Rudd departure really no surprise

When Kevin Rudd announced his departure from politics, even his most vehement opponents acknowledged the end of an era, describing him in near saint-like terms.

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Coming at the end of a tumultuous day in politics on Wednesday, this was a complete surprise for almost everyone.

It shouldn’t have been.

Just under a month ago, former Labor Attorney-General Nicola Roxon delivered a scathing assessment of her former leader.

“As long as Kevin remains in parliament, irrespective of how he behaves, pollsters will run comparisons with him and any other leader,” she said in the John Button memorial lecture.

“For the good of the federal parliamentary Labor party … Kevin Rudd should leave the parliament.”

It’s hard to believe many others on the Labor side weren’t really thinking much the same.

Roxon said removing Rudd from the prime ministership in 2010, even before the end of his first term, was an act of political bastardry.

But she said it was only possible “because Kevin had been such a bastard himself”.

Admired by a large section of the electorate for his diverse passions and achievements, Rudd was loathed in equal measure by many of his colleagues for his obsessive management style and white-anting of Julia Gillard.

Resurrected in the face of plummeting polls ahead of the election, Rudd led Labor to defeat, although not half as bad as many commentators predicted.

In his own electorate, he survived a strong challenge from Liberal candidate Bill Glasson. There will now have to be a by-election and in the absence of an exceptional Labor candidate, Glasson will likely be the next member for Griffith.

Under the new Rudd rules to democratise the Labor Party, the leadership was thrown open. Rudd stood aside.

As an opposition backbencher, there didn’t seem much to hold a former PM and foreign minister, especially considering Labor can expect a couple of terms in the wilderness.

Now Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek have clean air to lead Labor, without Rudd anywhere in the picture.

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Rudd, nerdy PM who proved his resilience

Kevin Rudd will go down in history as the nerdy prime minister who returned from the political graveyard.

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He leaves parliament with the rare distinction of having served twice as prime minister, once as foreign minister and three times as a far from humble backbencher.

Along the way, he has suffered some of the worst insults ever thrown at a politician, with most coming from his own party and former ministerial colleagues, who labelled him a controlling psychopath.

But somehow, Rudd convinced his party to give him a second chance.

Voters, however, were not so forgiving, punishing Labor at the ballot box for three years of infighting and leadership turmoil between Rudd and his former deputy Julia Gillard.

In the end, Rudd led his party to a thumping defeat at the September 7 election, although his supporters say he helped the party avoid a more catastrophic loss.

And his final defeat was at the hands of voters, and not the party faction bosses who threw him out of office in favour of Gillard three years earlier.

Born in the Queensland town of Nambour in 1957, Rudd joined the Australian Labor Party at 15 years of age in 1972, once writing to Labor icon Gough Whitlam for advice on how to get involved in politics.

A bookish child, he went to the same school as the man who would be his treasurer, Wayne Swan, although the two were never friends. Rudd preferred to read the official record of parliamentary debates, Hansard, while Swan was more interested in sport and music.

Rudd studied at the Australian National University and subsequently joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) as a cadet diplomat. He served a posting in Beijing, learned fluent Mandarin and maintained a life-long love of China and its history.

Rudd cut his teeth in politics working for then state premier Wayne Goss, before a failed attempt to enter federal parliament in the seat of Griffith in 1996.

But Rudd, a stubborn fighter who does not like defeat, returned to Griffith in 1998 and won the seat in an election dominated by debate on the new goods and services tax.

He was an opposition frontbencher within three years, and went on to become Labor leader in December 2006 when he teamed with Gillard to form a so-called “dream team” which ended Kim Beazley’s hopes of becoming prime minister.

Rudd’s folksy style and youthful energy helped him win a convincing victory over the older John Howard in November 2007, ending 11 years of conservative rule.

At first, Rudd remained popular with voters while the coalition was consumed by infighting.

But the Rudd and Gillard partnership was doomed.

Colleagues became frustrated by Rudd’s tendency to micro-manage and complained about a lack of decision making.

So when Rudd’s approval rating started dipping in 2010, caucus started looking for another leader.

His decision to pick a fight with the mining companies and shelve his emissions trading scheme sealed his fate.

Gillard toppled him on June 24, 2010 and called an election soon after. But an erratic Labor campaign – which some believe Rudd helped sabotage – resulted in a hung parliament.

Labor stayed in power with the help of crossbench MPs, and Gillard reluctantly drafted Rudd onto her frontbench as foreign minister.

Rudd’s 18 months as Australia’s top diplomat were overshadowed at every turn by persistent rumours and reports he was hell-bent on revenge against Gillard and regaining the keys to The Lodge.

With leadership tensions at boiling point, Rudd resigned as foreign minister to challenge Gillard in February 2012. Gillard won a decisive victory.

Rudd was rejected twice by his colleagues, moved to the backbench and pledged to abandon his ambitions and work hard for Gillard’s re-election.

But no one really believed him.

Gillard’s stubbornly low poll numbers quickly put him back in the frame and he retook the leadership on June 26, 2013, with 57 votes to Gillard’s 45.

He lost the September 7 election to Tony Abbott, and announced he would retire on the first official working day of the 44th parliament.

“It really is time for me to zip,” Rudd said, concluding his surprise valedictory speech to a crowded House of Representatives chamber.

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Peris would swap gold for equality

Australia’s first Aboriginal woman elected to federal parliament would swap her gold medals for equality for indigenous people.

