Susan Wood interviews Barrie Cassidy
One of his own Labor MPs called him a 'psychopath with a giant ego', but despite that, Kevin Rudd has been reinstalled as Australian Prime Minister, reclaiming the job he lost to Julia Gillard three years ago. Since then, he's been accused of continually undermining her leadership and destabilising the government there. But Ms Gillard herself was not without faults. Earlier I spoke to Barrie Cassidy, host of the ABC's political show Insiders and asked him what it was that made her so deeply unpopular.
BARRIE CASSIDY - ABC 'Insiders'
Julia Gillard wasn't a particularly good communicator. She wasn't particularly good at political strategy. She probably irritated rather than inspired a lot of people, and it may be an indictment on modern politics, but all of that mattered. She didn't have much support in the media. In fact, parts of the media were hostile towards her. And so in the end, the polling was dragged down to a point where Kevin Rudd was able to say that they faced a catastrophic outcome. But I think the other factor that can't be ignored is that virtually for the entire three years that she was prime minister, she faced two Opposition leaders, not one. The formidable Tony Abbott and, of course, Kevin Rudd, who was determined from the moment that he lost the leadership to both seek revenge and to return to what he felt was properly his.
SUSAN Just how damaging do you think that Rudd undermining slowly, slowly over the years was?
BARRIE The Rudd conversation never left, and it started in the 2010 election campaign. Julia Gillard went into that campaign with a lead of 55-45 in the two party preferred vote. And then there were leaks. Some of accused Kevin Rudd directly of that, but certainly his supporters, and those leaks undermined her efforts. Kevin Rudd came back into the conversation. That big lead evaporated overnight and she was forced into minority government. And then ever since, there are examples. You only need to look at the polls. Whenever she looked like she was recovering in the polls, suddenly Rudd became the topic of conversation again, and that advantage disappeared. Look, there's no doubt that it was a corrosive element. Disunity is death in politics, and for whatever reason, Rudd supporters ensured that that was constantly the case.
SUSAN Rudd's personality - much made of it and the less pleasant side of it. One of his own MPs, Steve Gibbins, says Rudd is a 'psychopath with a giant ego'. What do you make of that description?
BARRIE It was backed up by the views of others. Look, at the time when Kevin Rudd was replaced in the leadership, not a lot was said, and I think that was to the detriment, because the country was left confused. Why did you just overnight take the prime minister out? And then when he challenged later on in the process, they went public, and they really unloaded on him. But the fact is that at the time when he was prime minister, he didn't consult properly. He either abused or ignored most of them. It wasn't a question, as he has since said, that he didn't praise them enough. It wasn't praise that they wanted. They just simply didn't like the abuse. He ran a chaotic office. He was just disorganised. One of the ministers who refused to work with him this time around now that he's back said that he just couldn't go through that process again. He simply couldn't yet again experience the idea of going out and saying something one day and then being told overnight that he'd have to change the rhetoric, if not the policy.
SUSAN Any of that likely to change? The leopard likely to change his spots this time around?
BARRIE Well, he says he will, and he says he's going to consult, certainly consult more. But as he says that, he apologises on the one hand, then makes excuses for it on the other, he said... but then again, back in 2007 and beyond, there was a little thing called the Global Financial Crisis. The banks were going under. It needed urgent action. But nevertheless, 'I will consult more. I will make sure that I bring all of the ministers in the party into the process.' So, look, he will surely have learnt and whether just rhetorically at least he'll make changes. He just simply can't afford to operate as he used to.
SUSAN He has personality issues, but Tony Abbott has a whole lot of issues of his own, doesn't he?
BARRIE Look, Tony Abbott is not popular with the electorate, and that's the situation that is now being broken, in a sense, and what makes the next election now so much more intriguing, because the polls indicated that the public didn't like either choice. They didn't like the idea of voting for either Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott. Now they have a choice. Tony Abbott is an interesting character. He's a very, very effective Opposition leader. He prosecuted the case against Kevin Rudd really well when Kevin Rudd was leader, and he's done a very good job on Julia Gillard. But in the process, he's seen as Mr Negative, Dr No. And now I think he's going to be forced back…in the last six months or so, he was starting to turn that around, he was starting to talk more positively about policy. Now he's got a new leader to deal with again, and he may be forced back into that negativity that he wanted to avoid.
SUSAN So the polls, of course, are a big part of the reason that Julia Gillard was taken out, if you like. One snap poll already just in the past few days showing a big jump for Labor. Are you expecting them to get closer, to narrow?
BARRIE Yeah, we have to be careful about those polls, because when Kevin Rudd's name is put into the process, it's hypothetical. Conservative voters might play around with that and just be a bit mischievous. But they did suggest that it's 50/50 with Kevin Rudd in the leadership. Let's see what the reality is. But that also assumes a seamless transition. It hasn't been too bad, but at least six senior ministers have walked. That's not seamless, and, apart from that, it assumes that the honeymoon period will go all the way through to the election. Now, Kevin Rudd's a great campaigner. I don't write it off, and I don't discount…in fact, it's conceivable that he could actually win the thing, which would be remarkable, given where Labor is right at the moment. But at the very least, he will save a lot more seats than was in prospect with Julia Gillard in the leadership.
SUSAN What does it mean for NZ? We know that Kevin Rudd prefers the bigger countries, the United States, China. So what does it mean for us sitting here?
BARRIE You're not as big as United States and China, so you won't get the attention. Look, that is true. There was some criticism of Kevin Rudd when he was Foreign Minister and the way that he handled or virtually ignored the Pacific. He does have this tendency to think big. He thinks UN, he thinks China, he thinks the United States, and countries like NZ, even the smaller countries like Fiji and Papua New Guinea, don't get a look in. Julia Gillard, on the other hand, I know that it went over well in NZ and the way that she responded to some of your wretched luck with some natural disasters. But she also won the hearts of Australians, because I think she expressed what Australians were feeling. She sort of got the Anzac spirit. I'm not sure that Kevin Rudd is in that same mindset.
SUSAN What are you picking for the timing of the election?
BARRIE I don't think it will be early. Look, if he gets an immediate poll that shows a remarkable result, then maybe he'd be tempted to go straightaway. But I think he'd be comfortable with stretching it out to maybe October. There's a G20 meeting at St Petersburg in early September. He'd love to be there. He'd love to be rubbing shoulders with Barack Obama and Putin and Cameron and the rest of them, and it would look good back home. That would require, I think, Parliament sitting again, but I don't think he'd be too afraid of that. He's got some policy changes he wants to make. He wants to highlight some of those. So I would be thinking sometime in October.