It was a bruising encounter for the embattled Kevin Rudd when he appeared on Q&A.
Most of the questions were critical or hostile. Presenter Tony Jones pushed him. Sometimes Rudd dodged; other times he squirmed. Tony Abbott hasn’t agreed to do the show; Rudd must have wondered why he had.
The pain started with the initial questioner who said Rudd had started his first prime ministership with vision, then unravelled, and later “perniciously undermined the government.” Why should the nation be entrusted to him again?
Sidestepping the central thrust, Rudd talked about vision and ended with “I don’t know any government which could ever stand before you, hand on heart and say they have never committed a mistake.”
That just led to probing about his mistakes since resuming the prime ministership, and eventually had Rudd harking back to the 2010 deferral of the ETS.
The there was the voter who shared Labor values, liked him but was disenchanted. She wanted to be convinced. Was she, after a long Rudd answer? Unfortunately for the PM. no. “You and Tony Abbott to me seem almost the same person.”
Another questioner recalled lurches on climate change and boats and how Rudd described himself on economics, demanding to know “Kevin, besides the weathervane of public opinion, what do you stand for?” Rudd said he stood for a fair go for all and had done the best he could.
After he repeated, as he does many times daily, his reference to Abbott’s $70 billion of cuts, Jones pointed out that this number had been found misleading by fact checkers.
But Rudd was not giving ground – at least until he saw Abbott’s figures.When a questioner suggested that whoever won would make cuts Rudd threw in the $70 billion – and was again pulled up.
There were a couple of doozies on paid parental leave. Was this the first time a Labor leader had turned their backs on workplace entitlements? That was followed by a man who said he and his wife planned to have a child - they would struggle under the current scheme but be helped by Abbott’s “to continue to give our family what it needs.” Rudd referred to the people on a million or a billion dollars.
A woman raised the plight of sole parents. “If we are returned, it will be the first thing we address,” he said “I am not comfortable with where we are on this. As soon as the budget opens up that amount of space to deal with this challenge, we should act.”
When he responded on aged care, the nurse who asked about it came back to “respectfully decline your answer,” and argue the toss.
A small business person wanted to know “why are we the enemy of Labor?”; another was struggling to get excited about what Labor was offering when it was weighed against recent pay rises. Rudd also came under fire for Labor changes to superannuation after in 2007 he had promised it would not be touched.
He took on a pastor critical over marriage equality but declined to answer what one inquisitor said the people of his Griffith electorate needed to know: whether, if Labor lost and he stepped down as leader he would resign the seat. He was not going to engage in hypotheticals – people would think he was conceding the election.
And then he was hit with: how would history remember him if he lost the election?
“How about we get a question which ends with ‘if you do win the election.’” Rudd said, before offering thanks for the question and adding “I understand the spirit within which it is offered.”
Finally the worst one of all. He had said at Sunday’s launch that he’s been in tougher spots and come back from behind. When precisely?
“It is a reflection”, he said. He thrashed about, talked about his what his “dear departed mum” who always called him Kev, had told him, referred to his failure to win his seat at the first try, to going under the surgeon’s knife for his heart, to the unpleasantness of 2010, to wondering how someone whose kid was dying of cancer could possibly cope, or someone who had just had a loved one smashed up in a car accident.
“I take great, frankly, strength and encouragement from the wonderful folks in the country I speak to every day.”
But there was precious little strength or encouragement for him to take from these particular folks.