Dumping on internal ALP frenemies is hardly a rare occurrence, as Mark Latham found out this week, but Party wordsmith Bob Ellis appears to have outdone himself with a biting salvo at the PM’s “muscular timidity” in the latest edition of Overland magazine, launched last night in Melbourne.

In a sweeping treatise, Ellis, still employed as a scribe-for-hire by a number of serving ALP politicians, claims Rudd is a friendless, hollowed-out middle-manager more in the mode of Hillsong and the Salvation Army “than FD Roosevelt or Hugh Gaitskell”. All tip and no iceberg, clearly.

For much of last night’s launch, Ellis bizarrely decided to read from a forthcoming book of diary entries, covering pressing topics including Heath Ledger and Paddy McGuiness’ funerals, rather than serving up specific views on Rudd.

Still, when it comes to the PM, Ellis’s Overland essay is cutting in the extreme:

He belongs to no faction. He has no close caucus friends. The votes he commanded a week before he was first Leader totalled five; another forty were Gillard’s. He belongs to a parliamentary prayer group. He opposes abortion. He opposes euthanasia. He goes to wooden church. He speaks Mandarin. He rarely sleeps, and has lost, in a year, more than half of his bleary, overworked office staff. He convened the 2020 summit and swore to ‘respond’ to its recommendations by year’s end and has not done so. He knows what he thinks and will not change too readily.

Ellis’ vitriol isn’t limited to the PM and his inner circle of media-cycle obsessed sycophants. Perhaps the most savage criticism is reserved for Penny Wong, “an Orwellian figure of comprehensive secrecy”. Last night, Ellis re-told a Canberra joke (his?) that Wong is the “lesbian Chinese bureaucrat Rudd wishes he was.”

“It is hard to know what she is for; she is the acceptable face of Rudd’s inner glow”, Ellis adds helpfully.

Wong’s “gazumping” of Peter Garrett as climate change minister was an “opportunistic, deliberately cruel attempt” by Rudd to sideline anyone in the Party with talent to burn, with Garrett’s “invisible anguish” over the Gunns pulp mill likely to force him from federal politics before the next election. Rudd’s aversion to Garrett was payback for his Chairman’s Lounge “change it all” comments, Ellis said.

Big Bob appears to love eschewing ideology, placing his trust instead in powerful political figures — in 2006 he famously made a touchy-feely documentary following his some-time boss, South Australian Premier Mike Rann, on the 2006 South Australian election trail (Ellis has been on Rann’s payroll for years, penning speeches and notes and billing his office for $150,000 according to FoI’d documents dredged up by the SA opposition in 2007.)

In the Overland essay, he fingers a number of stellar individuals as future PMs, including Bill Shorten, Mike Kelly, Bob Debus, Greg Combet, and Maxine McKew, with whom he contrasts “smug” Deputy PM Julia Gillard. McKew’s sidelining as a parliamentary secretary was a devastating loss to question time, Ellis said.

Ellis’ alacrity seems on the money, but it’s also partly the product of his continued closeness with good mate Kim Beazley, who Ellis thinks was denied the keys to The Lodge by a combination of a substance-free Rudd and, in 2004, the vagaries of the preferential voting system. Ellis rhapsodised about Bomber’s life again last night, in what is close to becoming a public appearance trope.

On the GFC, Ellis was more sanguine, claiming the latest round of G20 pontificating would inevitably give way to a new round of old-school protectionism. Protectionism was in fact about “protecting jobs”, Ellis said. He even outlined his plans for executive remuneration, which should be capped at four times the PM’s pay.

But perhaps the most humorous moment  came during Ellis’s recounting of a forthcoming George Orwell adaptation starring Colin Firth, to be filmed in Argentina, and for which Ellis has written the screenplay. Ellis advised Firth to “lose weight” before the filming, which, coming from the well-proportioned wordsmith, seemed rich indeed.

Peter Fray

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