Kevin Rudd: Party saviour or 'recycled failure'?

Kevin Rudd in parliament on 27 June 2013
Image caption Kevin Rudd: Party saviour or dysfunctional leader?

Is Kevin Rudd "a psychopath with a giant ego" or a political messiah capable of saving a divided and demoralised government from electoral doom?

Australia's 28th prime minister is a man of contradictions; reportedly prone to furious tantrums and indecisiveness in private, yet who is unremittingly casual and engaging in public.

"You walk through a shopping centre with Kevin and it's a pretty remarkable experience," enthused a Ruddite MP.

He is the affable, bespectacled member for the inner Brisbane seat of Griffith with "an angelic face", according to one voter, and is arguably his country's most recognisable and popular politician.

But he is hated with an undiminished fury by a significant portion of the governing Labor Party.

His detractors, including the former Treasurer Wayne Swan, have spent much of the past three years trying to sabotage Mr Rudd's reputation since he was unexpectedly ousted as prime minister by Julia Gillard in 2010.

Last year, following a failed leadership coup, Mr Swan blasted Kevin Rudd for his "dysfunctional decision-making and his deeply demeaning attitude" towards his parliamentary colleagues.

At the same time, the Labor MP Steve Gibbons gave Mr Rudd both barrels on Twitter, decrying him as a "psychopath with a giant ego".

Another disgruntled Gillard cabinet loyalist, Tony Burke, was also scathing of the new leader's record in the past. "The stories that were around of the chaos, of the temperament, of the inability to have decisions made, they are not stories," he said.

'Best communicator'

But the kingmakers in Australian politics insist that those demons have been largely purged and that Mr Rudd's political rehabilitation is complete.

Image caption Labor MPs preferred Julia Gillard - but voters did not warm to her

"He's reflected upon what's happened, he's learned lessons about consultation, about listening, about learning lessons from the way he would have done things differently from when he was in power the first time," explained Bill Shorten, a Labor heavyweight.

Kevin Rudd owes his remarkable return to power to the fear and panic that have gripped Labor's ranks following a series of disastrous opinion polls.

Most MPs believe only the man who was once nicknamed "Dr Death" for slashing public services in Queensland can save them from annihilation at the ballot box.

"Kevin Rudd is easily the best communicator, the best person to connect with the Australian public that exists in politics today. He is streets ahead of [opposition leader] Tony Abbott," said Labor MP Richard Marles.

But the task ahead seems immense or, if the polls are accurate, impossible.

Not only must the new prime minister try to heal a fractured caucus but he must also convince voters that a divided government deserves another chance at the next election.

Denounced as dysfunctional by critics within his own party, Kevin Rudd has been dismissed by Australia's conservative opposition as a "recycled failure".

With his mission for revenge completed, the man who spent his childhood on a dairy farm on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane has pleaded with his parliamentary adversaries to, well, be nice to him.

"As we all know political life is a very hard life. Occasionally it can be kind, more often it is not. It has been that way since time immemorial," Mr Rudd told MPs shortly after taking the oath of office.

"So let us try to be a little kinder and gentler with each other in the further deliberations of this parliament."

But the road to the next election due in September will be full of unexpected twists and hair-raising turns, and stalked by political highwaymen and women eager to ambush the Rudd juggernaut.

The big problem for Kevin Rudd is knowing where the real danger lies; within the conservative opposition or inside his own party.

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