Paul Keating was lamenting the other day the way that he and Labor’s other recent prime minister Bob Hawke had been “put out to grass” by the current Labor leadership, and there was further evidence at the weekend that Kevin Rudd is quite happy to criticise the behaviour of his predecessors.
It’s true that this latest attack by Rudd was not open and forthright, but disguised as a criticism of Liberal Prime Minister John Howard. But the upshot will be to tarnish the reputation of Hawke and Keating.
The current Opposition Leader, in his well-practised role playing the politician who is holier than thou, seized on weekend newspaper reports that PM Howard had used his official residence at Kirribilli to entertain businessmen who had paid for the privilege.
“Can I say on that”, Rudd told Meet the Press, “when it comes to Kirribilli, when you have reports today that Mr Howard is using Kirribilli as a fundraising facility for the Liberal Party, I’ve got to say in the future I don’t think that’s the go, when it comes to The Lodge or Kirribilli, these are part of the national estate. They should not be used for party-political fundraising purposes. I just don’t think it’s right.”
No doubt when Howard is asked about this in Parliament this week he will take great delight in giving details of the uses to which his Labor predecessors put Kirribilli. From my own experience, Bob Hawke as prime minister was not averse to using the beautiful views over Sydney Harbour to reward donors to party campaign funds.
It might not have been so crass a process as selling admission tickets, but the end result of a jolly night’s entertaining was invariably a collection of cheques to help with campaign expenses.
The subject of Rudd’s criticism was a relatively tame affair where delegates to the Liberal Party Federal Conference, plus those lobbyists and business representatives who had paid a few thousand to listen to the boring conference debates, were rewarded with a drink or two at the official residence.
Howard, sensitive to the charge of using the public purse for party purposes, went so far as to put out a press release saying “the cost of the event, as arranged prior to the Federal Council, will be met by the Liberal Party, not the taxpayer”.