A Bob each way for Queensland Kev

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The loyalty of Bob Katter is pivotal to Kevin Rudd.
Source: Herald Sun

LOVELY days for Kevin Rudd, these, when even his mistakes are gold.

Take yesterday, when he tried so helpfully to dismiss talk that he’s plotting to snatch back his old job from Julia Gillard.

“I’m a very happy little Vegemite being Prime Minister,” he insisted.

Oops. A mistake, the Foreign Affairs Minister guffawed: “You’ve caught me getting off the plane, jet lag.”

But if he’d done it deliberately, he couldn’t have got a better result.

This was all he needed to set off another day of media chatter about Gillard’s polling woes – another day of debate about how Rudd could yet rescue Labor if only his colleagues listened to the public’s clamour for a wronged man’s return.

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After all, which TV and radio news editor could resist that bit of audio from Rudd’s interview with ABC Central West, in Orange?

Hold it. ABC radio where? In Orange?

Now, normally a frantically busy Foreign Affairs Minister, especially one from Queensland, would not have time to yak to some local radio station – especially when that station’s HQ is in a seat safely held by the other side.

But Rudd is campaigning even harder than ever. He really, really wants to be that happy little Vegemite again in The Lodge, triumphant over those plotters who so humiliated him last year.

In fact, he and his allies are talking to all kinds of people, even Labor heavies who’d thought they’d deep-sixed him last year. And ominously for Gillard, his unofficial emissaries include independent MP Bob Katter.

Why does Katter matter? Well, consider the latest strife to hit Gillard – the brawl over poker machines that she’s managed to start with not just the NRL clubs, but now AFL ones as well.

The clubs are screaming they’ll lose millions of dollars if she keeps her promise to independent MP Andrew Wilkie to make them install technology that switches off a machine after a gambler loses a pre-set amount.

If Gillard keeps her word, furious clubs with hundreds of thousands of Labor-voting members will make some Labor politicians pay with their seats.

But if she breaks her promise, Wilkie says he’ll tear up his agreement to keep Gillard as Prime Minister. He could force an early election in which Labor would be smashed.

A dilemma, you’d conclude. But here comes Katter, who never supported Gillard, urging Labor powerbrokers to give Rudd another go.

It is almost inconceivable that Katter would not back a man he’s described privately as his closest friend in Parliament, if Rudd once more got the job.

Lose Wilkie, but gain Katter, is Rudd’s pitch. Labor could then scrap the pokies promise, without Wilkie forcing it to the polls.

Of course, as Rudd grows stronger, his Labor opponents grow more strident.

On Sunday, on The Bolt Report, I showed Kristina Keneally the infamous footage of Rudd treating her like dirt when, as the then NSW Premier, she welcomed him last year to their talks on a health agreement.

As Keneally spoke to him, Rudd shuffled his papers and studiously refused to look her in the eye, and when she finished he banged the table, and still ignoring her, snapped: “Yeah, well, let’s get on with some health reform.”

On seeing it all again on Sunday, Keneally said: “That picture says a thousand words. and it really goes to why the caucus is going to stick with Julia … People can work with her quite readily.”

But not with Rudd, the first prime minister to ever be dismissed by his colleagues on the grounds that he was a bastard and completely out of control.

This remains the last, powerful argument of those still trying to prop up Gillard, the walking dead. It’s that however bad Gillard has been, she’s still recognisably human, consultative and rational. But Rudd is as he was – vain, dictatorial, impulsive and dysfunctional, which is precisely what got Labor halfway to this disaster.

Who blew all those billions? It wasn’t Gillard.

Who dismantled the boat people laws in the first place? Not Gillard.

Who stuffed up the mining tax negotiations? Who always made the wildest promises with the minimum preparation? And who was so high-handed that he’d keep meetings of his top public service chiefs and colleagues waiting for hours, as if he were the Ceausescu of Canberra?

Bring Rudd back and who knows what he might do. Sack everyone who slighted him, starting with Treasurer Wayne Swan? Make arch-plotter Bill Shorten, the ambitious Assistant Treasurer, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs instead?

But such objections are made mostly by Labor heavies with power and positions to lose – the very people who knifed Rudd last year without consulting the backbenchers.

Ministers have good reason to fear the vengeance of a returning Rudd, however much he coos on television how he’s become a better listener, but not so those backbenchers.

They don’t have the big offices and titles for Rudd to take from them.

All they have at stake are their seats, and for them the calculation becomes only too simple.

Stick with Gillard and half of them in the House of Representatives will be out on their ear at the next election, on current polling.

But switch to Rudd, and Newspoll suggests these MPs would actually win the next election. Lose under Gillard, or win under Rudd, who is twice as popular. It’s not really a hard argument to explain.

Then there are the trimmings. Rudd could bring over Katter, and give Labor one more crucial vote as a buffer. He could ditch the pokies “reforms”. He could tell the Greens to go jump – which they wouldn’t, anyway.

He’d also have licence to either adopt the Coalition’s “Nauru option” on boat people, or accept on-shore processing as a moral virtue, rather than defeat.

He could even put off the carbon dioxide tax, arguing that since the public never voted for it, we shouldn’t get it.

He could give Labor a fresh start, and rob the Liberals of their best lines on boat people, pokies and global warming. What else they got?

And if an election were held soon afterwards, voters may not have time to remember what made Rudd the worst leader we’d had until Gillard came along.

That’s a strong sell, although if anyone could stuff it up, it’s Rudd. No wonder his many enemies in caucus are desperately considering a Plan B to thwart him, even if it means offering dull Defence Minister Stephen Smith as a compromise.

Bottom line: Rudd’s still hungry for his Vegemite, and the people who may yet make him Prime Minister again aren’t Labor’s generals, but its troops, facing annihilation in their marginal seats.

You know those seats – out where local radio stations broadcast to audiences so small you wonder why an out-of-town politician would bother with them.

But one politician does, and his name is Kevin. Even jetlagged, he’s deadly.

Read Andrew’s columns each Wednesday and Saturday in the Herald Sun. Join him weekdays at 8am on MTR 1377

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