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Profile: Kevin Rudd

Australia's Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd
Kevin Rudd's political fortunes took a sudden dive

Kevin Rudd, Australia's 26th prime minister, stepped down after his ratings slumped in an election year.

Despite opinion polls in early 2010 suggesting he was Australia's most popular prime minister since Bob Hawke, Mr Rudd's popularity rapidly declined when he shelved an emissions trading scheme and picked a fight with the resources sector over his plans for a super tax on their super profits.

Born in September 1957 in the coastal hinterland north of Brisbane, Kevin Michael Rudd lost his father - a farmer - at the age of 11.

Apparently facing eviction from the farm and with nowhere else to go, his mother, Margaret, was forced to sleep overnight in a car with two of her four young children.

Four years later, Mr Rudd joined the Australian Labor Party, his family's experience of hardship having partly contributed to the decision.

There's a clinical side to him, and sometimes he keeps his passion under wraps
Bruce Hawker

As a student, he studied Chinese language and history at the Australian National University, from where Mr Rudd joined the foreign service, serving as a diplomat in both Sweden and China.

But in 1988 he decided to change paths and became the chief of staff to the Labor premier in Queensland.

Ten years later, after carving out a reputation as a competent if slightly humourless technocrat - colleagues nicknamed him Dr Death - he won election to parliament for the Queensland seat of Griffith.

Whilst he harboured prime ministerial ambitions when he first arrived in Canberra, it would be eight years before he became Labor leader, after impressing colleagues with his performance as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

A committed Christian, with a neat turn in sound-bites, he seemed particularly well-equipped to appeal to the suburban swing voters who tend to decide Australian elections.

So in December 2006 he won the leadership, despite not having many close friends in the Labor caucus and little personal following.

His public persona appeared to have no cracks and his character withstood attacks by government on his honesty, questioning whether he exaggerated stories of his childhood hardship, and even the death of his father.

If there was something mechanical about his rise, there is also something mechanical about the man, says the BBC News Sydney correspondent Nick Bryant.

Austere, cerebral and self-disciplined, he is easy to respect but harder to like, our correspondent says.

"Tarnish"

"There's a clinical side to him, and sometimes he keeps his passion under wraps," says political consultant Bruce Hawker, who has been a friend since the 1980s.

"But he's genuinely funny, and as he becomes more comfortable in the role of leader, that side of his personality will come out more," he said.

Yet his so-called "armour-plating" could not protect him when news stories emerged in August this year of his visit to a New York strip club, four years ago.

The stories of his drunken trip in Manhattan inevitably tarnished his image.

While many Australians were left surprised at the revelations about this sober politician's colourful background, jokes abounded in the media of "Reckless Rudd".

Tough talk

And it drew mixed comment from the political pundits, some saying he would benefit from a new "everyman" tag and would not affect his core vote, others predicting the revelations could damage his chances.

Yet Mr Rudd's Christianity still seemed to give him protection.

His fiscal cautiousness made it hard to portray him as a profligate tax and spender, while his years as a diplomat lent him strong national security credentials.

His experience also made it harder for pundits to place the learner sticker on Mr Rudd than it was with his predecessor Mark Latham, says Sol Lebovic, the chairman of Newspoll.

Mr Rudd promised to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq and sign the Kyoto climate pact.

He also pledged sweeping reforms to health, education and controversial labour laws introduced by PM John Howard.



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