A Pattern of Behaviour
By Kevin Andrews - Australian Polity - Volume 1 (Number 3)
The fact that Kevin Rudd finally uttered the “R” word is not as amazing as the pattern of behaviour the Prime Minister continues to demonstrate.
Many suspect that Mr Rudd finally conceded that Australia was in recession to avert attention from his flawed people smuggling policies. If so, this favourite party trick is beginning to bore, as the media continued to ask about what his government had been advised and what do they now know about the explosion on the boat at Ashmore Reef.
Having observed Mr Rudd for some years now, it is obvious that he has a difficulty in levelling with the Australian people.
It was not just the fact of the recession, which blind Feddy could see happening. There is the Federal Police advice to his government about the impact of the changed immigration policies on people smuggling. The simple question, ‘Does the advice exist’, is met with evasion.
Then there are the questions about what information he has been given about the explosion that killed and injured people trying to enter Australia on an unsafe fishing boat.
I could list other examples. There was the visit to the New York strip club; and the events surrounding his childhood and family. Over and over again, Mr Rudd has not been prepared to come clean with the Australian people.
This tendency – to withhold information and spin a story – seems to reflect his background as a bureaucrat and diplomat. Information is power in the bureaucracy. This is increasingly so in an information age. The art of diplomacy often involves saying very little in long, complex sentences. In some instances, “diplomacy” extends to asserting the opposite of what the situation really is.
Prior to the election, Mr Rudd was a fiscal conservative. Then he was a social democrat. Today he is a neo-Keynesian.
These background traits appear to be combined with a craving for celebrity status and populism. Populism, however, ultimately contains the seeds of its own destruction. The populist ends up in ever-decreasing circles, as the audience tire of the shallow attention.
I have witnessed a number of politicians over the years whose populism at first attracted considerable attention. But over time, it waned, as people looked for more than the superficial. In the end respect is a more enduring quality than populism.
In Kevin Rudd, we have a politician who craves celebrity status. Remember all those “A listers” at the 2020 summit; recall the many times that Mr Rudd had to tell us about which world leader he had spoken to on the telephone that day. In time hubris sets in. Those who surround them become less important. A flight attendant doing her job can be abused. An attitude of entitlement is evident. A gourmet meal service is now required on the Prime Minister’s flights, even the 20 minute hop from Canberra to Sydney!
All leaders are subject to this temptation. They must guard against it.
Humility may not be a word commonly associated with politicians, but unless they practise both it and genuine service, they can easily be seduced by their position. As Vaclav Havel, the one-time dissident and former President of the Czech Republic, once said: “The main task of the present generation of politicians is not, I think, to ingratiate themselves with the public through the decisions they take or their smiles on television.”
Their role is something quite different, he said. “It is to assume their share of responsibility for the long-range prospects of our world and thus to set an example for the public in whose sight they work.
“Their responsibility is to think ahead boldly, not to fear the disfavour of the crowd, to imbue their actions with a spiritual dimension (which of course is not the same thing as ostentatious attendance at religious services), to explain again and again – both to the public and their colleagues – that politics must do far more than reflect the interest of particular groups or lobbies.
“After all, politics is a matter of serving the community, which means that it is morality in practice. . .”
Populists serve themselves. If their craving for celebrity conceals weakness, it is a disservice to the nation. John Howard often advanced unpopular issues, but he was strong. The danger for Australia is that Mr Rudd is popular, but weak.