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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 237

Mr TURNBULL (WentworthMinister for Communications) (21:01): This is indeed a momentous day. The resignation of a former Prime Minister from the parliament, in the House, is a day that all of us here will remember. We will all remember, Kevin, being here when you resigned from this parliament, a parliament in which, as the Prime Minister has said, you have had a leading and often decisive role for so many years. You have been a leader in Australia; a leader of Australia—a formidable leader. You were the leader of the Labor Party that defeated John Howard in an election campaign that all of us who participated in it remember as in effect a presidential campaign for you. All of my colleagues who campaigned in that election remember. We would go from one electorate to another and there would be one or two corflutes of the Labor candidate and then hundreds of Kevin Rudd. It was a presidential campaign; it was Kevin Rudd's victory in 2007.

When you became Prime Minister, there were quite a few things that we disagreed about, as you know. But your apology to the stolen generation is, as the Prime Minister tonight said, one of those signal moments; one of those moments when a leader is able with his imagination to capture the tenor of the times and make a mark in history, a mark that will never be erased. All of your other achievements—about which we have differing views of course—that your colleagues in the Labor Party have spoken so warmly about tonight, including the handling of the global financial crisis, the National Broadband Network and others, will all pass into forgetfulness. But that apology to the stolen generation will never be forgotten. It is not just one of those marks in the sand of history to be blown or washed away by time, but carved into the granite—into the bedrock—of history. That is your achievement.

When I was the Leader of the Opposition, you were a formidable and ferocious opponent—and indeed an unforgiving one. We differed on a number of occasions. We still occasionally have gentle arguments about your response to the global financial crisis. I still believe that, with the benefit of hindsight, you could have spent less and perhaps spent more wisely. But these are not details for tonight.

What I want to speak about tonight is Kevin Rudd, the man. All of us in politics experience great joy, great highs, and often suffer great lows and setbacks. I will never forget the day that you gave your press conference following your removal as Leader of the Labor Party by your colleagues. It is etched in my memory. It was one of the cruellest moments I have ever witnessed. I had lost the leadership of my own party but, frankly, that was in a dispute about policy. The current Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, and I and various members of the party had a difference about policy and it was resolved in a ballot. It was well flagged. We were bringing it to a head; it was something we had to resolve. It was, if you like, a very fair fight.

The betrayal of you as leader of your party was one of the most shocking events I have ever witnessed. I think it would be one of the most shocking events any of us have ever witnessed in politics—the scale of it. The idea that the man who had won, in this presidential campaign, an election against John Howard was then going to be disposed of, discarded like another course on a lazy Susan in a Vietnamese restaurant—the cruelty of it was extraordinary! I remember watching your wife, Therese Rein, standing there, as the political wives and husbands so often do, the mute spectator to the cruelty inflicted on her husband. As the Prime Minister has often said—and it is one of the truest things you have ever said, Prime Minister—all of us here are volunteers. Our spouses and families are conscripts. The way your family stood by you, Kevin Rudd, is something that also will never be forgotten. But your resilience and your determination— derided by so many of your colleagues and by people in the media and by people on our side as well—was, again, an example to all of us.

The member for Griffith was kind enough to refer to me as his friend. I am touched by that, Kevin, I really am. We did not have any relationship when I was Leader of the Opposition and you were Prime Minister, beyond the antagonistic one in this chamber. But after you lost the leadership I did get to know you a lot better. Initially, I was very worried about you, because I had known how low I had sunk in a much less difficult loss of leadership—a much less difficult loss of leadership. I was very worried about you. As I got to know you I realised what an extraordinarily tough individual you are. Your determination is unequalled by anyone I have worked with in politics. I do not know anyone who is so filled with energy and determination and a preparedness to overcome any setback. That is a triumph of the human spirit. Even if we disagree about one policy or another, it is an extraordinary triumph of the human spirit that you could overcome those setbacks, that betrayal that would have crushed so many other people.

So, together with my colleagues, and indeed with yours, I salute you tonight. I thank you for your service to the people of Australia and to this parliament. I wish you a long and happy life with Therese and your family. As a fellow grandfather, I am sure that you will have a lot of wonderful time with your grandchild, and indeed the many more grandchildren that are to come. Thank you very much, Kevin Rudd, for your service to Australia.