A simple enough request I would have thought – asking for a list of members of Team Rudd – but too difficult to be handled by the Opposition press office this morning. Perhaps they are all craving anonymity after being publicly blamed by their lord and master who told the National Press Club yesterday that “on the question of media relations, I think generally we got this wrong in recent times and I’m the first one to admit that.”
Kevin Rudd now promises to “turn a new leaf and get it right” but that clearly does not include letting a humble Crikey scribe know the names of those who work for him. So apologies if I leave someone important off the list of the staff who failed to warn their leader about the dangers of the Sunrise Anzac Day stunt.
Top of the queue we must put the senior media man Walt Secord who has years of experience in manipulating public opinion on behalf of a nerdish boss. Secord worked for NSW Premier Bob Carr and starred in that wonderful character assassination which saw an Education Minister traduce the reputation of a schoolboy for having a gun when it turned out not to be true. He is the hard man in the team and works the press gallery efficiently enough.
When it comes to a threat or two there is no beating Lachlan Harris, a lawyer from Sydney who also learned his politics in the delicate school of the NSW Branch of the ALP. Harris joined the staff of front bencher Robert McClelland before moving on to help the shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan who in turn lent him to a new Opposition Leader. The bully boy style was illustrated perfectly in Alan Ramsey’s column of a few weeks ago detailing conversations with staff of the Sydney Sun Herald who dared to run a story questioning the Rudd version of leaving his childhood farm. It is worth reading this excellent piece to get the flavour of the true character of those who advise the quietly spoken and scholarly Labor Leader. This extract will give you the flavour:
Walsh began phoning Rudd’s staff at 8.15am. She tracked down Alister Jordan and told him what their story was. The paper wanted Rudd’s response, she said. She emailed Jordan a list of questions. But it was Harris who phoned 90 minutes later, “ranting like a lunatic”. Her “insulting” questions were “disgusting” and “impugned Kevin’s integrity”. “How dare” she ask them. “Are you calling him a liar?” And “Kevin’s going to hit the roof”. He was “so disgusted”, Harris said, he wouldn’t discuss it any longer. With that, he hung up. Three hours later, about 1pm, Harris phoned Walsh back in “the same feral, belligerent mood”. He went through a detailed time line of Rudd’s recall after his father’s death in February 1969. However, it was non-attributable, “on deep background only”. And if the paper decided to publish, knowing what they were being told, “we will regard it is a deliberate malicious assault” on Rudd. If this happened, “we’ll have 100 people ready to roll tomorrow morning to trash you and your paper.
As you contemplate Mr Rudd’s comments on 60 Minutes last Sunday that he has never knowingly told a lie, consider this AAP report that appeared after the Ramsey column.
Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has denied trying to suppress an embarrassing newspaper article which questioned his account of being evicted from his home after his father’s death. Mr Rudd said he had simply put his view to the newspaper and that was included in the article. Asked if he and his staff had applied pressure to the newspaper editor in a bid to stop publication, Mr Rudd replied: “Not at all.”
Still learning these finer points of press relations is Fiona Sugden who handles much of the routine work of protecting her man as he wheels in an out of radio stations around the country.
Apparently at the top of the staff pyramid is Simon Banks who came via a job managing government relations for the transport firm Toll. Banks was once chief of staff to former Labor leader Simon Crean and deputy chief of staff to former leader Mark Latham. He also served as an adviser on legal and communications policy for Labor frontbenchers Robert McClelland, Stephen Smith and Nick Bolkus. At least he will know what it is like to work under pressure.
Banks replaced Alister Jordan as chief of staff, with Jordan, with Rudd for five years, becoming the senior political adviser. His first taste of political life came as an adviser to Queensland Labor MP Ronan Lee.
The one who publicly carried the can by being named for not passing on all the information to Rudd about the Long Tan service was personal secretary Mary Mawhinney. That seems a little unfair as if she was the only one who knew about the plans something is gravely wrong with the way Team Rudd is organised. An event like that would surely have involved the press staff in its planning.
The former ABC presenter Maxine McKew, hired as a special adviser on strategy, can probably be absolved from blame for she is spending most of her time as a candidate for the seat of Bennelong rather than as a staff member. Providing the advice to Mr Rudd is largely the job of his principal national security adviser Peter Khalil and the senior economics adviser Tim Dixon, a former privacy law specialist who writes economics textbooks for schools. Khalil, a 34-year-old Australian-educated Middle East analyst, is a former diplomat who came to Canberra from a research post in Washington. Mr Rudd’s former foreign policy adviser, Kate Callaghan, who was seconded in 2005 from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, stays as a senior adviser.
Advising on social policy is Michael Lye, who has spent the past few years as social policy director in the Queensland Premier’s Department. Mr Lye was long-time adviser to Labor’s federal shadow treasurer Wayne Swan.