Beyond the World news headlines
Oz PM Rudd gets an “F” for language
As the U.S. Congress roils over use of the word “liar” against President Barack Obama, Australia
is in uproar over the prime minister’s use of the F-word.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, once a diplomat, was this week forced to defend his “robust” language used against a group of unhappy junior lawmakers in his own centre-left Labor Party while slashing back their official pay entitlements.
“I don’t care what you f**kers think!” Rudd told the backbench group, which included three women, in a private conversation later leaked widely to newspapers.
Rudd, talking to reporters ahead of a meeting of G-20 group leaders in the United States, said he had only been making his point clear to members of his own union-based party.
“I think it’s fair to say that consistent with the traditions of the Australian Labor Party, we’re given to robust conversations,” he said. “I make no apology for either the content of my conversation or the robustness with which I expressed my views.”
Unlike in Washington, where standards of political behaviour are closely entwined with ideas of respect, Australia’s parliament functions with a rough-and-tumble unthinkable in the
United States, but which can still raise eyebrows.
Former Labor prime minister Paul Keating, was notorious for the parliamentary vitriol he unleashed, famously describing the upper house Senate, now frustrating Rudd’s climate change agenda, as “unrepresentative swill”.
Keating, once dubbed the “lizard of Oz” by British tabloids after touching the Queen, lashed various opponents as “a shiver waiting for a spine”, “brain-damaged” or “a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze”.
The Europhile leader sparked an international incident when he called then-Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad “recalcitrant”, refusing to apologise even when faced with trade sanctions.
But even Keating could not compete with the brief but spectacular opposition leadership of Labor’s Mark Latham, who called the ruling conservative government of John Howard a “conga
line of suckholes” when it came to close ally the United States.
In a shock jibe aimed at Howard’s immigration minister Philip Ruddock, a member of rights group Amnesty International but tough enforcer of border protection laws, the fiery Latham sparked
outrage shouting “Hand in your badge, Adolf”.
Political watchers are divided over whether Rudd’s outburst will impact on his near-record opinion survey approval levels ahead of elections due next year.
Newspaper cartoons showed Rudd as a “F bomb” being dropped on colleagues, while the country’s Families Association said his comments were reprehensible, accusing him of hypocrisy running
counter to his preferred “angelic” image.
But in a country largely innoculated against blunt language, despite the increasing sophistication of its cities, most agree it won’t.
“The truth is that politics, whether it’s on our side or the other side, is a robust business where exchanges of views can sometimes be laced with less than polite descriptions. That’s life,” said Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner.
What do you think? Should politicians try to maintain a higher standard of behaviour, or is it okay to slip into the language of the street?