I saw a great line from comedian Adam Hills on Twitter today. I’m paraphrasing, but he essentially said, ‘I woke up this morning and we had a new PM, Australia was out of the World Cup and the longest ever tennis match had been played … How long was I asleep?’
It’s a bit like that.
I’m always conscious of the stories being lived out around me but today’s was a stand out. Canberra Gallery journalists probably won’t experience another 24-hour period like it for the rest of their careers.
The story broke on the ABC last night. It grew overnight and we had a new PM, elected unopposed before 10 am. Australia has had women serve as premiers, governors and governor-general before but never a female Prime Minister. That is historic. Personally, I’m excited by the message a female PM sends to every Australian schoolgirl. With intelligence and dedication anything is possible. All power to Julia Gillard for climbing to the top of the federal ALP.
But it’s also historic for an Australian PM to be ousted before he could complete his first term. Imagine how that must feel to a proud man.
I’ve never met Mr Rudd or Ms Gillard and have only a passing acquaintance with some of their colleagues. (I knocked back a Canberra posting during my newspaper days and spent one brief stint as a visiting reporter in the Gallery.) I really only have a sense of Mr Rudd from media appearances and reports (such as the Marr essay) – and conversations with friends in the federal public service who suggested the Kevin 24-7 nickname was apt.
That said, I listened carefully to his entire speech this morning – not just his words but the iPhones tinkling and magpie warbling in the background. Relying on ABC radio, I had to work out that the long pauses meant the Prime Minister was crying. Unable to speak. At times I could hear his wife murmuring, encouraging him in the darkest hour of his career.
Based on my listening, here’s my take on Prime Minister Rudd’s story – or here’s how I’d write it if I was creating a fictional character.
I’d write about a leader obsessed with getting (setting?) things right. A man so driven to succeed that he couldn’t delegate. He’d think that it’s easier to work another hour and do something yourself than hand it over and risk it not being done to his standard. I’d write about a man who put his faith in his God, and his capacity for endless toil. He’d work on, losing contact with colleagues and sacrificing sleep, social niceties and his awareness of the world around him. If a setback occurred he’d spend time in prayer. And then commit himself to work even harder.
So preoccupied with work and micromanaging would he become that he would stop hearing people. Colleagues, advisors, friends. He simply wouldn’t have the headspace to take advice, feedback, warnings and criticism on board. Not if it slowed his output. If the axe fell on him from his organisation, he’d be genuinely shocked and stunned that his work ethic and commitment wasn’t … enough.
I could have this character completely wrong. What I do know that as I listened to an emotional speech today I wondered if the man speaking the words had come out of his castle, had let his guard down more often, had shown his human frailties to the people who elected him, whether he’d still be Prime Minister.
I’m hugely grateful to Mr Rudd for delivering on a promised national apology to the Stolen Generations and, more recently, the so-called Forgotten Australians. I’ve no idea what the next chapter in his story will involve but I’ll be fascinated to see where the character arc might lead.