WORKING IN KEVIN’S “DUNGEON”
Many of us can recall when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister and jovially liked to refer to his office as “Stalag Kevin”.
He was being urged by his parliamentary colleagues to relax his workaholic ways.
I ran into then Labor MP, Maxine McKew at Parliament House and asked her what it was like to work for Mr. Rudd.
She grimaced. “It’s like being kept in a dungeon,” she replied.
I recall the fleeting exchange precisely, (but not the date, unfortunately) because it confirmed what others had told me.
I had found myself sitting next to Labor MPs at various functions during the Rudd regime and had heard pretty much the same thing – that he was a micro-manager who was loathe to give those he worked with responsibility. Many were forbidden to speak publicly about their own portfolios, and that this was leading to great dissatisfaction with the ranks.
I haven’t read Ms. McKew’s book Tales From the Political Trenches but I will be interested to see if she details her time working for PM Rudd and the frustration she felt back then.
A quick look back at stories from early PM Rudd days and you come up with many that detail his obsessive work ethic.
In 2008 Fairfax said he had “reportedly churned through half his staff since coming to power in November. He has lost six diary secretaries in as many months.”
“Federal government ministers, staff and unions have reportedly told Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to relax his workaholic attitudes and huge expectations or risk a political backlash.
“Mr Rudd’s biggest concern is a brewing public service revolt. The Commonwealth Public Sector Union (CPSU) – representing more than 60,000 federal employees and hundreds of political staff – is preparing for a showdown over conditions, including longer hours.”
It’s a distant echo of a quote from Ms. McKew’s book: ”Gillard exercises top-down control over her office. Her forensic attention to detail sets her apart and her careful planning of every career move is legendary.
“I remembered some of my own experiences working in her office. A speech I’d prepared for a Sydney Institute presentation in 2009 was vetted and parsed by three separate Gillard staffers before I was ‘allowed’ to deliver it. Nothing happened without Gillard’s say-so,” she writes.
Which makes me wonder whether this “top-down control” is something that is perhaps part and parcel of the whole job of being PM, or whether the ALP has been just unlucky enough to strike two control freaks in succession.
Ms. McKew was an ABC journalist before winning the seat of Bennelong for Labor at the 2007 election, defeating John Howard. Ms. McKew served as Parliamentary Secretary for Early Chilhood Education and Childcare and later as Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. She lost the seat at the 2010 election.
There is no doubt in my mind that we didn’t hear enough from the talented Ms.McKew during her time as an MP. There was many a story doing the rounds that she may have expected a more prominent role for her toppling of the then Prime Minister, John Howard.
For whatever reason, it wasn’t to be. Perhaps in her new book we shall find out why.
As a journalist, Ms. McKew wrote a regular column for the Bulletin in which she interviewed prominent and powerful Australians. The Australian Financial Review called her “one of the top ten exercisers of covert power in Australia.” She was skilled in eliciting details that perhaps some wished they hadn’t revealed.
She is quoted as saying: ”People have a nervous collapse when I’ve actually broken through and got someone to say something honest. It is either regarded as a gaffe, or people say they must have been drunk, or publicly musing aloud, or they didn’t realise the tape was running, or I must have had oral sex with them under the table. I find it absurd.”
So there is no doubt that there are revelations aplenty to come.
Many will ask of Ms.McKew’s assertion that Julia Gillard was a “disloyal deputy” and “conspirator” in the coup that brought her to power: “why now”?
Some will see the hand of Kevin Rudd at play here. But I always think of that exchange with Ms. McKew and wonder, if there is an alliance between them, how she got over her dissatisfaction of having him for a boss?
That’s politics, I guess.
More than that, I wonder whether Australians (those who are not in the Press Gallery) have an appetite for raking over the machinations of what transpired during those turbulent days when Ms. Gillard came to power?
Perhaps it will be just more evidence that most of us just don’t have the “ticker” for it all.
*Cover image via News Ltd.