“I … used the call as an opportunity to ask Dr Bourla whether there was any possible way, given Pfizer’s current international contractual obligations, to advance the dispatch of significant quantities of the Pfizer vaccine to Australia as early as possible in the third quarter this year,” Rudd wrote. He spoke, not on behalf of the government, but as a “concerned Australian”.
A week later, Morrison announced his government had convinced Pfizer to bring forward their delivery of vaccine doses to Australia. The government denies any link between Rudd’s overtures and the lucky news of the early delivery.
Health Minister Greg Hunt told the ABC: “While we were made aware of Mr Rudd’s approach, we are not aware this approach had any impact on the outcome.” He later described the ABC report as unattributed, unsourced and unverified.
Pfizer also distanced itself from any claim Rudd helped: “The only two parties involved in these agreements are Pfizer and the Australian government,” its spokeswoman said.
Whatever the truth beneath the murk, Rudd’s cheek, and the funny way the story ended up in the media – as has happened so often with this former prime minister – was delightful. It brought to mind Rudd’s effectiveness as opposition leader against John Howard, and may even have conjured a wistful memory of how many seats he won for Labor in the 2007 election (83, a 23-seat swing to the ALP).
I like to think former prime minister Julia Gillard is sitting back with a gin and tonic in London, drily chuckling to herself, basking in the relief that Rudd is now someone else’s problem.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who famously refused to support Rudd’s bid for United Nations secretary-general, will surely be glad Kevin is able to exercise his diplomatic prowess in this respect, at least.
Perhaps the Rudd-the-vaccination-helper story will be forgotten in the formless time-soup of the past 18 months. Who can remember anymore what happened and when? I remember some controversy over planes flying in from China, and the rest is a blur.
Most people have been following daily COVID case numbers but little else, certainly not the intricacies of political fights. But there are certain news stories that break through, because they are funny, or outrageous, or involve tantalising detail that speaks to the character and personality of the players.
This is sad for politicians. They might spend decades devoting themselves to public life, but often they will be remembered in snapshots, and often those snapshots will be of their worst moments, as framed by the media.
Prime minister Tony Abbott will be remembered for many things, but a lot for knighting Prince Philip. Conjure up Bronwyn Bishop and something about a helicopter will spring to mind. Kevin Rudd – didn’t he have a tantrum about a hairdryer once? (A report he denied.) Julia Gillard and the bloody fruit bowl.
We will remember Morrison, in March 2020, saying he was going to the footy, right after announcing a nationwide ban on non-essential mass gatherings. (He later changed his mind.) We remember his Hawaiian holiday during the 2019 bushfires and his telling 2GB’s John Stanley: “I don’t hold a hose, mate.”
And I suspect we will remember Rudd intervening to speed up a complacent federal government vaccination rollout that desperately needed a kick up the fundament. Even if Kevin’s kick had no effect, as the government says.
Or maybe not. Maybe the story is just another distraction. We all need those right now.