Goodbye Kevin. You prince of Nambour, you lord of bureaucracy, you gentle, big-hearted philosopher-king. We shall not see your like again. And long may we mourn you.

To be honest, I always suspected it would end like this. The greatest loves always seem to end in tragedy; because perfection cannot be sustained, can it? The most beautiful creatures are also the most fragile, and Kevin you were always the glass unicorn of Australian politics: stunning, exquisite, yet so easy to break, and so it proved.

You gave us such hope, Kevin. When you stood before us on that wonderful, intoxicating night in 2007, we knew that change had arrived. We could see it in the glint of those steely, determined eyes, in the set of your jaw, in the metallic sheen of that magnificent head of hair. After the long, dark winter of the Howard years, when we thought we may never rid ourselves of the yoke of economic rationalism, the cage of xenophobic scaremongering, or Peter Costello’s unnervingly shaped ears, we saw a new dawn, smiling down upon us, warming our frostbitten hearts and speaking softly to us in Mandarin.

A prime minister who spoke Chinese! It was more than we deserved. Australia felt like some poor illiterate farm girl who had won the heart of a professor of civil engineering: not only giddily in love, but flattered beyond all bounds that such as you would cast an eye in our direction. You helped our self-esteem, Kevin; I shall forever regret that we failed to return the favour.

But I would like to thank you, Kevin. I want to thank you for the past two and a half years. Two and a half years of joy and inspiration. Two and a half years of evidence-based policy and working families and sweet, sweet stimulus.

Yes, more than anything, you stimulated us, Kevin. And I don’t just mean by giving us free money, although that was certainly arousing enough. But you stimulated us in so many other ways: intellectually, through your vast knowledge and command of language; emotionally, through your willingness to apologise both for the sins of the past and the failings of the present; and morally, through your passion for social justice and responsible environmentalism.

You made us feel that government really could make a difference to people’s lives, and that maybe one day, probably third or fourth term, sometime around then, it would.

You let us know we didn’t need to be worried about climate change, because you’d handle it. And handle it you did: not in the arrogant, abrasive way that so many other leaders would have, by banging heads or wedging people or taking harsh, vulgar action. You did it in a gentler, more inclusive way, a way that let everyone feel like a winner, from the polluting industries that felt like finally their concerns were being listened to, to the working families who needed to know that under no circumstances would they have to pay more for anything ever; to the environmentalists who, let’s be honest, were just looking for something to bitch about.

But then, the ability to connect with disparate sections of society was always your forte. It was in the way you spoke, the way you switched with such natural facility between the jargon of high intellectualism, where programmatic specificity is all the rage, and the earthy speech of the common man, who asks only for a fair shake of his sauce bottle and that the rat-f-ckers don’t feed him any balderdash. You were a man of the people, even with your enormous intellect, and that’s why we just couldn’t get enough of you.

But now, it seems, we’ve had all of you that we’re going to get. Like so many other titans, you have been scythed down by the tiny, petty people. To watch you beset by factions and unions and historic feminist advances was to see a proud and noble moose, torn apart by a pack of vicious chihuahuas. It is the curse of democracy: ever and anon are the mighty brought low by the small.

But fret not, Kevin: the failing was not yours, but ours. We couldn’t handle a prime minister so cerebral, so hard-working, so pure. We weren’t prepared to keep at the helm a man whose virtues seemed to mock our own shortcomings. With every sound decision you made, you just reminded Australians of how unsound their own decisions always are. A sinister voice whispered in our ears, “let’s see you get the balance right on asylum seekers; you couldn’t combine generosity towards the desperate with awareness of the need for secure borders if your life depended on it!”

We knew that never in a million years could we convince five out of six state premiers to sign up to an amended version of our plan for national health. And so, to our everlasting shame, when faced with a leader who was so much better than us, we turned on you. We tore you down, like a pack of chimpanzees eating a Rembrandt.

But still, we will remember you, Kevin. We’ll remember you as the gentle soul who came to us with a message of love and hope that will, with a bit of luck, stay with us despite everything. We’ll remember you as the embodiment of all that is good and right about mankind, the reflection of the better side of ourselves. We’ll remember you as the micro-managing, Mandarin-speaking, process-following, stewardess-abusing man of our dreams.

Farewell, Kevin. I’m sorry it came to this. But I could have told you, Kevin, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey