Kevin Rudd, faced with turning around Labor’s electoral fortunes, has pleaded with young Australia, “Please come back!”
In a late-night press conference at Parliament House on Wednesday, speaking to the media for the first time after the leadership spill, Mr Rudd said many young people do not respect politics, and promised to reinvigorate their interest in politics.
He said the public wanted all politicians to work together, and that would be his aim as PM.
“In recent years, politics has failed the Australian people. All this must stop. As I rock around the place talking to kids, they see it as a huge national turn off.”
He said politics has been shrouded in negativity and eroded trust during his time away from the top job.
“I understand why you switched off. It’s hardly a surprise. But I want to ask you to come back and listen afresh. It’s really important that we get you engaged in any way we can.”
A report compiled by the Co-op Future Leaders Index has found that 55 per cent of Gen Y say they know little about politics. The same group feels disillusioned and apathetic about the political process, and 44 per cent believed “it doesn’t matter who wins the election because both major parties are identical”.
One of the challenges Mr Rudd will face is engaging the 55 per cent of disillusioned young voters when the election is just under three months away. But he remains popular among youth since his first foray into the upper echelons of Federal Politics. Social media remains Kevin Rudd’s domain.
On Facebook, 30 pages with a predominately Gen-Y following bear Rudd’s image and name. His official Facebook page has 80,000 likes, compared to Tony Abbott’s 36,000. On Twitter, Rudd has 1.2 million follows, compared with former PM Julia Gillard’s 300,000.
His youthful following doesn’t just stop on social media, it extends to his political appearances. Even as a backbencher, he was often mobbed by supporters, and is often seen posing with young people taking “selfies”.
When he posted a light-hearted photo on Instagram of himself at a St Vinnies fundraiser with a man dressed as a unicorn, the thread featured users commenting “COME TO MY SCHOOL,” and begging Mr Rudd to be their Instagram friend.
He is frequently seen in social media photos posing with young fans at sporting events, such as the Lions tour match in Brisbane last week, Broncos games and also fundraisers, such as the CEO Sleepout and the Australian Afternoon Tea.
Last week, Federal MP Darren Cheeseman said that Mr Rudd has the Bob Hawke charm.
“People just materialise. I don’t know where they come from, but they mob him,” Mr Cheeseman said. “They want to have their photos taken with him, they want to get selfies done on their cameras and iPhones and they want to put them on their Facebook sites.”
Now Mr Rudd is in a position to steer Labor to an unlikely victory if he can successfully drum up interest among voting youth.
The election is scheduled for September 14, but the date has yet to be confirmed by Mr Rudd. If set for August 24, (the earliest date that would allow a local government issue to be resolved by referendum on the same day) Labor would have just 58 days to turn around what had been shaping as a landslide defeat under Gillard. – Michael Turner
Top photo: Kevin Rudd with Governor-General Quentin Bryce after being sworn in as PM. Photo by Frank Keany, via Twitter.