This was the day when Kevin Rudd quit parliament. Kevin has left the building! In Canberra it has been quite a distraction. There have been emotional speeches, which is what you’d expect from politicians who make attention-seeking a profession. Today is as big a landmark as Rudd was unique and memorable as a Prime Minister of Australia, and I’m sure many will regard today as a sad day. I’m not wasting a lot pity on a leader who has failed to show moral and practical leadership in such important ways after previously demonstrating that he could do better. Rudd knew the utter importance of climate change, but he stunned the nation when he yielded to pressure from his party in 2010 and dumped his ETS plan into the too-hard basket. Rudd reversed John Howard’s temporary protection visa policy in 2008 and it looked as though we had a leader with the moral courage to treat asylum-seekers like humans, but a few years down the line in 2013 Rudd was one side of the “race to the bottom” with the execrable Tony Abbott to put in place the most punitive and illegal set of refugee policies. Rudd was Australia’s Foreign Minister at CHOGM 2011 in Perth, welcoming at least one war criminal as a valued guest in our country. It was enough to make any right-thinking person retch. I didn’t vote for Rudd or his party in any federal election that I can remember, including his landslide victory in 2007. As a rule I don’t vote for major political parties. My attitude towards things that are very popular is that they must be rubbish if they are simple enough for the common fool in the street to find them appealing. This attitude of mine applies equally to Hollywood movies, major political parties, number one hit tunes and the popular image of Kevin Rudd.
But that’s not to say that I’m not sad to see Rudd go. It seems a waste and Rudd made politics interesting for me in various ways. Life under the Rudd Government was interesting because things happened and changes were made. Rudd was constantly announcing something new on the box. For too many years to recall I’ve been of the opinion that politicians don’t realty alter the course of history terribly much, at least in any positive way. I see current and historical events as largely driven by population demographics and technological innovation. This is why I think Rudd was extraordinary as a leader, because I believe that if someone less determined, intelligent and perceptive had been our leader during the GFC Australia would have been f***ed. Another thing that I liked about Rudd was the way he presented himself as a public figure. He is a highly intelligent person and he has never pretended to be otherwise. He wrote essays in an authoritative voice about important policy matters and moral issues and secured their publication in a magazine that anyone could buy from a suburban newsagency. He showed off his linguistic talents in public speeches. He owned up to being a “nerd” but he never apologized for being one (refusing to apologize for stuff was quite a habit of Rudd’s). Unlike so many intellectually gifted people he did not yield to pressure to “hide his light under a bushel”.
I’m sure that many would agree that Rudd was an interesting public figure. Even though Rudd had an intense manner of speaking which appeared to be the product of genuine sentiments his political motives were far from obvious, and were the subject of controversial speculation. The psychobiographical essay about Rudd by biographer and journalist David Marr was identified as a factor that possibly led to Rudd’s 2010 removal as ALP leader and PM. At various times one gets the impression that Rudd’s biography and his internal world are obscured, different, difficult to interpret or painfully transparent. We know what a quivering chin means in a regular person, but what are we to make of the Rudd chin twitch? Watching Rudd can be rather like watching a squid in the sea; those dramatic ripples of ever-changing colours surely mean something about what the squid is thinking or feeling, but a squid is such a vastly different kind of creature that we can only guess about what the colours signify. I’m left with (we are left with) so many unanswered questions about our former two-times Prime Minister. Are our questions any less or more likely to be answered now?
I’ve have some consolation that one of the questions about Rudd which most bothered me has recently been answered by a snippet of information found in a magazine. Some time in 2011 I started to realize that there is something visually interesting about Rudd’s eyes during press conferences. For quite a while I couldn’t identify exactly what it was, I just felt that I was looking at something unusual or extreme. In some photos of Rudd his eyes were clearly a drab pale grey colour. In others it looked like his eyes were dark. How is that possible? The colour of the irises cannot change. Once I figured it out it was so obvious. It was the pupils. The more convoluted, clever and pressured Rudd’s answers to the interrogations from a roomful of journalists the bigger his pupils became, one always more than the other. At times Rudd reminded me of a pet cat in a furious mood. I compared Rudd’s eyes with those of other pollies and celebrities in press conferences and I saw nothing similar. I hoped these eyes weren’t a sign of some health issue, medication side-effect or drug habit, but I thought it more likely that it was just a sign that Rudd is a bit of an outlier in the way he is put together. Then I read in a magazine article that “it’s been known since the 1960s that the pupil dilates with mental effort”. That made sense. Rudd’s massive mydriasis was due to massive mental effort in situations which were the ultimate challenge of thinking on one’s feet. Rudd’s experience of public speaking can be traced back to his schooldays. He can converse in at least three languages. Perhaps he is an athlete of talking, a jock of the jawbone, with his cavernous pupils the equivalent of sweat on the brow of a champion runner. I think it is quite telling that the pupils of so many other politicians don’t appear to do a thing when they are making speeches or doing press conferences. Are they thinking or are they merely reciting a set of speaking points? Rudd was different. You could literally watch him thinking when he spoke. The fact that his speeches were impossible to follow didn’t seem to matter much, it was just nice to see a bit of cognition in action. I don’t expect to see it again for a very long time.
That was one question about Rudd answered, but I have so many more. I’ll never have the opportunity to interview Rudd, but if I did, these are the questions that I’d ask.
Do you believe that non-Christians are inferior people or morally inferior?
Do you believe that atheists are inferior people or morally inferior?
According to a report released in 2011 Australia ranked 21st out of 29 OECD countries in employment participation rates for those with a disability. Since the 1980s your wife Therese Rein has been the principal of an Australia-based rehabilitation and welfare to work business which has grown into an international empire, and she is very wealthy. Does your wife accept any personal responsibility for the deplorable rate of employment of disabled Australians?
Do you believe that Hazara people and the Tamil people are only coming to Australia as economic refugees?
Was June 2010 a surprise?
It seems as though Christians are over-represented as Prime Ministers of Australia. Can you explain this?
What is your definition of the term “evidence-based”?
What do you think of Julia Gillard as a person?
What do you think were her motivations as a politician?
What do you think of Bob Hawke as a person?
What do you think of Julian Assange as a public figure?
What do you think of the late H. V. Evatt as a politician?
What’s with the planes?
Three hours sleep a night? How is that possible?
Do you use drugs to enhance cognition, promote alertness or to stay awake?
Do you use memory techniques?
Do you use memory techniques?
What’s with the shoes? Do you have an issue with shoelaces?
Does she smile 24/7?
What colour is the letter E?