It was about two decades ago when I thought I detected a bâton de maréchal in Tony Abbott’s knapsack. With due respect to Napoleon, very few in the political rank and file carry these. I never saw it in Kevin Rudd’s, and by 2008 I concluded it had never been there at all. Both views contradicted the Canberra press gallery consensus.
Dismissed as the "Mad Monk”, Tony Abbott was declared utterly unelectable. When it seemed as if the electorate might be engaging in heresy, that it was warming to the Opposition leader, that ancient eminence David Marr was wheeled out to write a desperate tale about Abbott as a university student who punched the wall around a Communist lady’s head. The “evidence” was so flimsy not even a first-year cadet journalist would have tried it on an editor.
By way of contrast, Kevin ‘07, supposedly a younger and refreshing version of John Howard, was deemed by the gallery as fit and ready to lead the nation. The press people who had observed him at close quarters must have known, or they ought to have known, he should never have been allowed the keys to The Lodge. Yet just as Marr’s convenient and highly dubious tales of Two-Fisted Tony were never challenged, so did Rudd’s manifest deficiencies of temperament go unremarked.
Others noticed, however, make-up artists Lily Fontana being one of the most recent to discover that Tony Abbott is "absolutely lovely" while Kevin Rudd treats people badly.
From personal knowledge I can say that Tony Abbott is neither a misogynist, nor a homophobe, nor a racist, nor a thug. Indeed, one of his close confidantes was openly gay. He is a caring and thinking man who has never let power and position go to his head.
It is only in recent years that most Australians have come to learn that he is a volunteer lifesaver and fire-fighter. Unlike many politicians, he has never traded on his good works. He is, unusually for his age and occupation, a dedicated athlete. This gives an indication of the disciplined life he leads.
So why was he so miscast – and for so long – by the press gallery? The simple answer: Because he dares to be different, guided by his Christianity and allegiance to our crowned republic. Both positions, of course, led him to conclusions diametrically opposed to the inner-city elites, a category which includes much of the working press, their editors and opinion page solons.
We have seen this groupthink many times before, notably in 1999, when the former editor of Britain’s Telegraph, Lord Deedes, in Australia to witness the republic debate, observed that he had never been in a democratic country where newspapers displayed "more shameless bias."
”One and all," he wrote, "they determined that Australians should have a republic and they used every device towards that end.”
When and if Tony Abbott is called to form a government, and as Australians get to know him better, it will become apparent that, once again, the Canberra press has tried to take the country for a ride.
Unlike Tony Abbott, I do not really know Kevin Rudd. Years ago, he and Joe Hockey came into a television station green room after I had just finished an interview. There were only five of us there, and Joe greeted me warmly. But when I said "Good morning" to Kevin Rudd, he looked through me. I thought he probably had something else on his mind and his cold distance didn’t worry me at all.
On another occasion I was about to board the Qantas shuttle from Canberra with a group of Labor shadow ministers. Most were friendly and we chatted, except for one who again completely ignored my short greeting — Kevin Rudd.
Neither of these events caused me any concern and, at the time, I drew no conclusions. But I did find it curious, and perhaps ominous, that when he put questions to Prime Minister John Howard in the Parliament, he would almost invariably turn his chair and show his back to the Prime Minister.
I thought it a rather infantile attempt to provoke Howard, and I witnessed much the same thing in the recent second debate when Rudd persisted in coming too close, waving his arms and constantly interrupting his opponent.
There were few warnings from the media about Kevin Rudd before the 2007 election. Instead there were recommendations from people who should have known better, and to their shame, perhaps did. The result has been the most incompetent, wasteful and deceitful government in the history of the Commonwealth.
It first became obvious to me that Kevin Rudd was not the man to be Prime Minister from his actions in a field where, taking him at his word, I thought him an expert – diplomacy. Yet in October, 2008, a story appeared in The Australian about a telephone conversation it was claimed he had with President George W. Bush. The article reported how Rudd had been "stunned" to hear Bush ask, "’What’s the G20?
Rudd allowed this story to run for days until, finally, an exasperated US ambassador protested. That Kevin Rudd was prepared to allow a story about our principal ally to run for several days, one he admitted was untrue, indicated clearly that he was not fit to be Prime Minister.
He confirmed this again when he described Beijing’s diplomats at the Copenhagen climate summit as "those Chinese f***ers are trying to rat-f*** us.”
There could be no doubt after that Kevin Rudd should never have become Prime Minister.
So who is to blame for a flawed man rising far above the obvious limitations of character and competence?
Was it the Labor Caucus that elected him – the first time in innocence, perhaps, but having no excuse the second time around, apart the hope that this would save seats and, with them, the inordinate control exerted by the ALP’s faceless men?
Or was it the Canberra press gallery’s silence? Labor’s numbers men at least had the excuse of political expedience, but there was no such motive for the press to keep the electorate in the dark. The fact is that the press failed to perform its most fundamental duty, which is most certainly not to serve as advocates and preach in favour of but one political party and its agenda.
The press defamed Abbott even as it hid the truth about Rudd — facts they knew or ought to have known about Kevin Rudd, facts which should have disqualified him first from leadership and most definitely from restoration.
As The Times declared as long ago as 1851, it is the duty of the press “to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time, and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation.”
The vast bulk of Australia’s media did worse than fail that obligation. They betrayed it.
David Flint’s latest book, written with Jai Martinlovits, is Give Us Back Our Country