Reading all the tea leaves in China for clues to Rudd
That fact that Kevin Rudd, a mere backbencher, was able to get leave from Parliament to travel to China on a private mission points to some clever Opposition mischief.
It indicates the Opposition has adopted the strategic calculation that a high profile Mr Rudd is a large scale headache and distraction for Julia Gillard and a constant fuel supply for leadership speculation.
Mr Rudd’s quite clear declaration of support for Ms Gillard last night on the ABC’s 7.30 has put a scratch in the duco of that strategy but the Opposition is likely to keep revving it up.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott approved a pair for Mr Rudd so that he could fly to China to attend a conference of the World Economic Forum, not as a representative of Australia but in his own capacity.
This was an expansive thing for him to do give Mr Abbott had last year warned the minority government that even fathers awaiting the birth of a child might not be granted leave. Arts Minister Simon Crean was prevented from representing the nation at the funeral of artist Margaret Olley almost exactly 12 months ago.
But there was Kevin Rudd jetting to the WEF’s “meeting of the new champions” conference with the Opposition’s best wishes and assistance.
“They obviously like him,” said one senior Labor figure who followed the pairing approval.
Another said that it seemed Mr Rudd was finding it easier to get the Opposition’s support for a pair now than when he was Foreign Minister.
Speculation is that his former Liberal foreign affairs counterpart, shadow minister Julie Bishop, has become Mr Rudd’s friend in high Opposition places. Certainly she has taken an interest in his leadership prospects.
This week she told a Coalition meeting the Rudd v Gillard showdown would come to a head in two weeks.
Ms Bishop claimed Mr Rudd had been telling his Labor supporters that new Government policies, such as removing the floor price on carbon after 2015 and overhauling education funding, had been stolen from him.
“The end game of the Labor Party leadership is nigh,” she forecast, after noting pointedly that Mr Rudd was in China.
This was yet another date marked on the “calendar of doom” various commentators have been drawing up for a couple of years. When each date for a showdown passes without incident another is offered.
By any reasonable estimation, Mr Rudd’s comments last night on national television meant Ms Bishop will have to realign her calendar of doom as well. How ungrateful of Mr Rudd.
“Of course the Government can prevail against Mr Abbott at the next election,” Mr Rudd said. “And that’s why I am supporting this Government under the Prime Minister’s leadership to do so.”
Pressed to identify the Prime Minister by name he said, “I just said that. Under Prime Minister Gillard’s leadership.”
His reluctance to use the Prime Minister’s name probably is a sign they are not yet the best of friends, but also that Mr Rudd probably resents being demanded to do it like a tired party trick - “Come on, say it, say it.”
More important was his quite clear public statement that he would support Julia Gillard leading Labor into the next election. And that he thought she could win.
It might be that Mr Rudd has decided only recently that he will not be asked to return as Prime Minister before the election. But he confirmed last night that his belief was it won’t happen.
Not that he doesn’t want to be leader at some stage. Last night’s interview also was a reminder to colleagues that he was still active and on the ball. His “I won’t be silenced” declaration had nothing to do with anybody in Labor trying to shut him up. He was talking about taking the fight to the Coalition.
Remember, Mr Rudd is fighting for his own survival as an MP in Queensland where Labor’s support is dismal. Any fight for the leadership is secondary.
He is taking that fight up to LNP Premier Campbell Newman while at the same time endorsing Government policies, such as the Pacific Solution II. And he plans to be a constant campaigner for Labor.
Last night his message was, in the words of TEN’s Paul Bongiorno today: “Hi, I’m Kevin from China and I’m here to help.”
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