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Nova Peris delivered her first speech in the Senate on Wednesday, wearing white ochre face paint and a gold silk outfit featuring dancing brolgas.

A trailblazer for indigenous people in sport, she was the first Aboriginal woman to win an Olympic gold medal as part of Australia’s victorious hockey team in 1996.

Switching to athletics, she won gold in the 200 metres and 4×100 metres relay at the Commonwealth Games in 1998.

She said her sporting achievements were “virtually meaningless” compared with her grandparents and mother’s struggles to survive.

“I would swap all of that in a heartbeat. I would forgo any number of gold medals to see Aboriginal Australians be free, healthy and participating fully in all that our great country has to offer,” she told the Senate.

“It is my dream to see kids from Santa Theresa, from Gunbalanya, from Kalkarindji and the Tiwi Islands all with the same opportunity as the kids from the eastern suburbs of Sydney.”

She was elected after former prime minister Julia Gillard intervened to put her at the top of Labor’s NT Senate ticket, ousting long-serving Labor senator Trish Crossin.

The first Aboriginal MP elected to the House of Representatives, Ken Wyatt, was in the Senate for Senator Peris’s first speech.

Senator Peris paid tribute to her Aboriginal heritage as a descendant of the Gija people of the east Kimberley, Yawuru people of the west Kimberley and the Iwatja people from western Arnhem Land.

Her grandmother Nora Peris, a member of the stolen generation, was one of her biggest sources of inspiration.

“She was torn from her mother’s arms and lived on the Mission of Moola Bulla in the east Kimberley,” Senator Peris said.

“A river separated her and her traditional Aboriginal mother who was still living on country … they were so close – yet so far apart.”

Senator Peris spoke of her mother Joan’s forced removal from her family as her mother watched from the public gallery, alongside the Senator’s husband, Scott Appleton, children Jack, nine, Destiny, 11, and eldest daughter Jessica, 23, and four-year-old grandson Isaac.

Senator Peris urged her parliamentary colleagues to champion moves to recognise Aboriginal people in the constitution, and attacked the former Labor government’s decision to locate a nuclear waste dump on Muckaty Station in the Barkly region of the NT.

Senator Peris ended with an anecdote about a man who gave her a piece of paper to read before the semi-finals of the 4x400m relay at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

It read: “Nothing is impossible to those who see the invisible.”

The man explained the cryptic message after the team broke an Australian record.

“He simply replied: `It was my ticket to freedom. I thought about it every day that I was held captive.’ It turned out he was a former prisoner of war,” she said.

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Constitutional recognition ‘big issue’

Prominent indigenous rights leader Noel Pearson sees constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians as the looming “big issue” for the nation.

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And he is confident Prime Minister Tony Abbott has the conservative confidence to pursue it.

Speaking at the 2013 Gough Whitlam Oration in Sydney, Mr Pearson said there were two problems with the current constitution – non-recognition of indigenous people and racial discrimination.

The Cape York Group chair said while we should do all we can to assist disadvantaged people, it should be done on the basis of individual need, not race.

“A person is not automatically disadvantaged because he or she is indigenous,” he said on Wednesday night.

“A person should be rewarded on their merits and assisted on their means.

“Race and indigenousness should be irrelevant to matters of public welfare and government assistance.

“We need to move away from indigenous non-recognition to a recognition.”

On making constitutional recognition a reality, Australia needs someone in conservative territory to gain the votes, Mr Pearson said.

“I think (Mr Abbott) can carry the confidence of rural and regional Australia and the old conservative Australia,” he told AAP outside the event.

The question would be finding common ground on the constitution wording, he added.

Mr Abbott has flagged a shake up of indigenous affairs and has set up an indigenous advisory council to review relevant spending.

Mr Pearson supported the review, which he expects will find some programs are not serving the people they were meant to help.

“There is a lot of waste and a lot of need that is not being addressed so I see this as an opportunity really,” he said.

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Spain heavyweights upbeat on World Cup defence

Captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, centre back Sergio Ramos, midfielder Xabi Alonso and forward David Villa all sounded an upbeat note at the unveiling of the all-red kit the world and European champions’ will wear at the finals.

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Casillas said Spain were determined “to make history again” after securing their maiden World Cup in South Africa in 2010, while Villa insisted “La Roja” had the talent to become only the third country to retain their world crown after Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962.

“Our national team is feeling full of confidence, with a great deal of desire,” Ramos said.

“We managed it before and who’s to say we cannot repeat that success,” added the Real Madrid defender.

“We cannot live on past achievements, there is no point dwelling on them, instead we want to repeat them.”

Spain finished top of their qualifying group ahead of France with six wins and two draws from their eight matches and will be one of the favourites next year along with the hosts and the likes of Argentina and Germany.

Vicente del Bosque’s men play Equatorial Guinea in the West African nation’s capital Malabo on Saturday and three days later take on South Africa at Soccer City in Johannesburg, scene of their World Cup triumph three years ago.

Del Bosque has a number of regulars missing, including playmakers Xavi and Cesc Fabregas and centre back Gerard Pique, while Pique’s Barcelona team mate Marc Bartra, also a central defender, has been called into the squad for the first time.

Alonso is making his return to international action after a five-month injury layoff that sidelined him for June’s Confederations Cup, when Spain reached the final but were beaten 3-0 by hosts Brazil.

“Not having taken part in the Confederations Cup means you experience it in a different way with a feeling of impotence,” Alonso said. “Now I am raring to go.”

(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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