KATHY MARKS, SYDNEY: Australian parliamentary proceedings are televised live, which may explain why Labor MPs maintained determinedly straight faces yesterday as their leader, Kevin Rudd, called for politicians “to be a little kinder and gentler with each other,” less than 24 hours after knifing his predecessor in the back.
For Australians, it was a case of déjà vu as they woke up to their “new/old prime minister”, as some are calling Mr Rudd, freshly reinstated by his party after being knifed himself three years ago. He, too, must have experienced déjà vu when he visited Yarralumla, the Canberra residence of the Australian Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, to be anointed anew yesterday morning.
A few hours later, with his successor and predecessor, Julia Gillard, seated on the backbenches, Mr Rudd gave his first speech to the House of Representatives, in which he paid tribute to her “great work as a standard bearer for women in our country”.
He then observed: “Political life is a very hard life, a very hard life indeed. Let us all remember … we all have families and we all have emotions, so let us try – just try – to be a little kinder and gentler with each other in the further deliberations of this parliament.” And, as stated, there was no visible sniggering.
It was as if Mr Rudd had never been away. He scornfully swatted aside a demand by the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, that he name the coming election date, and when Mr Abbott tried to needle him about the Labor leadership merry-go-round, pointed out that the Liberal Party had chewed through a good number of leaders itself in recent years.
There is, however, no doubting the challenges facing him, most pressingly in putting together a cabinet team. Stephen Smith, the Defence Minister, yesterday joined the exodus of senior ministers – seven in all, so far – from Julia Gillard’s government, leaving gaping holes that must be filled.
Yesterday was parliament’s last sitting day before the winter recess and the election, currently set for 14 September. Many pundits expect Mr Rudd to bring it forward, so as to benefit from an anticipated honeymoon period.
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