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Kevin the confessor -

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Kevin the confessor

Broadcast: 01/03/2010

Reporter: Chris Uhlmann

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has spent the last few days in a media blitz - apologising for the
government's shortcomings and promising to do better. But the 'I'm sorry' approach has ignited
spirited debate within the Labor party about the leader's tactics.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: After several days of mea culpas for his government's shortcomings, the
Prime Minister today removed the hairshirt and attempted to take back the political initiative.
Kevin Rudd and his deputy launched the Government's promised national schools' curriculum. But the
initiative had to share the spotlight with the Prime Minister's extraordinary media performances of
the past few days, where he confessed to Government shortcomings and promised to do better. Around
the country his ministers were being quizzed about their failings, and inside Labor ranks there was
spirited debate over the wisdom of the leader's tactics. Political editor Chris Uhlmann.

KEVIN RUDD, PRIME MINISTER: I've failed the high standards I've set for myself and the Government.
... I head the Government. I'm ultimately responsibility. ... We need to lift our game. I need to
lift my game in terms of delivering.

CHRIS UHLMANN, REPORTER: The apology began late last week, and by Sunday the penitent Prime
Minister had firmly laced on his hairshirt.

KEVIN RUDD: We are taking a whacking in the polls now. I'm sure we'll take an even bigger whacking
in the period ahead, and the bottom line is I think we deserve it, both - not just in terms of
recent events, but more broadly.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Kevin Rudd and his advisors clearly believe an act of contrition was necessary to
reset his relationship with the public. Labor has apparently detected a feeling in the community
that their concerns about his government aren't being heard. So, a moment's reflection and humility
was called for. But his weekend absolutions went well beyond what some in his ranks were expecting.

KEVIN RUDD: One of the problems that we have had as a government, for which I accept
responsibility, is we didn't anticipate how hard it was going to be to deliver things.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Opinion in Labor is split on the three sorry days. Some believe the Prime Minister
has hit the right note; others, including some in Cabinet, are bemused. While they concede it was
necessary to admit the fault in the bedevilled insulation rollout, they believe the Government has
a strong record of achievement to sell. One said the Prime Minister had overwound the apology and
left people with a broad impression of failure that's both damaging and inaccurate, and it means
his frontbench is being asked to engage in a bout of Maoist self-criticism.

STEPHEN CONROY, COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER: We've been having a tougher time over the last few months.
The Liberals are reenergised around Tony Abbott. So, I agree with what the Prime Minister said.

JOURNALIST: What mistakes have you made that have contributed? Does it come down to individuals?

STEPHEN CONROY: I'm not sure the Prime Minister was singling anybody out. I think he was talking
about the collective. And I think all of us understand what the Prime Minister said on the weekend
was right.

RADIO COMPERE: Do you reckon the Government's as bad as he said?

STEPHEN SMITH, FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, as a minister I never get involved in a running commentary
on what the Prime Minister says. I just take it as read.

PENNY WONG, CLIMATE CHANGE MINISTER: Kevin was being upfront with the Australian people about the
things he thinks we've done well and the things where we could improve. And I think he's being very
clear about making sure that where we can improve, we will.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The Coalition says it's seen this all before.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE, OPPOSITION EDUCATION SPOKESMAN: Kevin Rudd is a very professional, cunning and
scheming politician when it comes to trying to turn around his political fortunes. This playbook is
straight out of the Peter Beattie school of Queensland politics. I remember watching television one
Sunday afternoon when Peter Beattie announced an election in Queensland. He said the health system
was broken and he had to be re-elected to fix it.

PETER BEATTIE, QLD PREMIER (archive footage, June, 2000): As Premier, I accept it as my
responsibility, it is fully my responsibility, the buck stops at my desk and I won't pass the buck
to anyone else. I accept responsibility for this and I will ensure, along with the Treasurer and
the rest of the Cabinet, we get it right.

CHRIS UHLMANN: One Labor strategist pointed out that Peter Beattie was very successful, but another
said that it might not work federally and that the Prime Minister would have to walk back a bit
from his sweeping criticism, and he did seem to have a tighter formulation today.

KEVIN RUDD: The bottom line is this: we need to do better, deliver more and get back to the basics.
That's what we're here to do today.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The Deputy Prime Minister interprets her leader's words as raising the bar.

JULIA GILLARD, EDUCATION MINISTER: I do agree with the Prime Minister's assessment, and what I
believe the Prime Minister is challenging me and other ministers and the Government overall to do
is to keep improving, keep rising to the challenge, keep delivering on the things that matter to
working families.

CHRIS UHLMANN: It should be noted that politics isn't an exact science and people's opinions on
what works always vary widely. On one thing though there is agreement: that after an enormously
long honeymoon, the Government is beginning to show signs of wear. That was perhaps best explained
by the Foreign Minister.

STEPHEN SMITH: I think people just need to look carefully at where we are in the system. We spent
12 months in our first year in office essentially finding our feet. 12 month governing, and then
one of the regrettable features of Australian public life is we that have a three-year term. So,
already now, after just over two years, we're back into an election cycle.

RADIO COMPERE: It's the endgame.

STEPHEN SMITH: So we've gotta make the transition from governing to getting ourselves re-elected,
and you always have transitional difficulties along the way. But the Prime Minister's made the
point we believe we've been a competent and assured government, but we haven't been perfect. But in
the end, we'll let the community make the judgment.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The Coalition has already passed judgment.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: I think he just looked rattled. I think plainly this is the
politics of seeking forgiveness that he's interested in. It's not the substance of delivering
better services. It's all about getting a headline, it's not about delivering better services. And
I think that the thing about this "I'm sorry" routine is that he really wants to get off scot-free.

CHRIS UHLMANN: When all is said and done, the Government is still in a strong position and there is
no need for it to panic. But perhaps the most worrying sign is that its tight discipline is
cracking. Private criticism is becoming more pronounced. So the Prime Minister means it when he
says that he has work to do.

KEVIN RUDD: I've actually gotta get back to work.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And Tony Abbott will ensure that Kevin Rudd has to work a lot harder at keeping
government than many in Labor expected just three short months ago. The Newspoll report card is out
tomorrow.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor Chris Uhlmann.