"Being a hater might sometimes help you win in politics. But you’ll lose at life."

“I need to make clear up front I’m neither a Gillard nor a Rudd fan…”

Like anyone remotely interested in politics, I couldn’t wait to watch The Killing Season,  ABC’s three part documentary about the Rudd/Gillard years that began last night.

Not because I thought I’d learn much more than I already knew about that period of government, albeit knowing it would be wonderful to watch the tenacious and deft Sarah Ferguson attempt to drag new admissions from the cast of this all too recent political mega-drama.

It’s more that I knew and still feel, that watching the key players reflect on those terrible years – Rudd and Gillard particularly – confirms what I already suspect is true about a) what makes a great ex politician and b) what makes any of us, politician or not, ultimately happy.

Rudd and Gillard during their time together. Via ABC.

I need to make clear up front I’m neither a Gillard nor a Rudd fan.

When Labor was in government I was conducting frequent discussion groups and I will forever, and always, see those two figures through the eyes of the voters chronically frustrated by the dashed hopes and lost opportunities and bungled attempts at communication. I’ve only met them both in passing and not recently, so all my observations here are based on what I’ve seen through the media and stories that people close to them have told me.

We love to trash our politicians. We always have and it has become a national obsession in the last few years. Frankly it’s an extremely difficult job and as difficult today as it has been since Federation. It’s interesting then to reflect on who survives politics best, who manages to remain happy while they are in the job and happy and productive when it’s all over.


Whatever new bits and pieces we learn from The Killing Season, it can’t be denied that both Gillard and Rudd behaved badly at times, made poor decisions and errors of judgement and committed, what could be described as, acts of betrayal. Both lost in the end.  But from what I can observe, it is Julia Gillard that seems to be managing life after politics far better than Kevin Rudd. He comes across as still angry. She wears any anger she might have pretty lightly. Perhaps it’s her sense of humour and her naturally sanguine view of political life.

“Gillard and Rudd behaved badly at times, made poor decisions and errors of judgement.” Via ABC.

The day Gillard was beaten by Rudd in the Labor caucus ballot, she got a call from former Prime Minister Paul Keating. He told her, “we all get taken out in a box, love”. She recognised the truth of that statement and has repeated it in interviews she has given. You’d have to be both supremely arrogant or utterly devoid of any appreciation of the random cruelty of existence to think you should somehow be totally in control of the way you get to exit – a relationship, a job, or even life itself.

Gillard and Rudd when Rudd was PM.

In a telling moment right at the beginning of the first episode, you can see that Rudd can’t even, when pressed, reflect on his own actions. Recalling the events that saw the shafting of Kim Beazley as Labor leader in 2006, Ferguson asks Rudd whether he had cause to remember that moment when he was himself dismissed as Labor leader. Rudd rejects the parallel strenuously. It was okay that he dispatched Kim Beazley, but Julia had no right to do that to him.

In a recent podcast Sarah Macdonald and I did on ‘a good divorce’, there was a common element to all the stories of ex-couples successfully managing life after a split. They had let go of anger and bitterness and stopped blaming the other person for their disappointments. You can listen here in iTunes and below on Soundcloud.


In research I’ve conducted with Australians aged in their 60s and 70s, I’ve encountered some of the happiest Australians I’ve ever met. The root cause of their happiness has not been their good fortune or lack of hard times. Rather it’s been their attitude to the bad, sometimes even terrible, things that have happened to them. In the end, they’ve been too busy travelling, hanging out with friends, taking up or perfecting hobbies and loving their grandkids to remember to be angry about things that have happened in the past.

The politicians and ex-politicians I’ve encountered that have remained happy and human in the job and beyond have retained their sense of humour (about themselves as much as anything), their perspective and been able to let go of bitterness.

Kevin Rudd talking about his Prime Minister years. Via ABC.

Look at a figure like Anna Bligh. She had an extremely tough time in politics and then a chaser of life-threatening cancer. But when I interviewed her for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, she was smiling, positive, generous and thankful. Her biography was almost devoid of negativity or score settling.
Or look at the respect and rapport that developed between the late great Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam, who managed to get over the Dismissal (arguably a more traumatic event that the Gillard coup) and form a friendship that lasted until the end of their magnificent lives.

Being a hater might sometimes help you win in politics. But you’ll lose at life.

Did you watch The Killing Season? 

For more on Gillard and Rudd… 

The six game-changing moments of The Killing Season.

Julia Gillard: “How I really feel about Kevin two years on.”

The email Julia Gillard sent Kevin Rudd, two days before she challenged the leadership.