OPINION: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Four factors that have shaped the new PM
, December 22, 2007
Jeffry Babb examines the major influences on Kevin Rudd.Kevin Rudd has a life-long fascination with China. China helped lift him from the obscurity of a Queensland farm to the Lodge. Four factors shaped Kevin Rudd's life - the Labor Party, China, his religion, and the death of his father when he was 11.
Because of his rural Queensland background and his lack of union links, it is sometimes assumed that Rudd is a technocrat and diplomat rather than a person driven by ideals - a manager rather than a conviction politician. The truth, however, is that Rudd has been remarkably consistent in his views and policies over a long period.
Take his membership of the Labor Party, for example. In his maiden speech to the House of Representatives in November 1998, he recalled:
"I started attending meetings of Young Labor as a school kid in the Nambour cane-growers' hall in 1974. Nambour, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, was not a major centre of revolutionary socialism in the 1970s - the cane-growers' hall even less so.
"I was the son of share farmer - a member of the Country Party, although not a particularly active one - who worked a 400-acre dairy farm just outside the neighbouring town of Eumundi. I happily attended the local primary school and high school."ALP membership
He added that he had been a proud member of the ALP for 17 years.
Outlining his fundamental beliefs, Rudd rejected the Thatcherite assessment that labour markets are like any other market that should be deregulated because labour is no different from any other commodity.
"That is not my view," says Rudd. "I believe unapologetically in an active role for government." He says that, although competitive markets are generally efficient generators of wealth, "markets sometimes fail, requiring direct government intervention through instruments such as industry policy. There are also areas where the public good dictates there should be no markets at all."
Education and housing are seen as instruments of social justice, not merely as matters of economic concern.
Rudd saw China as the way ahead from a young age, as he told presenter Geraldine Doogue on the ABC's Sunday Profile
in July, 2004:
"I grew up on a farm, and my father said to me when I was about 10, 'Kev have you made up your mind about what you are going to do in life?' - which to a 10-year old is a fairly confronting question. 'There are two choices you have to face.' I said, 'Dad, what are they?' He said 'Is it going to be beef or is it going to be dairy?' China struck me as the third way.
"We had a book on Chinese archaeology, and I would squirrel myself away under a tree and have a read while I was supposed to be getting the cows. I think that's how it all started. And I was inspired as a kid by Gough [Whitlam]. And I thought this country is going to have a huge impact on us somehow some way, so I should try and learn the language which is what I did."
On China, Rudd says he is "not romantic", but on balance an optimist. Rudd spent most of 1979 in Taiwan refining his language study, and is quite familiar with "island China", unlike almost any other Australian politician. He is the first Australian prime minister to speak an Asian language fluently.
Dr Pierre Ryckmans, the renowned China scholar, also known by his pen-name Simon Leys, told The Australian
newspaper that Rudd was one of the most impressive students he had encountered in over a quarter of a century. Ryckmans, who supervised Rudd's honours thesis, said qualities that set Rudd apart were his determination, self-control and consistency.
In a departure from the usual Chinese lack of interest in Australian affairs, the Chinese media has given Rudd star billing. He is recognised not only for his language ability, but particularly for being leader of a key US ally in the Asia-Pacific region, and his elevation is seen as a portent of the rise of China to great power status.
Rudd's foreign minister, Stephen Smith, has little experience in foreign affairs and is relatively young. At least for several years, Smith will be dependent on the advice of his department, no doubt with the Prime Minister taking a keen interest in the foreign affairs and trade portfolios.Christian belief
Christianity was important to Rudd at the Australian National University, where he and his future wife Thérèse Rein were recognised as a couple among the student evangelical Christian group. His intellectual hero is German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rudd remains a church-going Christian.
The accidental death of his father, when Rudd was 11, undoubtedly shaped his political outlook. Rudd describes his father, Bert, as a classic Australian. His response to every question of, "How are you, Bert?" was "I've been battling", as Rudd recalled in his maiden speech.
With the loss of the farm, the Rudds were forced to rely on charity and endured years of hardship, at one time living out of a car.
In all, Rudd seems to be that rare creature in modern Australian politics - someone who through sheer intelligence and application has lifted himself from poverty to leadership of the nation.- Jeffry Babb was until recently a Taipei-based journalist.