When Kevin Rudd was rising through the ranks of the Parliamentary Labor party a decade ago, his most diligent critic was Joel Fitzgibbon. No aspect of Rudd’s persona was immune from Joel’s ire. Whether it was Heavvie Kevvie’s policies, speaking style, hairdo or even his wife’s looks, the Member for Hunter was hunting for Rudd’s scalp, literally.
Joel was adamant that, as with his political style, Rudd’s hair was artificial. On several occasions he wanted to grab hold of Kevvie’s fringe and yank it skywards, proving he wore a toupée. For this and other reasons, the loquacious Queenslander was known as Kevin Rugg.
Joel’s other great joy was in discovering a newspaper photograph of Thérèse Rein, a woman with a keen sense of self-awareness. Earlier this month, Rein spoke of learning to forgive herself for ‘not being five-foot-ten inches, blonde and drop-dead gorgeous’. Fitzgibbon would not have it any other way. Such was his hatred of Rudd, he rejoiced in his rival being condemned to a lifetime of waking up next to Ms Rein.
Animus of this kind is not unusual in politics. What I find odd is Fitzgibbon’s current role as a numbers man in Labor’s continuous-play horror-thriller, The Rudd Resurrection.
My old buddy is furious he missed out on a ministry after the February leadership ballot. He was overlooked when Julia Gillard foolishly invited Bob Carr into cabinet. Adding to Fitzgibbon’s grievance, Kate Lundy was given the prized sports portfolio in this year of the London Olympics. As one of the enduring Good-Time Charlies of Australian politics, Joel would have set numerous PBs in mounting the five rings of Olympic fellowship.
But that’s public life. In the memorable phrase of Sarah Hanson-Young, tragedies happen, accidents happen. Fitzgibbon has resigned as a founding member of the Anyone But Rugg Club, complaining to his colleagues that Gillard has betrayed him. The greatest betrayal, however, is to his own moral code: Joel’s willingness to jettison the values of a knock-around Aussie bloke and support a tosser like KRudd.
What about the toupée? That hasn’t changed — like the rest of Rugg. Even his brother is bagging him publicly, confirmation of my motto that those who know Kevin best like him least. If Greg Rudd doesn’t support his brother, why should the Labor party?
Gillard has little to fear from Fitzgibbon working the numbers against her. Among Labor’s machine men, he is best remembered for voting the wrong way. The Latham Diaries for 3 February 2003 records the details. Laurie Brereton was under attack from Leaping Leo McLeay as the parliamentary convenor for the NSW Right. When a ballot was held, the McLeay forces ‘came close, losing by one vote. Joel almost threw it away, initially voting for the no-confidence motion (against Brereton) — a brain explosion.’ Wrong-Way Fitzgibbon may end up voting for Gillard after all.
In the traditions of the Westminster system, a sacred point of honour is the role of party whips. Their primary function is to support the leader. If at any time their loyalty falters, they are duty-bound to resign their position (which in the Australian House of Representatives carries substantial additional remuneration).
It is a measure of Labor’s dysfunction that each of its three whips (Fitzgibbon, Eddie Husic and Jill Hall) are working against Gillard in favour of Rudd — an extraordinary circumstance. Last week, the Manager of Opposition Business, Chris Pyne, was right in calling for Fitzgibbon to resign. The same ethical standard should apply to Husic and Hall.
In the hysterical reaction to Channel Ten’s hit program The Shire, one of the harshest critics has been Jessica Yates, a Fox Sports reporter and former Miss Parramatta Raceway. On the night of the first episode, Yates tweeted, ‘The Shire has to be one of the most inane, embarrassing, highly offensive pieces of rubbish TV that has been produced … ever.’ I thought that title belonged to motor racing.
Humiliation of the hoi polloi is one of the standard techniques of commercial television. As a sports fan, Yates would be aware of the AFL and NRL Footy Show ‘street talk’ segments, in which the toothless, seemingly hopeless characters of working-class neighbourhoods are subject to public ridicule. On Paul Vautin’s NRL show, Parramatta Mall is a favourite target, yet Miss Parramatta Raceway has been tweetless in defence of her local community.
Similarly, Lisa Wilkinson, a Campbelltown girl-cum-Today presenter, has raised no objection to The Footy Show’s humiliation of the hapless battlers on Campbelltown’s main street. Yet in watching The Shire she wrote, ‘I have been sitting in front of the TV with my mouth wide open for 10 minutes — like, totally.’ This is the same look Wilkinson has each morning when sitting next to her co-presenter Karl Stefanovic, a try-hard bogan notorious for appearing drunk on-air.
At Richard Wilkins’ book launch last year, Stefanovic described his host as ‘the Don Bradman of rooting’, adding ‘three things about Richard Wilkins: great bloke, big hair, massive cock’. When the Australian television industry awarded its 2011 Gold Logie, recognising the work of its most successful ‘personality’, Stefanovic triumphed. Is The Shire really such a surprise?