Jul 24, 2011 admin
Last Thursday was a nightmare. And not just for Kevin Rudd but for those of us who know and like him. As I watched him struggling with his emotions in that farewell address in the Prime Minister’s Courtyard, I was taken back to our many hours together as we traced his life from birth to the dizzy Prime Ministerial heights for my book, Kevin Rudd: The Biography.
When I began the research I had never met him before. And I felt instinctively that he lacked the common touch that would appeal to the broad Australian electorate. By the time it was completed I had changed my mind.
He was delightful company – witty, charming, immensely knowledgeable and with a very clear vision for Australia’s future. I also felt I understood the forces that drove him. They operate at two levels. On the one hand, he is deeply (even embarrassingly) religious. In that courtyard farewell, for example, he actually included ‘God’ among those he thanked for the assistance they had rendered him over his career.
At the second level, he was motivated by the dreadful anguish he suffered as an 11-year-old when his father died and he was suddenly homeless, having to sleep some nights in a small car by the roadside with his mother and elder sister. That experience haunted him; it made him almost fanatically determined to succeed in life, never again to be prey to the charity of the state or the church. And of course it was education that provided his pathway to that goal.
Indeed, by the time he reached university he had settled one goal: the Prime Ministership of his country. And no one knew that more clearly than the love of his life, Therese Rein whom he met at that time. When he told her, a few years later, she said, ‘I knew all along’.
The quest consumed him. And for 30 years every thought and action was directed to its realisation. When he finally achieved it, he could barely believe it. When I talked to him in his office at Parliament House after the election I had the sudden realisation that though it had been a hard and bruising campaign he felt he had not yet earned the Prime Ministership. Only concrete reforms would achieve that, so he tried to do everything at once to deserve the position.
There followed a mad scramble from one policy to another – all of them admirable but so rushed that their achievement passed in a blur – and in the context of a global financial crisis with the capacity to devastate the economy. Saving Australia from that should (and would) have been quite enough to deserve re-election. But not in the mind of this Nambour lad.
Unfortunately, like most religious souls he instinctively believes that authority is conferred from above, and that its dictates are virtually infallible. That is how he ran his office and his government – a terrible mistake in a party that is founded on the belief that real authority rises upwards from the people.
The impatience, the over-achievement and the pontifical modus operandi became a deadly combination. My one concern now is that he will not take time out to grieve. He must face the wreckage of his life’s ambition; only then will he find the necessary emotional stability to move on… preferably without recourse to some ghostly giant in the sky.