’s primarily about personality and how can you deconstruct someone’s personality and destroy them and for me that’s kind of sicko.”

Don’t get him started on Rupert Murdoch, “the greatest, most malignant cancer on our Australian democracy”, he writes in the book.

“The poisoning of the political discourse by Murdoch’s exceptionally conservative ideological agenda has swept across the heartland of the Anglosphere, across the United States, Britain and Australia, I don’t think people understand how much.”

He blames Murdoch for the rise of Donald Trump, for Brexit, for his own exit, for Turnbull’s recent demise.

But it’s not about blame anymore, if you believe him. In the closing paragraphs of the book he talks about a conversation he had with his wife about forgiveness, forgiving those he believes wronged him, and those who may also believe he wronged them.

“You have to work for that,” he says.

“Otherwise you end up bitter and twisted, you have to work to not let them occupy your head space anymore, that’s part of my view.

“Yes, there’s a tension between forgiveness and not forgetting. You can never forget but the importance of this documented account is that it’s there now and people, when they read it, will make up their own minds based on the evidence.

“Whether this account unsettles other narratives which others may have sought to establish, particularly those who dressed up naked personal ambition as noble purpose, is yet to be seen.”

Has he let it go? Has he forgiven people? How bitter and twisted is he? Like I said, it’s hard to know what to make of Kevin Rudd.

The PM Years, by Kevin Rudd. Macmillan. $44.99.