It was a very quiet Kevin Rudd in question time yesterday as one of the truths about him was revealed for all to see. Behind the choir boy look and the holier-than-thou expression lies nothing more than another grubby politician.
Rudd was clearly embarrassed by his overtures to former WA Premier Brian Burke becoming public, and so he should be. By the time he was meeting Burke in Perth in 2005 it was well known within the Labor Party that the former Premier, who turned lobbyist after a spell in prison, was bad news.
But so warped was Rudd’s judgment, the judgment of a man desperate for political leadership, that he supped with a devil in the pursuit of a vote.
Coalition ministers had great fun drawing attention to Rudd’s courtship of Burke. Liberals and Nationals know that part of the attraction of the new Leader of the Opposition is the perpetual hope of voters that they will discover a leader who is different – a principled and visionary person standing well clear of the normal name calling and political maneuvering.
Those initial opinion poll findings putting Rudd on a pedestal and Labor on a handy lead reflect that hope more than any reality. The government’s task between now and election-day is to expose the alternative Prime Minister as being from just the same grubby mould as every other political leader.
The dalliance with Burke gave them a wonderful starting point and the Opposition Leader, perhaps wisely, decided he was on a hiding to nothing if he opened his mouth. So he stayed silent on the subject in the Parliament. Rudd left it to his colleague, the Labor Leader of the House Anthony Albanese, to try and deflect the attention in Question Time by throwing some muck of his own.
Albanese, of course, does not have the choir boy looks needed to disguise a blatantly political intent when he rises to ask parliamentary questions. If anything, his face on a television screen can be downright disconcerting.
But if he wants to continue in the role of Labor’s attack dog he should follow the example of the man he set out to sully. John Howard realised that people with bad teeth should not appear on television and had all his front ones capped two decades ago.
Viewers reflecting on why someone looks a little strange do not take in the words being uttered, so Albanese trying to suggest that Liberals associating with former WA Liberal Senator Noel Crichton Browne was somehow as bad as Rudd dealing with Burke would have influenced nobody. Prime Minister Howard, in any case, had the perfect riposte by recalling the successful efforts he made to have Burke’s minor lobbyist associate lose his preselection.
In a further attempt to disguise Rudd’s embarrassment, Albanese also raised the support that the Liberal Party has received in the past from the Exclusive Brethren. That was another lame effort at disguising an embarrassment, but it was probably not wise for Rudd to try and rescue himself by holding a press conference where he admitted that with 20:20 hindsight he wished he had not associated with Brian Burke.
That might have given the television news some vision to use other than the crooked Albanese smile, but it helped turn question time in to an even more interesting political spectacle.
Copping it sweet and saying nothing would have served him better. As Burke would no doubt tell him if he called again, politicians should never explain, never complain and never resign.