Perhaps it would have been nicer if we had not learned about it, but Kevin Rudd serving meals at a Canberra homeless centre on Boxing Day was consistent with the views of a man whose Christianity appears real and deeply felt. Our Prime Minister went off to perform his act of charity without any accompanying cameras and I don’t know whether the references that did appear in the press at the time were planted by his staff, but I prefer to think they were just inevitable disclosures when a prominent person does something in a small city. However, that we got to know of it does not change my admiration for a leader who practices what he preaches.

For the record, I’ve seen the happy snap taken by someone at the centre as proof that Australia actually did have a Prime Minister who could stand the heat in the kitchen.

This Labor Leader really has performed admirably during his first months in office. He has shown the enthusiasm Australians hoped for in a new Prime Minister without a trace of arrogant recklessness. The experience of working as the chief aide to Wayne Goss when he became the new Labor Messiah in Queensland back in the 1990s has clearly helped Kevin Rudd avoid the kind of mistakes that are common when a party takes the reins of government after a long time in opposition.

It would be hard to fault Mr Rudd’s priorities since he won the election. Perhaps going to the climate change conference in Bali was not what a Prime Minister would normally choose to do, but Mr Rudd turned that into an opportunity to show the head of government of Indonesia, our closest neighbour, the importance which Australia under his administration will continue to put on good relations. Calling in on East Timor on the same trip was another impeccably correct decision, as was paying respect to Aboriginal leaders in the Northern Territory by meeting with them on the way home.

Having the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark to an informal lunch at his Brisbane home was another act of an Australian Prime Minister who understands the region where our country’s best interests really lie.

The pre-Christmas visit to Australian troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was as much out of the text book for a new occupant of The Lodge as the decision to give the staff Christmas Day off that I referred to yesterday. Toss in the wonderfully self-deprecating appearance on the cricket commentary from the Melbourne Cricket Ground and you just have to reach the conclusion that this has been a most impressive Prime Ministerial debut.

Which perhaps makes it a bit churlish of me to refer to what happened to previous Australian election winners. The harsh reality is that the only way for a new leader appears to be down.

Since 1949 when Australia has had contests between a Liberal Party/National (Country) Party Coalition and the Labor Party, government has changed on five occasions. On every occasion the winner has had a lower vote at the subsequent election than it had when winning.

Election

Winner

2 Party Vote

Change

10.12.49

Coalition

51.0

28.4.51

Coalition

50.7

-0.3

2.12.72

ALP

52.7

18.5.74

ALP

51.7

-1.0

13.12.75

Coalition

55.7

10.12.77

Coalition

54.6

-1.1

5.3.83

ALP

53.23

1.12.84

ALP

51.77

-1.5

2.3.96

Coalition

53.63

3.10.98

Coalition

49.02

-4.6

24.11.07

ALP

52.56

The average difference is -1.7% and the median -1.1%.

At the election just held, Labor ended up with 52.6% of the two party preferred vote. A result like that which happened to John Howard in 1998 would see Kevin Rudd lose his Prime Ministership.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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