Looking for Kevin in the State that’s ditching Labor
Note: Kevin Rudd gave his first interview since losing the leadership last night, which Leo Shanahan looks at in the next post. With Labor struggling in Queensland, I spent the first few days of this week in The Sunshine State talking to voters in the seats of Griffith and Longman, and trying fruitlessly to interview the former PM. The anti-Labor sentiment in Rudd’s home state was identified by Newspoll yesterday and is born out in the piece below focussing on Rudd’s seat.
There are no posters, no balloons, no “Vote One” vans, no army of volunteers handing out leaflets for the candidate. On the day I arrived, even the street leading to the electorate office had been shut down, after a bizarre accident where a man suffered a heart attack, and while the ambulance was tending to him, a truck came around the corner and smashed into the back of ambulance.
The electorate office is stuck between a Blockbuster video store and a pet shop and it has a small yellow sign out front which reads “Kevin Rudd: Standing up for the Southside.”
It’s a lowbrow setting for a man who just four weeks ago was running a nation but who now, adding injury to insult, is not even in his electorate office but at home recovering from an operation on his gall bladder.
In the course of a day of conversation with voters in Kevin Rudd’s inner-Brisbane seat, the overriding sense you get is that they feel dudded and disenfranchised by what was done to their local member.
It’s not that the people of Griffith are marching in the streets demanding the local member’s reinstatement as PM. There are no vigils being held, no petitions doing the rounds. I only find one house with a Rudd poster on it (from 2007) and when I knock on the door an old man answers, and I tell him I’d like to talk to him about his support for the former PM.
I wouldn’t say I’m a supporter of him, I was a branch member many years ago and they still had my name and they asked me if I would put a couple of posters on my fence, so I said I would. The other night some drunk kids coming back from the pub bent one of them in half. I should probably fix it. But I don’t really care about politics much these days, and I’m in the middle of making my bed so I don’t really want to do an interview. All I would say is I feel sorry for him with what they did to him, it was pretty bloody ordinary.
The perceived pretty-bloody-ordinariness of Rudd’s removal is something which is identified repeatedly across his seat, whether they liked the job he was doing or not.
Abiding by the rule that if you can’t say anything nice about someone don’t say anything at all, one lady tells me she won’t go on the record because she “couldn’t stand” Rudd. She says that when he went to a fundraiser at her daughter’s school on the Saturday of week one of the campaign, he had no cash on him to make a donation, promised to come back later, and had not been since. “For me that was the measure of the man,” she said. “But I still don’t think what they did to him was fair.”
Temp worker Carolyn Watschur and her semi-retired husband, part-time cabbie Jack Watschur, aren’t Rudd supporters either.
I think he’s very arrogant, an upstart, when he’s being interviewed it’s always “just let me say that I will check into that and get back to you at a later stage” which really gets on my nerves. But I still really disagree with the way Gillard and her gang of three went about getting rid of him. At this election I can honestly say that we have not received any literature at all from him in our letterbox. He’ll get back in anyway, and there might be a bit of a sympathy vote there because the way they knocked him off was ordinary.
Jack agrees with his wife.
I don’t know how Labor has been getting here but they have been, especially at the state level. I definitely think there might be a sympathy vote for him though. It’s going to make some people less likely to support Julia Gillard.
The Watschurs were in the minority in this seat, where most people talked about Rudd favourably both as a local member and as prime minister. Jessica Beurman-Bett, 30, a drama lecturer at Griffith University, captures the vibe best. “It’s the Kevin Rudd Fan Club around here,” she says.
“He was doing a great job under very difficult circumstances. He became PM in a very difficult time and was given such a short amount of time to prove his worth. I have to say I cried, my husband and I both cried. I felt really bad for him, somehow I felt it was a bit underhanded. We both got on the internet straight away and tried to send him an email telling him he had our support.”
State public servant Kay Balke, 53, said that while Rudd had “lost his way” nothing could justify the party doing what it did.
“It was like they took power out of the public’s hands. It just seemed lousy. It was vicious. I think people were taken aback. I think Julia Gillard must be, gee, so incredibly ambitious to go through and do what she did to him.”
Mark Ruwoldt, 36, a computer program director described the coup as “pretty rude”. Real estate manager Margaret Harris, 60, said: “Gee whiz they didn’t waste any time putting the knife in his back, shouldn’t that have been up to the people?” Retiree Christine Nelson said: “Kevin Rudd was the person we voted for, and I think there is something wrong with our system if more than half of the people voted for him, then why should a handful of men, treacherous men, be able to go against that choice? We didn’t vote for them.”
And on and on. In Rudd’s own seat, the sense that the voters were duded by the factions will obviously be more pronounced. It also takes on a State of Origin tone here in Queensland, where the observation that the Brisbane boy was stripped of the top job by factional players from Sydney and Melbourne comes up repeatedly.
Peter White is drinking with half a dozen mates at The Colmslie Hotel who work as painters and dockers at the Port of Brisbane. Pretty much all of them are Labor to their Blundstone boot straps. But they have got the shits with the party over what it did to Rudd.
It was factional rubbish. It’s a bit rough that it was all that lot down south who were pulling all the strings, that Arbib bloke and the rest of them.
His wharfie mate John Clotworthy agrees, and is not the first person in the seat to question the constitutionality of what Caucus did.
How does it work out that we vote him in as prime minister and they kick him out, not us? Is it even legal for them to do that? Why did they even do it? Is it just because of the media, the polls? Where do they get those polls from anyway? It was bullshit.
The worrying thing for Labor – and it’s something they clearly did not think about at any great length ahead of June’s coup – is that there might be an enduring national sense that Kevin Rudd, regardless of whether he was a halfwit or a hero, should not have been removed as prime minister by the party but by the people.
On the night of the coup one Labor backbencher likened it to “NSW coming to Canberra” – a shocking comparison where the factions subjected the voters to three premiers in three years and can now reflect on the fruits of their efforts in the form of a 25 per cent primary vote.
Who knows what will happen in a couple of Saturdays. Should Labor lose, Kevin Rudd will no doubt argue that the knife the party stuck in his back was the same one it used to slash its wrists.
Don’t miss: Get The Punch in your inbox every day
Get The Punch on Facebook
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…