Kevin Rudd, the nerdy PM who proved his resilience

By James Grubell & Adam Gartrell

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

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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