The Contenders: Rudd vs. Abbott by Ben Westcott

Kevin Rudd


Age: 55

Nicknames: Dr Death,
Kevin 24/7

Chinese name: Lu Kewen

Former professions: Diplomat/Chief of Staff/Laurie Oakes’s Maid

University: ANU

Religion: Anglican

Favourite book: The Brothers Karamozov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Julia Gillard is … Oh, I’m


sorry. My mistake. Let me start that again.

Kevin’s back, and he’s just as enigmatic as ever. Who is our new prime minister? Is he still the chaotic, foul-mouthed tyrant his colleagues claimed he was? Or has he changed? Is this a kinder, gentler Kevin who leads Labor towards an indistinct future?

Born in Queensland, Rudd grew up on a dairy farm in Eumundi, the youngest of four children. His father died in a car accident when he was only 11, and the Rudd family lived rough for a while after their farm was repossessed. He was a sickly child, suffering from a rheumatic fever that damaged his heart, leading to two aortic valve replacements. Despite this he flourished in school, making dux in his final year, and went to the Australian National University in Canberra. It was there he met Therese Rein at the Australian Student Christian Movement.

Despite being a Labor man from the beginning, he’s never really been liked by his colleagues (he earned the nickname ‘Dr Death’ during his tenure as the successful but obnoxious Chief of Staff to Queensland premier Wayne Goss). Elected to the seat of Griffith in 1998 (on his second attempt), Rudd was a backbencher for only four years before he was made Shadow Foreign Minister.

He retained the role for four years, through three different leaders, until challenging Kim Beazley for the leadership in 2006. He wasn’t popular enough to get the role on his own, so he struck a deal with Julia Gillard’s supporters, agreeing to put her on the ticket as deputy in return for their support. It was the beginning of a political soap opera that would last six years.

Going into the 2013 election, Rudd has one major disadvantage he didn’t have in 2007: he’s already been PM once. Pinning Rudd down on any single policy position is impossible; he’s as changeable as the wind. Before the 2007 election, he stuck to the traditional small target approach, limiting his platform to a National Broadband Network, action on climate change, and leaving basically everything else as Howard had left it.

Apart from the NBN, he has changed his mind about almost every single policy position he has held. He no longer appears to favour onshore processing of asylum seekers, he has reversed his opposition to gay marriage, he doesn’t want a stronger mining tax, and the Emissions Trading Scheme he proposed and then dumped looks to be back on the table.

Kevin Rudd was the Labor candidate in my first election as a voter in 2007. I still remember the heady excitement of those Kevin ‘07 days, when it felt like everything was about to change. I imagine it’s how the U.S. felt about Barack Obama in 2008, or

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how we reacted to Gough Whitlam in 1972. He seemed like a breath of fresh air. Now it’s 2013 and there’s no doubt the polish has worn off, partly at the hands of his colleagues, and partly from his own self-inflicted blows.

Insider’s host Barrie Cassidy wrote that, curiously, the further you got from Julia Gillard the less you liked her. Her colleagues and her acquaintances had nothing but praise for her, but the public were much less keen. She seemed, on a personal level, to be generous and affable. Cassidy added that the opposite was true of Kevin Michael Rudd.



Tony Abbott

Age: 55

Nicknames: Dr No, The Mad Monk

Former professions: Boxer/Trainee Priest/Journalist

University: University of Sydney/Oxford

Religion: Catholic

Favourite book: Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien

Tony Abbott’s enemies think they have his number. He is the Mad Monk, the woman-hating chauvinist, Howard’s Rottweiler. In Health Minister Tanya Plibersek’s office there used to be a poster on the wall that read “Tony Abbott hates gays and boats. Gays on boats are his worst nightmare.”

They’re wrong, though. These are all roles Abbott has had during his career, but not anymore. They misunderstood him, and that is why he now has a new title: Tony Abbott, prime minister-in-waiting.

His family had him marked for greatness from an early age. In his essay on Abbott, ‘Political Animal’, David Marr wrote of a gathering where Abbott’s mother informed those present that her son would be either “pope or prime minister”. There’s no doubt that Abbott believed her, and still does till this day.

They lived in a big house, on the North Shore of Sydney, and Abbott was sent to all the best schools. He thrived at university, diving into politics and leading the charge against socialists, Whitlamites and homosexuals. He penned editorials for The Australian, denouncing his political enemies and encouraging a new wave of young conservatives. He won a Rhodes scholarship and went to Oxford. After a brief stint at a seminary, where he decided that priesthood wasn’t for him, he met the man who would become his mentor and his idol: John Winston Howard. Howard had him preselected as the member for Warringah. Under his tutelage, Abbott went from victory to victory, shooting up the ministerial pecking order before reaching the prestigious post of Minister for Health. And then it all fell apart.

Abbott took the 2007 election defeat badly. He attempted to become leader of the party, but could barely muster a few votes. Brendan

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Nelson won the prize instead, then Malcolm Turnbull in 2008. In 2009, with Turnbull facing a rift in the Liberal Party over climate change, Abbott saw his chance. He challenged, and in a run-off won by just a single vote.

Despite what Gillard and others thought, he isn’t a natural Liberal leader. In many respects, he’s practically a Labor member. He didn’t believe in WorkChoices, telling Howard it was bad policy and bad politics. He is neither an economic liberal nor conservative, with his Democratic Labor Party background showing he believes public money should be used to make citizens’ lives better. Hence his incredibly generous paid parental leave policy and his strange plan to turn Northern Australia into a food bowl.

But all his personal beliefs have been put on hold in his quest to become prime minister. This makes any debate of what sort of PM he might be all the more difficult. In an article published on ABC’s The Drum in 2012, journalist Chris Uhlmann discussed the Opposition Leader by quoting from Luke’s Gospel, a text I’m sure Abbott knows well: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses himself?”

Conclusion: Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott seem in many ways to be polar opposites of each other: the articulate intellectual Rudd, product of a Queensland dairy farm, and the brusque conservative Abbott, from Sydney’s affluent North Shore.

But Rudd and Abbott are not as dissimilar as they might appear on first inspection. Superficially, there are similarities. They are both aged 55, both wear glasses, and both aren’t hugely popular within their own parties (Rudd far more so than Abbott).

But, on a deeper level, there is another bond. They are both fiercely religious, and that religiosity has defined who they are. Both of them have had to hide something of themselves and their beliefs to get the position they’re in today, and perhaps that is the tragedy facing each of them in 2013. Whoever wins has to go on pretending for another three years.

Ben Westcott



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