Well that got a little weird…
There were two Q and As last night. The first Q and A went for about 45 minutes and consisted of two intelligent politicians and two intelligent economists having a civilised policy discussion about Australia’s economic future. It made for a refreshing break in the political mudslinging and brought about a sense of wistfulness.
The second Q and A was about 20 minutes long and was a whole other kettle of fish. It could have done with a bit of mudslinging.
The two “elephants in the room”, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, went head-to-head on the Q and A panel last night, with Heather Ridout and Judith Sloan thrown in for some policy heft, presumably to keep the pollies honest.
While there may have been lots of nodding in the audience and cheering on Twitter about two politicians having a “real debate”, anyone honest would have to admit we were all there for the million dollar question.
It came in the strange form of this: “John Howard spent much time and effort convincing a sceptical nation and hostile opposition of the need to follow the leader. This is on such issues as the guns buyback, the GST tax reform and troops in Iraq. If you were given the opportunity for national leadership again, what controversial issues would you pursue?”
You could almost sense the collective craning of necks towards the screen.
Rudd started by making very, very clear, that the Labor leadership had been decided earlier this year and there was no chance he was coming back as leader - then went on to basically call Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott a sideshow joke and demand: “for God’s sake, what we need in this country is a mature, national conversation about policy options for the nation’s future around a common vision for where we want to be in 2010, 2020, 2030, 2040.”
[Later Rudd declared Tony Abbott was Labor’s biggest asset - an assertion that must have thrilled Julia Gillard, whose name Rudd still couldn’t’ bring himself to utter].
But that wasn’t the weird bit. Turnbull brought that to the table.
“Well, unlike Kevin, and this is where there is a bit of a difference between us, regrettably for him and I think regrettably for him and I think regrettably for his party and for the country, while I won’t be the leader of the Liberal Party and certainly not the next Liberal prime minister, if the Liberal Party is elected to government next time I will be part of the collective leadership that is the Coalition cabinet. And so those people who say they’d rather I was the leader of my party or Kevin the leader of his and apparently there are a handful that do, those people know that if they vote Liberal and Tony Abbott becomes prime minister, I will be part of his team influential at the cabinet table involved part of that collective leadership. (Applause) Regrettably, if they are Kevin fanciers and they nonetheless vote Labor and Julia Gillard becomes prime minister, Kevin, to the loss of his party, and I think to the loss of the country, will re main not so enigmatically on the backbench.”
The love in the room was palpable.
See the difference between egos such as those belonging to Rudd and Turnbull and those smaller versions the rest of us carry, is that most people would at least pretend to be embarrassed when discussing how terribly popular one is with voters.
Not these two. They didn’t bat an eye.
As the discussion got deeper into the virtues of Kevin and Malcolm both men found their inner Ocker. Rudd kept calling the Libs “you blokes”, while Turnbull christened the ALP “your mob”. At one point there a ruling was made over the use of the word “poleaxed” in relation to both men’s leadership demises.
It was audience member Saeed who got to the bottom of the evening with this observation disguised as a question: “I have a question for Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull. You two have a lot in common, you both are moderate, wealthy, and not very popular in your own parties but very popular among people. Many Labor voters are very disillusioned with the influence of the factions and unions. Many Liberal voters are disappointed with the influence of big business and the far right ring - right wing. Why don’t you two join and establish a new party that can open a new chapter in politics in Australia?”
That’s it! Malcolm and Kevin are such big fans of each other because when they look at the other man they see themselves in a different striped tie.
The questioned opened the way for Rudd’s single genuinely funny joke of the night: “Malcolm and I could never agree on the leadership”.
It also opened the way for Tony Jones to outright call Rudd a liar by declaring that he (nor anybody else) believed Rudd when he said he’d given up any hope of a return to The Lodge.
It was all quite strange.
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