Rudd spared

Two bi­ogra­phies don’t paint the full pic­ture, writes Hed­ley Thomas Kevin Rudd: The Bi­og­ra­phy By Robert Mack­lin Pen­guin, 253pp, $ 32.95 Kevin Rudd: An Unau­tho­rised Po­lit­i­cal Bi­og­ra­phy By Ni­cholas Stu­art Scribe, 280pp, $ 32.95

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Pic­tures cour­tesy Rudd fam­ily col­lec­tion

FOR po­lit­i­cal junkies and curious vot­ers striv­ing to un­der­stand the char­ac­ter of Aus­tralia’s al­ter­na­tive prime min­is­ter, there are now two pa­per­back bi­ogra­phies on Kevin Michael Rudd. Robert Mack­lin, au­thor of Kevin Rudd: The Bi­og­ra­phy, fell in love with his sub­ject. Their courtship was fast, co- oper­a­tive and ends hap­pily. Rudd should be de­lighted with the re­sult. Ni­cholas Stu­art, au­thor of Kevin Rudd: An Unau­tho­rised Po­lit­i­cal Bi­og­ra­phy, was rudely jilted. There is less bliss but more anal­y­sis and healthy cyn­i­cism in Stu­art’s book.

Mack­lin pro­duced his work af­ter be­ing granted ac­cess to Rudd, his sib­lings, wife, friends and La­bor al­lies. All may truly be­lieve Rudd is the bee’s knees. If they don’t be­lieve it, they gushed it, any­way.

It is a slim tome and nicely writ­ten. Can­berrabased Mack­lin spent four months re­search­ing and putting it to­gether, a feat he ad­mits ‘‘ re­quires not just to­tal con­cen­tra­tion on the job at hand but a great deal of co- op­er­a­tion from all sides’’. A for­mer Queens­lan­der, Mack­lin is at his best in de­pict­ing the young Rudd and his bu­colic child­hood. A sen­si­tive and earnest child who adored his par­ents, Mar­garet and Bert, the boy Rudd and his fam­ily are im­mensely lik­able in th­ese chap­ters.

Mack­lin de­scribes a chal­leng­ing 1967 road trip in the HR Holden and car­a­van dur­ing the fam­ily ‘‘ hol­i­day of a life­time, Nam­bour to Melbourne or bust’’ to watch older brother Mal­colm grad­u­ate from the army sig­nals school in Vic­to­ria. Mal­colm Rudd must have been re­lieved to see his flesh and blood fam­ily. He had been bas­tardised by sadis­tic cretins with whom he trained on the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula.

The rec­ol­lec­tions of Kevin Rudd’s sis­ter, Loree, are par­tic­u­larly mov­ing. Young Kevin was se­cure and held close in a tight- knit fam­ily. As a bat­tling share­farmer, Bert would never have much in the way of as­sets, but he worked harder than most to en­sure his four chil­dren would not go with­out a feed, even if it were only his rough old stew.

Mar­garet, for whom re­li­gion mat­tered a great deal, was gen­er­ous with her love, par­tic­u­larly with Kevin, the youngest. He hopes he has her traits, par­tic­u­larly ‘‘ for­get­tery’’: an abil­ity to for­give and move on af­ter be­ing slighted. Mark Latham’s mock­ing de­scrip­tion in his Di­aries of Rudd’s dis­tress when his mother died a few years ago feels even more odi­ous when the close­ness of their bond is un­der­stood.

The Rudd clan was shat­tered on Fe­bru­ary 11, 1969. Kevin was 11 when Bert died in hospi­tal from in­juries sus­tained when he drove his car off the Bruce High­way while re­turn­ing to the farm late at night from a Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tion some weeks ear­lier. Mal­colm told Kevin af­ter school one af­ter­noon that his fa­ther was dead.

‘‘ I was prob­a­bly rather abrupt,’’ Mal­colm says. Guilt over the loss weighed most heav­ily on Kevin’s other brother, Greg, who se­cretly blamed him­self. Be­fore go­ing to Bris­bane for the cel­e­bra­tion, Bert had asked Greg if he would milk the cows early the next morn­ing. Greg ex­pressed re­luc­tance — it was a big job and he would have been alone — forc­ing his dad to drive back late at night, tired and af­fected by al­co­hol. He fell asleep at the wheel.

Mack­lin traces Rudd’s school and univer­sity years, his solid mar­riage to Therese Rein, their sin­gle- minded de­ter­mi­na­tion to ex­cel and to un­der­stand China, his rise as a diplo­mat in Swe­den, then in Bei­jing, and the ar­rival of three chil­dren. Alexan­der Downer, it seems, has ev­ery rea­son to be wary of Rudd. The For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter was a light­weight by com­par­i­son when both served as diplo­mats.

