The Prime Minister is currently winging his way back from Peru, spaghetti western-style poncho in hand (A Fistful of Deficits?), shortly to rejoin us for the last sitting of Parliament this year. Perhaps he’ll get some sleep on the plane, but he seems like the sort of bloke who thinks air travel is a good opportunity to catch up on some paperwork.

Rudd last spent three days in one place a fortnight ago, after he returned to Canberra from launching his car industry handout in Melbourne on Monday the 10th. Parliament was sitting that week, and there were Armistice Day ceremonies to attend, books to launch, speeches to give, the usual Prime Ministerial schedule. On Thursday, after launching the Matt Price book, giving a speech on the Fisher Government and giving an interview to Jim Middleton, he flew to Washington for the G20 meeting.

In Washington, he met with the Presidents of Brazil and Argentina, Robert Zoellick from the World Bank, Dominique Strauss-Kahn from the IMF, Hank Paulson, Robert Gates and Gordon Brown before going to the G20 dinner. Saturday was given over to the G20 talks, then he met with Hu Jintao before heading back. He held a few press conferences as well.

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On the way back his plane diverted to Brisbane to inspect storm damage, then he arrived in Canberra and immediately went to the Local Government summit to open and close it and attend some workshops. He stayed in Canberra the following day for a HMAS Sydney memorial, then spoke to the Kokoda Foundation. And on Thursday, he got back on the plane, back across the international date line to South America. In Lima he spoke at an APEC do, met the President of Peru, and had dinner with John Key.

The next day he visited the Sisters of Mercy health service, met the presidents of Chile and Columbia, went to APEC, then an APEC business leaders’ “dialogue”, then met with the President of Mexico before having a meeting and press conference with President Yudhoyono.

Then he went to an APEC dinner.

And all that is just the ceremonial stuff. He has a day job as well involving running Australia and appearing in Parliament.

There’s been some anniversary-related discussion of the Prime Minister’s control freakery. I think it misses the point. Rudd is no ordinary control freak.

“Just because you’ve met a few control freaks in your time,” writer Michael Herr observed about Stanley Kubrick, “doesn’t mean you can have any idea what Stanley was like.”

That’s Rudd, too. He isn’t the ordinary control freak who can’t let go. He’s the control freak who won’t let go because he knows he can do a better job than most of the people around him.

This is the guy who isn’t merely his own Foreign Minister, he’s his own minister for pretty much everything except Julia Gillard’s area. He only lets go when he’s happy the person doing the job is better than him at it. And he’s a details man. Bureaucrats talk of being drained of information by Rudd’s relentless questioning, always drilling down to lower levels of information.

I don’t know the life expectancy of such people. I suspect it’s below average. Rudd’s recent itinerary was unusually busy but he never stops, hasn’t got time to stop. There’s always more to do, another problem to tackle, there’s always someone else’s job that needs to be done or at least checked up on.

And you’ve always got to make sure everyone is using the right words. There were six “decisives” yesterday in Question Time. They’ve now started creeping into the questions themselves.

“Will the Treasurer update the House on the decisive action the government has taken over the past year to strengthen our economy during the global financial crisis?” asked Jim Turnour.

Wayne Swan, surprised and delighted by the member’s interest in the issue, was happy to explain. And “decisives” in three of Julia Gillard’s four media appearances yesterday. Stephen Conroy has started using it as well in the Senate and in speeches. Rudd himself — obviously jetlagged — only used one in Lima, quite a comedown from using it five times in one press conference in Washington.

It would be a good idea for Kevin Rudd to slow down, let go a bit, allow his ministers a bit more free rein, reduce his schedule a bit. His health demands it.

But he won’t — people like that never do. They keep working until they drop. Plenty of time for rest when you’re dead, is the attitude, and lots of people like that end up proving it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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