When I heard in 2007 that a Mandarin-speaking politician well-versed in Asia relations was elected as Prime Minister of Australia, I was living in Japan and understood almost nothing in regards to the Australian political scene beyond the fact that John Howard was previous Prime Minister. As a result, I was initially impressed and thought that this new PM would help strengthen Australia's integration with the rest of the Asia-Pacific.
Since moving to Australia at the end of 2008, I have gradually increased my knowledge of Australia, its people and by extension its politics. Particularly, once I bought a car here and started tuning in to the morning and evening news radio broadcasts, I have listened to many political events evolve in their daily detail and minutae. This includes an occasional listen to live parliamentary Q&A sessions between the political opposition--the Coalition--and the party currently in power-Labor. Although sometimes entertaining, these sessions seem to end up in adolescent-like, back-and-forth bickering that made me think these politicians deserved the title "The Kids in Canberra."
Up until recently, the two key political playground rivals were PM Kevin Rudd and current Coalition leader Tony Abbott. Unlike my initial impression that Mr. Rudd would be someone that worked above the fray in the manner of a diplomat with international clout, I ended up finding him to be more like a nerdy, condescending student council president that sought out every opportunity to look "cool" when he obviously wasn't. In opposition, Tony Abbott is the bombastic, sports jock that will often speak ahead of what he thinks, but seems preferable to his predecessor, Malcom Turnbull.
Recently, as has been prominent in the news, Mr. Rudd lost his position as PM and was decisively replaced by the calm and collected Julia Gillard. The story of Rudd's downfall is quite fascinating as momentum built for his removal--either by a newly called election or by an internal Labor coup. What is clear over the last year is that Mr. Rudd was never a true leader for Labor and had never truly solidified his support in the party. The Australian Financial Review published a cover story yesterday on how Rudd's downfall evolved and wrote this of his predicament:
"If there was a single theme to Rudd's political death, it was this: Rudd had foes everywhere. Once his support collapsed in the polls, there was nowhere to run. He had centered all government decision-making in his own office. Nothing could be delegated, no issue was too small for prime ministerial oversight.
"Rudd's ministers often became simple messengers and his oft-cited preoccupation with process and planning masked a chaotic government. All of these elements had frustrated his colleagues.
"Moreover, in his bid to eradicate factional control over ministries, Rudd had accorded to himself untrammelled power, which sat badly with his personal propensity for micro-management. He had a potty-mouth when angered and, according to some ministers, there were implied threats against those who failed to toe the line. Many ministers, fearful of losing favour and position, held their tongues. In the manner of both great tragedy and schoolyard brawls, Rudd had simply made too many enemies."
It is equally interesting how quickly Mr. Rudd has dropped from view and it seems few Australians could care less that he is out of view and now retreated back to his represented home of Queensland. In many ways, Mr. Rudd's problems the past year parallel the many problems faced by President Obama in the U.S. So I had to laugh when I heard the following quotes from the two meeting earlier this year in April at Fiji, via the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
"O'Brien says during his 20-minute interview with Mr Obama, the US president shed some light on his relationship with Australia's Prime Minister. "It was interesting. Diplomats and politicians say nice things about each other when they're having international chats," O'Brien said.
"But O'Brien says Mr Obama spoke candidly about their relationship - which has in the past been described as a "meeting of minds". "He was quite expansive and quite genuine on what he saw as the commonality and connections between [he and Mr Rudd]. One of which was humility," O'Brien said."
President Obama calling former PM Rudd and himself humble is pure comedy and I am sure Obama said it with a straight face. In the end, everybody loved Kevin Rudd until everybody hated him. Now, this morning, new PM Gillard has called a general election for August 21st. The next few weeks are sure to be interesting for fellow news junkies here in Australia.