Liberal election tacticians always reckoned they did well when they described Kim Beazley as having no ticker. The idea did settle in some minds that nice old Kim did not have the heart for the tough decisions that Prime Ministers are always confronted with. So perhaps it was a clumsy attempt to denigrate Kevin Rudd in a similar way that led to the leaking yesterday to the Nine Network’s Laurie Oakes details of the heart valve transplant that the Opposition Leader had 15 years ago.

Good and proper journalist that he is, Oakes is not disclosing who provided him with the medical evidence but he did indicate it came from someone on the Coalition side of politics. That suggests the motive was not to actually help the Labor Party campaign, but will it really hurt it?

That Mr Rudd did not mention his childhood bout of rheumatic fever to his authorised biographer Robert Macklin suggests he is a little sensitive about the consequences that made the heart operation necessary later in life but not talking about ailments is a common occurrence in men. Now that the matter has become public it is not as if there has been an embarrassed silence by Mr Rudd. On the contrary he has spoken freely and frankly about it and taken the opportunity to remind Australians that he was fit enough to recently walk the Kokoda Track. Previous attempts by the Government to denigrate Mr Rudd failed spectacularly. Australians clearly like the man and resent the personal attacks on him. Mr Rudd has cleverly appealed to this resentment in comments on radio this morning.

“But I must admit I was a bit surprised by this stuff yesterday – on someone apparently trawling through my personal medical records of 15 years ago to see if there was something that could have political advantage extracted out of them – I’m a bit puzzled by that”, he said on 3AW.

The Opposition Leader wisely left it to others in his party to speculate further about the motives. Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek, however, declared the attack on Mr Rudd’s health marked a new low in Australian politics. Ms Plibersek wants to know who released the information and says it is a disgraceful personal attack.

“Who is digging up this information? How have they found confidential medical records? Who has released them publicly? And who is behind this?” she said.

“We know that there is a Liberal Party dirt unit. It begs the question, what else are they going to dig up and who else will they attack next?”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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