Kevin Rudd’s departure from Parliament closes a chapter on the bitterness of the Rudd-Gillard years, a time that started with such great promise of a new generation of Labor leaders. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Laura Tingle, Political Editor
No-one has yet discovered an ideal way for a leader vanquished at an election to quit the stage.
It is tempting for some to just to walk away on the night. For others there is still that sense of unfinished business. The flicker of an ambition so mighty for so long that is such a hard habit to break.
Then there is the tricky problem of by-elections to be considered. Our electoral system doesn’t take kindly to people running for election, then walking away when they win
Finally, there is something to be said for returning to the Parliament to say your goodbyes. John Howard didn’t get the chance. Paul Keating chose not to do so in defeat, refusing to return to a theatre he had so dominated during his career.
Now Kevin Rudd has said another farewell, three and a half years after he was first unceremoniously removed from the prime ministership.
The former PM’s announcement on Wednesday night was both emotional and graceful. And it was met by a rare equal moment of bipartisan grace in the parliament from the leaders on both sides who have, one way or another, replaced him
His timing meant his departure did not overshadow the start of a new political era with the opening of the 44th Parliament on Tuesday. Nor did it interfere with both sides of politics setting down their early markers in the parliamentary battle on Wednesday.
But there was nonetheless a sour note tainting his departure: the vitriol directed against him after the election from his own side.
Rudd may have behaved over the years in ways that some of his colleagues found unforgivable. But the attacks on him, and the violence of the calls on him to leave the parliament, within days and weeks of a tough election battle, lacked much in the way of any redeeming grace.
He was a leader who had after all brought Labor back from the political wilderness in 2007, spearheaded an ambitious reform agenda and helped ‘save the furniture’ in 2013.
A party with a long history of glorifying its defeats, and deifying its leaders, seems to have lost the touch for looking after all of its recent leaders with style.
Rudd’s departure closes a chapter on the bitterness of the Rudd-Gillard years, a time that started, not all that long ago, with such great promise as a partnership of a new generation of Labor leaders.
In less than a decade, those figures are almost all gone and Labor is once again remaking itself.
The by-election for Kevin Rudd’s seat will test Labor’s reserves of fight.
The former prime minister saw off a tough challenge from Liberal candidate Bill Glasson on September 7 and the ALP is likely to go into the rematch pessimistic about its chances both at a local level and with the carbon issue still on the table.
But fight it must, and use the opportunity to sharpen its attack on the Coalition on the carbon issue.
The Australian Financial Review