Portrait unveiling: Kevin Rudd | Prime Minister of Australia
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting and I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.
I am proud to lead a Government that will give every Australian the opportunity to vote for Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in our founding document, in a referendum later this year.
I welcome Therese and Jess and Marcus and all the members of the Rudd family who are with us today.
None of us in public life could serve without our families – and you have been a source of strength and inspiration to Kevin for longer than anyone else.
Now to Jess and Marcus, of course, you have something that Therese doesn’t have, because she knew what she was getting into. You were born into it. And our kids do, I think, have a focus as conscripts which can make life difficult from time to time.
So thank you for your contribution. And it’s great that your grandkids are here as well. Or at least two out of the three, welcome.
To all the Parliamentary colleagues who are here, current and past, it is so fantastic looking out here.
You can draw a crowd, Kev, let me tell you.
It is an extraordinary turn out here today.
And that says a lot about the standing in which you are held and the respect that you have.
To our friends from the United States of America, it’s the Australian American Leadership Dialogue function going on over the next couple of days here. I look forward to hosting you at The Lodge in a few hours’ time.
You are very welcome guests here in this country.
And, of course, Ambassador Kennedy is doing a remarkable job.
To all of Kevin’s former staff and friends who are here as well, it is fantastic to see you and to see, as I have over a long period of time, the long loyalty. And Kevin spoke about members of the family, I regard that as someone who has a very small family in terms of blood relatives, our staff do become our family and a rock in which we rely both in good times but importantly as well in the difficult times going through.
It is fantastic to see so many who are here.
I do want to give a shout-out to the artist, Ralph Heimans, who is with us here today.
Congratulations on two outstanding achievements.
Now I have to also sign off and approve on the works, so I have had the preview. And it is indeed a really powerful portrait that I think really captures Kevin.
And it’s probably, without giving away too much, it’s probably the only portrait to feature a pet. When you see what is about to happen, coming up, and that certainly, I just want to give you the teaser in there.
You’re all thinking now, what sort of pet is in this portrait?
It is indeed an outstanding achievement.
But to you Ralph, I also want to congratulate you on your second achievement, which is how on earth did you persuade Kevin Rudd to sit still long enough to get this done? That’s what struck me.
When Kevin spoke with me about it the time and indeed a number of Prime Ministers who followed Kevin – at least 27 and 28 have already had their portraits hung here.
It struck me that it was possible that you had done it over a period of a decade on the moments in which Kevin was sitting still.
Kevin, I welcome you here today and it is an extraordinary honour for me as someone who served as Deputy Prime Minister to you a decade ago, to welcome you here as Prime Minister today.
I welcome you here, as well as a very dear friend and comrade of such long standing value and friendship. It is one where you have been a source of advice and a very good friend for a long period of time.
But I also welcome you here, and you did make passing reference to it, as someone who gave this magnificent Parliament one of the finest moments I believe it’s had since Federation.
And without question, without question, the finest moment that I have had as a Member of Parliament, in the first day in which I had the honour of being the Leader of the House of Representative, the first day that Parliament sat in 2008.
That Apology was spoken about for a long period of time. It was said that it would result in division, that it would result in reparations, that it would be a moment of division.
Instead what it was, was a moment of national unity.
And I pay tribute as well at this point in time to the courage and leadership of Brendan Nelson at the time, the Leader of the Liberal Party, who showed leadership at that time as well.
It was a moment in which anyone who was there will recall looking up at the galleries and seeing those Indigenous Australians like Lowitja O’Donoghue and so many others who had been through trauma and hardship, of which I just cannot comprehend the enormity of what they had been through.
And yet, you had patiently sat down with the Stolen Generation, not just that day, over days and weeks and months following the 2007 election. Gone to them and sat down about what they needed, about what they wanted.
And you agonised over the words, up until the point of causing me some angst that Parliament was not going to sit because you were still re-writing the words.
Because for you it was so important that it be pitch perfect.
And indeed it was.
Every word, perfect.
Leaping out from the page as a demonstration of compassion and reconciliation and a ‘verbal hug’ in the way that you embraced people who needed it.
A beautiful piece of work, I believe, only matched by the beauty of that one page Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017.
We have unfinished business.
But you made a contribution which can never be taken away and can never be diminished.
At that moment, whether it be Indigenous Australians in the gallery or whether it was school students gathered at every school in the nation watching it on big screens, or the people out there on the lawns cheering, the country stopped.
And when the words finished, the country was larger.
That moment of healing and unity was made possible because of the bravery and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
But it was also made possible because of Kevin’s compassion, decency and leadership.
It’s the way that your Government began and it’s the way that it continued.
Ratifying the Kyoto protocol on the very day that the Government was sworn in.
The largest ever increase in history to the age pension and Australia’s first paid parental leave scheme.
Record investments in social and affordable housing.
The abolition of WorkChoices.
The creation of the National Broadband Network as part of a significant rollout of infrastructure, including more funding for urban public transport than all the previous governments combined in the previous 107 years since Federation.
And the world’s best response, bar none, to the Global Financial Crisis.
A set of policies that meant that while every other advanced economy was falling into recession, the Australian economy actually grew.
It was indeed a very challenging time to serve as Prime Minister.
But I think also it was a time in which leadership was required.
And leadership was shown.
And the final thing that I want to say this morning about Kevin and it’s a quality captured so well I think in the work we are about to unveil, is that he has always been someone who has shown a belief in Australia’s capacity to show international leadership as well.
Not seeing us a small country, an island continent far away – but an active and constructive Indo-Pacific power, that could punch above our weight in the world because of who we are.
Our capacity as one of the great multicultural success stories in the world.
To use that to project our values to the world.
Australia acting as both architect and advocate for peace and security, for economic and environmental progress.
As Kevin once said:
“A principle encompassing not only what Australia can do for itself, but also what Australia can do for the world.”
And I saw that firsthand, at the first meeting of the G20 in London.
Over those days there, that I had the privilege along with Kevin and Treasurer Wayne Swan, of attending.
It was a time where a world was on an abyss, on the edge of a cliff, where it needed global, cohesive action to avoid that cliff.
And I say this as a source of Australian pride.
There was no person more important in that room than the leader of what’s now, and I think then, the twelfth largest economy in the world.
Kevin Rudd, he was the person who I saw physically, verbally, was engaging between Asian powers including China and European and North American powers, of course led by our friends in the United States of America.
And that difference that I saw first-hand at that meeting is something that showed his extraordinary strategic and intellectual tenacity, as he brought together people to co-ordinate a response to the Global Financial Crisis.
That same spirit saw Kevin launch Australia’s successful bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
Of course, what we know is that Kevin’s faith in Australia hasn’t faded.
Neither has his belief in service to our nation.
And that’s why, given Kevin’s capacity in the service that he had done to the Asia society.
His book about the relationship between China and the United States, that should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to understand the strategic tensions but also opportunities in our region, is so important.
And that’s why Penny Wong and I asked Kevin to accept the role of our Ambassador to the United States of America, where he is doing an outstanding job representing Australia.
So I say to Kevin, we are grateful for all your service to Australia.
We are grateful that your service continues.
And you can be proud that everyone who visits this building, including future generations, will be able to look on this portrait and know your place in our nation’s history.