But this is, af­ter all, the bi­og­ra­phy Rudd would be able to cheer­fully en­dorse and hand out with the how- to- vote packs. Not sur­pris­ingly, given the ob­vi­ous bias of most of the peo­ple in­ter­viewed by Mack­lin, this book con­tains scarcely a para­graph of dis­sent. The omis­sions leave a hole

in story’s cred­i­bil­ity. No­body can be as seem­ingly per­fect and preter­nat­u­rally des­tined for high of­fice. It will be con­demned by po­lit­i­cal ri­vals as ha­giog­ra­phy.

Mack­lin nails his colours to the mast at the end. Declar­ing Rudd ‘‘ the man for our time’’, he adds: His elec­tion to the prime min­is­ter­ship of our coun­try is vi­tal to meet the ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenges of global warm­ing and a swiftly chang­ing in­ter­na­tional or­der, and to re­store the sense of fair play and self- es­teem at home that has been all but lost be­neath the po­lit­i­cal amoral­ity and per­sonal men­dac­ity of the Howard stew­ard­ship.’’

Mack­lin may be right. But such ex­trav­a­gant cheer­lead­ing is deeply dis­con­cert­ing at the end of a bi­og­ra­phy pro­moted as ‘‘ full of in­sights’’. The spruik­ing un­der­mines the force of the pre­ced­ing 70,000- odd words.

Stu­art, also based in Can­berra, had a more dif­fi­cult as­sign­ment. He writes that when do­ing the hard slog of re­search­ing, a se­nior La­bor fig­ure ( help­ful hint: she has hazel eyes) warned:

The prob­lem with po­lit­i­cal bi­ogra­phies is that you can’t get the whole story. I can’t be frank with you. Kevin won’t be frank with you.’’

Hazel Eyes wasn’t josh­ing. An­other ex­tremely frus­trat­ing fea­ture of Stu­art’s book is the ab­sence of names. Ev­ery Tom, Dick and Harriet gets a quote, but we never know their real iden­tity even when they are ob­se­quious with praise. Anony­mous quotes wear thin when stretched across the whole can­vas.

One strongly sus­pects the re­fusal of Rudd’s team to deal with Stu­art de­spite his re­peated pleas for in­put, un­til it was far too late, has back­fired. Rudd’s no- speak strat­egy per­mit­ted Stu­art to see an unattrac­tive side of his sub­ject as a con­trol freak and al­most cer­tainly made the au­thor more scep­ti­cal.

Writes Stu­art: In an at­tempt to find out more about this pe­riod of his life, I con­tacted a num­ber of peo­ple to ask them to de­scribe the young man. Rudd asked them not to speak to me.’’

As Stu­art is pok­ing around Queens­land try­ing

‘‘

the

‘‘

‘‘ to talk to peo­ple about the Rudd- Wayne Goss years, he is told by a Rudd col­league: Lis­ten, mate, you’re not go­ing to get very much be­cause ev­ery­one’s been [ leant] on pretty heav­ily. The Rudd ma­chine has gone to work.’’

There are peo­ple will­ing to share first- hand knowl­edge of the good, bad and ugly fea­tures of Rudd’s legacy, and both au­thors should have found them. But Rudd has solid form for try­ing to cen­sor or kill foren­sic anal­y­sis of his life, times and oc­ca­sional foibles, and he was spec­tac­u­larly outed for it ear­lier this year by News Lim­ited edi­tors and Fair­fax’s vet­eran po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Alan Ram­sey.

Nei­ther book ex­plores eth­i­cal is­sues thrown up by the Work Di­rec­tions busi­ness, founded and led by Rudd’s ador­ing wife Rein. Her hard work and canny man­age­ment have made Rudd one of Aus­tralia’s rich­est par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, but it was al­ways go­ing to end in tears and charges of rank hypocrisy. Both au­thors fail to ex­am­ine Rudd’s po­lit­i­cal ap­pren­tice­ship as chief head- kicker in the Goss gov­ern­ment im­me­di­ately be­fore his bid to win a fed­eral seat, al­though Stu­art half­heart­edly goes there by draw­ing Queens­land aca­demic Scott Prasser on what the then La­bor pre­mier Goss and his Mr Fixit, Rudd, achieved in the 1990s.

Prasser: ‘‘ Rudd was the de facto power be­hind the throne. He was the key man. Ex­ec­u­tive gov­ern­ment con­trol, se­crecy and ma­nip­u­la­tion of ap­point­ment pro­cesses re­mained embed­ded dur­ing this time.’’

This dev­as­tat­ing in­dict­ment should have pro­voked more rig­or­ous anal­y­sis about whether it is a guide to his style should he be­come PM.

‘‘ Hed­ley Thomas is a Bris­bane- based se­nior jour­nal­ist for The Aus­tralian and the au­thor of Sick to Death.

Young man to watch: Left, Kevin Rudd as a boy on a fam­ily trip to Syd­ney; Rudd on his wed­ding day with his mother, Mar­garet, and wife, Therese Rein

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