The Election: Week Two
Hell hath no fury like a former Australian prime minister scorned. First it was Paul Keating ripping into Bob Hawke over a new biography written by the Silver Bodgie's wife, Blanche d'Alpuget. "I carried you through the whole 1984-1987 parliament, insisting you look like the prime minister," wrote Keating, using the same withering invective he had once aimed at the Liberals. "No other prime minister would have survived going missing for that long. But with my help, you were able to."
Now Kevin Rudd stands accused of leaking a story to the press that has badly damaged his successor, Julia Gillard - an accusation which he denies. The story came from Channel Nine's legendary political editor, Laurie Oakes, who once employed Kevin Rudd as a cleaner at his Canberra home. Now, allegedly, the cleaner has turned into a muck-raker: the disher of political dirt.
In his story, Oakes claimed that Julia Gillard had opposed two of the Labor government's marquee policies while she was the deputy prime minister, namely paid parental leave and an increase in pensions. It dominated the election for much of the week, and, in the parlance of modern-day campaigning, took Julia Gillard seriously "off-message". Rather than "Moving Australia Forward," the mantra of the ALP campaign, Ms Gillard was forced to revisit once-secret Cabinet battles of the past.
It was not so much a wiki-leak as a wimpy leak, according to yet another former Labor leader Mark Latham, the author of the eponymous and potty-mouthed diaries. "It's the coward's way to get on the blower with Laurie Oakes and say, 'I'll tell you this but you're not allowed to identify me'," Mr Latham told Sky News. "It's the snake's way. So I challenge Kevin Rudd to be a man, to be honest, to have some honour and actually, if he feels this strongly about it, put his name to his words." Again, it is worth pointing out that Mr Rudd has denied being the source of the leak.
In a press conference dealing with these allegations, some commentators were impressed with Julia Gillard's forceful performance. Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald called it a "leaderlike display" - "It was not Gillard the slick with the fake quick fix". But he opened his column with a piece of analysis which reflects how a once-admiring press gallery has quickly turned against the new Prime Minister: "The paint of Julia Gillard's bright and shiny prime ministerial image is cracking and peeling under the searing lights of prime ministerial scrutiny."
This week she has appeared in a 13-page photo shoot for Women's Weekly, looking glossy, glamorous and even seductive. But moonlighting as a model may well be unhelpful at a time when, as her declining approval ratings and poll numbers demonstrate, more Australians are asking whether she can adequately perform her day job.
Labor is wobbling badly, and the early momentum in this campaign is unquestionably with Tony Abbott. So the Liberal leader will have taken particular delight at the headline in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald. And so, too, I dare say, did the man that he thought he would be facing in this year's election: "Save Us: ALP's desperate plea to Kevin Rudd."