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Why we ALL need to talk about Kevin.

We ALL need to talk about Kevin.

By CHRISTINE JACKMAN

Every so often, politics throws up a spectacle so poignant it takes you back to your childhood.

Witnessing the federal Labor Party this week wrestle this with the prospect of making nice with Kevin Rudd has been one of them. For me, anyway.

Let me explain. Growing up in Queensland in the 1970s, our annual family holiday involved a long drive through the backblocks of the Sunshine Coast to what was then a tiny village called Noosa Heads. Luxury was cloth seat covers in the back of the old Mazda to stop the skin on your thighs melting into the vinyl; air-conditioning was controlled by winding down the window; and entertainment was when Dad finally turned off the cassette of Camelot he’d borrowed from the local library.

Good times. Until the year our parents ambushed us with the last-minute news a cousin – we’ll call her Mary-Jane – was coming with us as a guest. We had many cousins, but Mary-Jane was not one we knew well, and my brother, sister and I were ungracious, to say the least.

After a great deal of whining and outright hostility as we packed the car, Dad lined us up along the old station wagon and announced: “You will talk to Mary-Jane. You will play with Mary-Jane. You will be nice to Mary-Jane. And if you do not, you will be beaten.”

Back then, parents were encouraged to be eclectic in their choice of discipline options. And I’m not talking “naughty step” versus “reward ladder”. Dad and his belt, thong or fly swat tended to focus the mind.

Christine Jackman

Which gets me back to the Labor Party, whose minds have definitely been focused by the unexpected announcement of an election date (just seven months now, folks!). And while nobody is wielding a belt, the prospect of being beaten ferociously is very real, if they don’t start talking, playing and being nice to Kevin Rudd.

And so, in the last few days, four cabinet ministers have done exactly what we did that day behind the Mazda. We sucked it up and got ready to make the best of a long, uncomfortable journey with stilted conversation and bad music (have you ever heard a campaign jingle that wasn’t tragic?) in the hope that the destination would make it all worthwhile.

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Anthony Albanese, Simon Crean, and Stephen Conroy have all been MPs long enough to know that, even if you really don’t like the people you’re working with in government, it’s still a whole lot better than working with them in Opposition. The pay’s better too.

Hence Simon Crean, who this time last year was accusing Rudd of being “disloyal” and driving the party’s primary vote down, took to the airwaves to declare the former prime minister was actually an “asset” to the party who could provide “a fantastic boost to our fortunes”. News Ltd outlets even reported that Crean thought Rudd should be “bottled”.

One assumes he didn’t mean in an airtight jar.

Bill Shorten liked the “asset” tag so much he also began using it, although a cynic could argue Shorten, one of the so-called faceless men who engineered the palace coup against Rudd in 2010, has other motivations. Widely tipped as a future leader himself, Shorten may have looked at recent polls suggesting a big swing against Labor under Gillard, and decided Rudd might at least stem the electoral blood loss enough to ensure there is still a party left to lead, when Shorten is ready to take the mantle.

Only Greg Combet failed to get with the program when asked directly whether the government needed to find a bigger role for Rudd. Confronted on breakfast TV by an ABC interviewer who highlighted Rudd’s recent high-profile outings, Combet looked like his WeetBix had suddenly given him indigestion.

“Can I just say, so what if he’s done all those things,” Combet pouted.

That sort of petulance would have been a thong-able offence back in our day, Mr Combet.

Someone turn up Camelot so no one hears the beating.

Christine Jackman is a freelance journalist, author and social commentator with more than 20 years experience – including a stint in Canberra as part of the federal press gallery. She is author of the book about last election campaign, Inside Kevin07’ and has been a Walkleys and News Awards finalist. Christine has also received a Voiceless Media Award and the Medecins Australia Health Writer of the Year award.

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