My Global Mail colleague Michael Bowers once had the pleasure of talking to one of Kevin Rudd’s primary school teachers, and learned that even back then, Kevin was a little know-it-all.
He would demand to know what was to be taught the next week, so he could swat up in advance, the better to argue.
Rudd is a policy wonk, and very proud of it, too. Which is why he came across as just a little disingenuous on Tuesday morning on Sky TV, when he claimed a level of ignorance about his government’s mining tax.
Actually, he came across a lot disingenuous. And more than a little treacherous.
Rudd, as we all know, has never really come to terms with the fact that he lost the prime ministership to Julia Gillard. And notwithstanding his promises of fealty after his failed attempt to re-take the leadership mantle a year ago, he sometimes cannot resist the opportunity to make mischief.
And what an opportunity the Sky TV appearance presented. Interviewer David Speers asked him about the government’s mining tax, which Rudd sees - not entirely unreasonably - as a factor in his loss of the leadership.
The sequence of events leading to his downfall was this:
Rudd backs mining tax, which has been recommended in a comprehensive review of tax policy.
Mining companies organise a $22-million ad campaign attacking him and his government.
His popularity falls, and he loses the leadership.
And within weeks his successor, Gillard, brings in a renegotiated, watered-down mining tax, which the big miners helped design.
And this tax, which was supposed to fund a long list of spending promises, proves to be a fizzer.
It was forecast to raise $2 billion in 2012-13, but in its first six months it raised just $126 million, or about 6 per cent of that figure.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of people now are asking how the government screwed it up so badly, and the general consensus is that it got snowed by the big mining companies. And plenty of people - the Greens and independents, and more than a few members of the government, think changes should be made to screw
Cognisant of all this background, Sky’s Speers asked Rudd a splendidly leading question:
“Now, you came up with the mining tax, it was watered down under Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan. It’s now collected far less revenue than forecast. You think it can be amended to raise more revenue. Should it be?”
Well, Rudd started with a potted history of the tax review, and how Treasurer Wayne Swan brought the mining tax idea “to the relevant ministers of the government including then deputy prime minister [Gillard] and myself. We supported the Treasurer’s decision to go forward …” he said.
Then, he began to twist the knife:
“Of course after the government’s leadership changed, the Treasurer and the new Prime Minister elected to make some significant changes to the structure of the tax. I think we are all familiar with what those changes are. So, I think in terms of any future changes to the tax, given the fact that it has not collected any real revenue of any significance so far, that really is a matter for the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to consider and I’ll leave it with them.”
Speers pressed further. Surely it was a disappointment to Rudd that “after all you went through and the government went through in trying to get this mining tax in place it has collected, as you say, next to no revenue?”
Rudd repeated a bit of the history again, and then twisted the knife some more.
“The new Prime Minister and the Treasurer elected to make these changes. You see, what I’m unfamiliar with is what undertakings they also gave the mining industry at that time.
“So when I say these are matters for the Prime Minister and the Treasurer of course that lies within their executive remit right now, but also they need to be mindful of what undertakings they’ve given to the mining industry as well.”
History, he concluded, would be the judge of whether they gave away too much to the miners.
It was quite a neat knifing, really. Rudd never actually suggested that further changes should be made to the tax. But he made it amply clear that whatever was wrong with it was nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the woman who replaced him.
Beyond that, he managed to imply something furtive in the deal Gillard and Swan struck with the big miners, by saying he was “unfamiliar with what undertakings they also gave the mining industry at that time”.
That makes it sound like some kind of secret deal. In fact, there are public, signed agreements on the detail. Policy wonk Kevin knows exactly what undertakings were given. But the uninformed viewer might just get the impression there is something we haven’t been told about.
Naturally, the Opposition picked up on Rudd’s words later in Question Time, but it was comparatively ineffectual in its attacks.
And that’s the irony of federal politics at the moment. There is way more intellectual firepower on the government benches. But too often, it is aimed inwards.