Rudd: the true non-believer

Kevin Rudd is a politician with an uncanny ability to disguise his true persona through a chameleon-like ability to play a role. His wooden delivery and prolixity have led observers astray for much of the past decade for he is the antithesis of the benchmark role model for actor-politicians, the former US President Ronald Reagan.

The common assessment of Kevin Rudd for the past decade has been: this is the real deal – nobody could surely adopt those mannerisms in an attempt to garner political support? Actually that’s true: the nerdiness and wordiness are genuine. What has been carefully hidden is the unvarnished vanity of a man utterly intent on securing power – and retaining it. There is just one, white-hot imperative driving this performance: the overwhelming determination to have his own way. Kevin Rudd is at heart a bully and the extent of this has become unflatteringly apparent over the past few months as the Kevin07 sham facade has withered in the heat of political setbacks.

Perhaps the most pertinent mental image of the real Kevin Rudd can be imagined by picturing pugnacious former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating lambasting him as a man who ‘has no ticker’. Many saw Keating as a bully but that was poor characterisation. Keating feared no-one and would take the battle to whomever he saw as standing in his way. Rudd is a very different creature. Rudd has no stomach for a fight – unless he can win. He shares the fatal flaw of all bullies: he is at heart insecure. His manic determination to sit at the top of the totem pole signifies his innate insecurity that life at any level below is too prone to perversion of his will. He must have his own way. If losing battles enables him to win the war then he will readily suffer the casualties. After all, they are just ‘the loyal troops’ and they only exist to protect and serve the leader.

What is most fascinating about the Rudd now revealed is that it was all on show before he decided he had a real chance of becoming ALP leader and, eventually, Prime Minister. This was the period when Rudd was the key apparatchik to former Queensland Premier, Wayne Goss. From 1989, Rudd was Goss’ chief of staff in both opposition and government and was rewarded for his efforts by being made Director-General of the Office of Cabinet from 1992-1995. The pertinent aspect of this period was that Rudd was widely described as Doctor Death. Hardly a pleasant nickname and the fact that it was bestowed by Labor’s most ardent loyalists – the support staff and advisers of the Premier and Cabinet – speaks volumes for how Rudd treated them. He was cruel. It was only when he realised his ambition could take him much further that he moderated his style.

So, we should not be surprised by the self-portrait of Rudd that has emerged. Political commentators across the spectrum have expressed surprise and even dismay at the ruthless jettisoning of policies and initiatives that Rudd sees as potentially jeopardising his re-election prospects later this year. The common theme has been that Rudd is clearing the decks to ensure that health and hospital reform is the absolute priority issue and that nothing – utterly nothing – must interfere with his campaigning on this topic.

It was in this vein that Rudd deferred his carbon emissions trading scheme until 2013. Earlier, when it seemed as though he could crush the Opposition by pre-empting any leverage they might have had on the issue of climate change, he elevated it to what he termed the greatest moral challenge of our time. But having suffered through the failure of Copenhagen, Rudd could no longer easily carry the day on climate change and he has now simply jettisoned it. It is a classic case of a bully being thwarted but reinforcing his self-perpetuated image of unassailability by challenging his detractors to fight him on grounds on which he believes himself to be invincible. All the portents suggest that if only the Liberals and Nationals could develop a first-class health and hospitals policy, Rudd would chase some other straw in the wind.

The quaintly-labelled initiative “Building the Education Revolution” (BER) is actually an outlandish misnomer. To her credit, Julia Gillard has toiled strenuously to achieve reform in this massive portfolio. Her comparative callowness in the political sphere, however, came when she acquiesced to Rudd in his determination to appropriate the BER to his own purpose in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. BER Mark II was a typical Labor program of work creation straight from the annals of socialism. It ticked all the boxes so far as Rudd saw them. It created nearly immediate jobs (the so-called shovel-ready projects) for a major sector of the Australian workforce that just happens to be comparatively militant, unionised and pro-Labor. Protecting his own loyal troops was Rudd’s only imperative. Make sure they continue to love the leader. And it was a decisive and very effective initiative at the outset.

It was as the BER rolled-out across the nation that the real lessons of this Rudd creation became apparent. The first insight was that no opposition would be brooked. Who knows whether Gillard aired any concerns behind closed doors but her public performance was exactly what Rudd must have in a deputy: unwavering loyalty. Gillard leapt to the defence of ‘her’ program at every opportunity and used her considerable skills to rebut criticism. Yet it is the nature of this so-called revolution that is instructive. In only the slightest sense can it be seen as enhancing the education of our young. Yes, some schools will actually get some improved facilities that will indirectly aid their learning. Yet so many schools are being foisted with facilities they neither need nor want. Their pleas for a reassessment have been brutally ignored. Principals have been silenced and P&C groups have been treated with disdain. It is typical Rudd bullying. For months he and Gillard dismissively refused to even deign that mistakes might be happening. In the wake of overwhelming evidence compiled by The Australian newspaper an audit process was eventually assembled but at a cost which in itself is arrogant and the public has been left without even a cursory apology. Bullies never say they’re sorry.

The parallels with the ceiling insulation fiasco are compelling. Four deaths, nearly two hundred house fires, hundreds of lost jobs, scores of business wrecked but Rudd refuses to apologise. The Resources Super-Profits Tax is announced and amid the subsequent uproar that triggered ripples of concern through global financial circles, the Australian dollar has tumbled as if in freefall. But Rudd mandates that this is simply a consequence of the mess in Greece. No apology.

The most intriguing and deeply-ingrained of Rudd’s flaws is actually management. This is a remarkable conundrum since he is, prima facie, an outstanding manager. He has a rare ability to master detail, a phenomenal capacity for work, combined with very high intelligence. His capacity is so great that it is truly exceptional. How can it be, then, that it is an Achilles’ heel? The flaw comes when this penchant is combined with a similarly outsized belief in his own correctness. When he micromanages every detail of the items on his agenda, he is ruthless in taking every decision. His intelligence and capacity for hard work serve him well and he knows how to administer. His greatest difficulty is delegating. His innate belief is that no-one can do anything in a managerial/leadership role as well as him. So he garners an unsustainable workload that is crippling in its denial of the opportunity to reflect. Rudd appears to never allow himself adequate time for contemplative thinking. He is always manically immersed in minutiae. When it comes to the big picture, he’s actually myopic. Once something is delegated, Rudd loses interest. It is no longer one of his own personal tasks so he focuses on other agenda items.

The control freak must never be challenged and can never be proven wrong (in his own mind, at least). And, as more things go wrong, he increases his workload in an insane attempt to make every decision himself because only then can he have confidence that the right decision will be made. Axiomatically, decision-making becomes poorer and poorer. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Rudd plays hospital visitor while Australia loses its international competitive edge. And we, the bit players, can but watch on from the sidelines. None of it is being lost on the Labor hard-heads who pursue power almost as a cause in itself, however, and there is every likelihood that Rudd’s days as prime Minister are numbered. It won’t happen this side of the election but the odds are immense that Rudd will lead Labor to any poll after that. Bullies only reign until their flaws become apparent. Then, they’re on a hiding to nothing.