If anyone empowered the Murdoch machine, it was Kevin Rudd

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was a magician in front of the camera.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was a magician in front of the camera. Photo: AAP

To hear the great media maestro Kevin Rudd condemn Rupert Murdoch’s media machine as the “greatest cancer on the Australian democracy” and decry Tony Abbott as a “giant wrecking ball” is rank hypocrisy that must be called out.

His comments this week, published in a comment piece for Fairfax Media, were a bridge too far.

From my vantage point, having witnessed the chaotic nature of his leadership first-hand from the inner core of his campaign, I think the former prime minister should stand in the same frame as Tony Abbott.

That is, under a banner marked ‘Political Skulduggery’ wearing a Rupert Murdoch Fan Club badge.

As a film-maker I have made movies about former prime ministers John Curtin (ABC) and Bob Hawke (TEN) which included Paul Keating’s journey to the top job. I had the good fortune of copping an extensive and colourful blast from Mr Keating once, which made me feel special. I made the ALP tribute to Gough Whitlam. I wrote and directed the TV campaign Your Rights At Work to remove John Howard, so I studied him too.

And I worked very closely with Julia Gillard in the last eight months of her tenure as PM, where I felt first-hand the role Mr Rudd played in undermining not just a fine leader, but her Labor government as well.

Kevin’s great ally (consummated or otherwise) in this strategy was News Corp.

In my (and many others’) opinion, Ms Gillard had no choice but to usurp the prime ministership in order to save a dying government wrecked by a leader who had, at best, lost his way.

Had there been a caucus vote when Ms Gillard challenged Mr Rudd, the numbers men suggested he would have been annihilated.

It’s a shame this count never happened. It surely would have been the end of Mr Rudd’s political career.

That brings me to his criticism of Mr Murdoch.

I’d be surprised if there has ever been a more media obsessed politician than Kevin Rudd. He drove journalists mad with his endless chasing and placing of stories about himself.

There was his famed media chart of journos and editors, which ensured he did the rounds of every important member of the media on a regular and frequent basis.

If anyone cultivated and empowered Rupert Murdoch’s role in our democracy, it was Kevin Rudd himself.

Chris Mitchell, in his book about his time as editor of The Australian, called Rudd “the gift that kept on giving”.

Mr Rudd promised he’d be back. And back he came. The Labor caucus reinstated the architect of Julia’s demise in 2013. Nine Labor cabinet ministers resigned as a matter of principle. Many didn’t.

‘The most unprofessional experience of my working life’

I was conscripted to direct Mr Rudd’s TV ad campaign and the 2013 election campaign launch. It was the most unprofessional experience of my working life.

The all-important 60-second launch ad was carefully researched and written by a well known copywriter.

To be filmed in central Queensland, we spent a lot of time and money preparing the shoot, but a day or so prior, we got the call that it would be shot in Mr Rudd’s house instead.

Watch the a version of the ad here:

The copywriter was told a new script would come from Mr Rudd’s office, and her input was not really needed. I received the script and had no real idea how it could be shot in a house.

Then one of the PM’s most senior advisors turned up, with an entirely different script.

Then another advisor arrived and rewrote that script.

Then Mr Rudd turned up late (which he did to every shoot), leaving me 30 minutes to shoot the ALP launch ad. He read both scripts, then he rewrote them.

My instruction was to shoot the script I had received overnight, which at least made some sense. So now I had three, 60-second scripts to film in about 15 minutes.

As he was delivering the lines, Mr Rudd changed the words, again.

When we shot the all-important education ad, I was told Mr Rudd did not have time to film it in a school and instead it was shot in a factory in front of a green screen. Luckily, I managed to get them to stop briefly at a school that was in their direct path to get three minutes worth of footage of Mr Rudd cuddling children and greeting mothers.

A few of us in the inner core of the campaign genuinely feared that Mr Rudd might win the election, when he hit 49 per cent in the first week of the campaign. Fortunately his chaotic process brought him undone and saved us all.

So, if we are to have a public discussion about destructive political behaviour, I believe Kevin Rudd should be siamesed to Tony Abbott. Not the one throwing the stones.

One genuine quality I observed in Kevin Rudd: he could act.

No matter how angry or unhappy he was, when it was time for the cameras, the little boy inside him lit up, and he was sensational. He could deliver any line quite perfectly. I think he missed his calling. It’s not too late, Kevin!

As a film-maker I am convinced that the true qualities of political leadership cannot be seen through the current filter of the media. And we need to address that urgently.

Be it a Kevin Rudd or a Donald Trump, a politician who knows how to play the filter is capable of deceiving us all. And when that’s exploited things can and do fall apart.

PS: I have been trying to make a movie about Julia Gillard and every broadcaster has rejected it. I hope the truth about her is one day revealed. It is our loss.

* Richard Keddie is a filmmaker who has worked on a number of ALP political campaigns. His feature film credits include Oddball and Little Fish. He is currently working on Ride Like a Girl, the story of Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Michelle Payne. 

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