AUSTRALIAN PM RUDD’S FAREWELL
By Michael Perry
Chief Correspondent, Australia
Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised so much but in the end failed to deliver the generational change voters had hoped for when they swept him to power 2007.
But it was for not want of trying.
In the end, the cut-throat nature of politics, where re-election is all that matters, saw Rudd’s government turn on him on Thursday in favour of his deputy Julia Gillard.
With voters deserting Rudd after he failed to meet their expectations on a series of policies, specifically climate change, his Labor government jettisoned him for Gillard in an attempt to avoid electoral defeat in polls expected around October.
When a tearful Rudd stood in Canberra’s parliament house courtyard, flanked by his wife and son, to stage his farewell news conference as PM, the pain of defeat and disloyalty and broken dreams was felt by all.
But mostly by Rudd, who struggled to compose himself, stopping frequently as his words became stuck.
“I was elected by the Australian people as Prime Minister of this country to bring back a fair go for all Australians and I have given my absolute best to do that, I’ve given it my absolute all,” Rudd began.
Rudd then began listing his proudest achievements, starting with saving some half a million Australians from unemployment, through a government A$52 billion stimulus package that staved off recession during the global financial crisis.
But it was in the areas of health, climate change and relations with Australia’s disadvantaged Aborigines that Rudd’s pathos was revealed to a nation.
“As somebody who borrowed someone else’s aortic valve I feel a particular responsibility for (health reform),” Rudd revealed. “There’s nothing like having a bit of somebody else in you, it focuses the mind and in my case also focuses the heart.”
Rudd was elected on a wave of Green votes in 2007, calling climate change “the greatest challenge of our generation”. He signed the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases, but failed to convince a hostile Senate to pass his carbon trading scheme. “If I had one point of future policy it must be our ambition to pass a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme…so that we can make a difference, a real difference, to climate change,” he pleaded.
Rudd said he was proud of closing the disadvantaged gap between Aborigines and white Australia and apologising to Aborigines for past injustices. “The apology was unfinished business for our nation. It is the beginning of new business for our nation,” he said.
As the news conference dragged on, Rudd seemed to bounce from one issue to another as if his mind was racing, retracing his short tenure in high office, less than one term. “What I’m less proud of is the fact that I have now blubbered,” he said at one stage.
Finally, Rudd’s mind arrived home, thanking his wife Terese and his sons and God. “To the great God and creator of us all, I thank him-or her-as well,” he said.
In conclusion, the politican in Rudd again emerged to urge voters who have been deserting, disatisfied with his performance, to re-elect his Labor government.
“It is a good government with a good programme, and it deserves re-election for all the reasons I have listed,” he said. “And having said all that folks, we’ve got to zip.”
The question now is can Gillard convince Australia’s voters that her government can fulfill their dreams.