politics

“It's the scarring of a person’s life”. Kevin Rudd on the brutal process behind a leadership spill.

June 24, 2010. Most Australians would remember the scene that played out in the courtyard of Parliament House on that cold, Canberra day. Kevin Rudd, the first victim of what would become a cascade of back-door coups, fronted the media after being ousted from the country’s top job.

Flanked by his wife, Thérèse Rein, and their three children, a formidable and, some have argued, temperamental man stood blinking back tears, fighting against the lump in his throat as he eulogised his own Prime Ministership.

It’s a scene that’s played out three times since. Gillard. Abbott. Turnbull.

But while the political fallout from these swift and savage spills has been dissected in great detail in newspapers and across dinner tables, there’s another element to the fallout. The human element.

Speaking to Mia Freedman on Mamamia’s No Filter podcast, Kevin Rudd shared what happened after he walked away from the harsh light of the cameras that winter afternoon.

“It’s a very physical process,” the 61-year-old said. “The great reminder of political mortality are the cleaners. You know you’ve left office when suddenly cleaners arrive at your office to clear you out.

“In my case, after Gillard’s coup, she had her staff inspecting the office within an hour of the vote to work out who would go into which office – and this was before she was sworn in – and we were told we had to be out by the end of the day.”

To hear Mia and Kevin’s full chat, listen below…

His team.

By ‘we’, he means his own team. Forty three of them.

“All of these staff have lives. They have, in many cases, family, and they all lose their jobs. So Thérèse and myself then went into immediate counselling mode with 43 staff, many of whom don’t have somewhere else to go, and [we were] trying to support them into new employment,” he said.

“We tried to find positions for them with other ministers who remain friends of ours, or in the private sector or wherever. You have a pastoral responsibility.”

His family.

Rudd describes his family as a “tight knit bunch”, all open with other about how they are feeling. And there was no hiding that when they watched their husband, their father so publicly deposed.

Thérèse, Jessica, Nicholas and Marcus cried with him after the vote, they stood beside him at the press conference. What happened to him happened to them, too. They were all uprooted, wounded.

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“These were really hard and difficult days. Look, I’m the son of a dairy farmer, and so it was not within my living experience to think that I was going to be personally exposed across the country as a result of my father’s success or failure as a dairy farmer,” Rudd said. “Being Prime Minister is absolutely different, so it’s way outside of my kind of experience league to understand the vicarious pain which kids feel.”

Video via Channel 10

Then there were the practicalities, the logistics of it all.

“We had brought our 15-year-old Marcus, our youngest guy, to Canberra – interrupted his high-schooling in Brisbane. He is therefore, by this stage, in year 11/12 and we’re supposed to rip him out again to take him back to Brisbane?” Rudd said.

“We end up saying no, we’ve got to find rented accommodation in Canberra – within a week – so that he’s got somewhere to be, so he’s still at school. [You] throw all your stuff into storage somewhere, and maintain a sense of public dignity and private dignity.”

Himself.

Though he talks a lot about his staff’s feelings, his family’s feelings, Rudd mentions little of his own. He doesn’t use words like hurt or angry or ashamed. But ‘betrayed’? That comes up often.

Rudd never sought professional help – “I’m a bloke,” he joked. But in truth, he said, he foresaw the headlines: ‘Prime Minister consults shrink’. Instead, he said he was aided by his wife, a trained psychologist.

“I think to be fair to decent women and men in political life of our country – Liberal, Labor or Calathumpian – there does need to be professional services offered to those dealing with the psychology of loss,” he said.

“In fact, what you get from the Labor Party is a kick up the bum.”

In the wake of it all, when he’s watched the subsequent spills (one of which he was responsible for – the ousting of his ouster, Gillard, in 2013) what he sees is not the machinations of fickle, fearful MPs, but “the scarring of a person’s life”.

“I know it’s not fashionable to talk about our concern for the psychological well-being of Prime Ministers, but you know something?” he said. “If you want these folks to lead the country, or if you want cabinets to lead the country, or members of parliament, reducing them to a piece of psychological roadkill is probably not the best way ahead.”

Kevin Rudd’s book, The PM Years, is available now. Pan Macmillan. RRP$44.99.

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