Kevin Rudd said on the ABC’s 7.30 Report on Monday that his strip club event was the only skeleton in his cupboard. His record as a politician suggests it is reasonable to believe him.

John Howard to my knowledge has never admitted to any kind of skeleton in his cupboard. However, his record of core and non-core promises (which automatically means some things he says might turn out to be true and others not) suggests we cannot rely on him not to once again lock up small children in our concentration-camp equivalents.

Choosing between these two men is a grave matter and requires much soul-searching. Put simply, it means a vote for a fallible human willing to acknowledge his imperfections or a human of a far more bloodless variety.

How did we find out about Kevin Rudd’s skeleton? One suggestion is that the vital information that blood does, in fact, flow in Rudd’s veins was made available to the public courtesy of a man who once fancied himself as his country’s next prime minister. In his brief 1990s spell as parliamentary leader of the Liberal Party, and, therefore, leader of the opposition, Alexander Downer frequently made an ass of himself, coming across as a likeable but incompetent buffoon.

It did not take the Libs long to realise their mistake in thinking that the son had the qualities of his knighted father. Sadly for Australia, the old pals brigade had to find a job for the boy and, through an excruciating decade of subservience to the whim of Uncle Sam, we have been stuck with Downer as a bull-in-a-china-shop foreign minister. Now, as a dangerous buffoon striding the global stage, he seems also to have taken it upon himself to spearhead coalition resistance at home to the intensifying public notion that John Howard is unfit to be our national leader

Downer has had a hand in all the disastrous foreign policy Howard’s cabinet has cobbled together on the run, Iraq easily being the most tragic. His diplomatic service background for some time seemed to give him at least a semblance of dignity when making public utterances. But now, with polls looking ominous for his master, childishness and a note of hysteria are frequently evident.

Please, Mr Downer, don’t tell me yet again to “Get real” simply because of a happening that might lead voters to think there is something shonky or distasteful about the Howard team’s behaviour.

And, please, Mr Downer, newsprint no longer ends up as fish-and-chip wrapping, as you suggested recently. It has long worried me that you choose to ignore international law when it does not suit your purpose (eg, the decision to invade, against the UN’s counsel, a country that had done nothing more heinous to us than to demand from us — and receive — backhanders for buying our wool). Perhaps, though, it is simply that you are as ignorant of international law as you are of Australia’s health regulations relating to food wrapping.

Tony Abbott coyly played the Trappist monk on the Rudd affair. Pity he isn’t one. At least then we wouldn’t have to listen to his ceaseless pugnacious piety.

And Peter Costello (who always ends up shouting when he gets to his feet in parliament), just as he has failed since 1996 to ever stand up to his master’s scant regard for human rights (never a whimper of dissent from him on issues near and dear to his brother Tim’s heart), he predictably had no opinion to offer on Rudd’s stagger off the straight and narrow.

Nothing this time from Philip Ruddock, but it is lucky for Rudd that New York Moslems tend not to frequent strip clubs. If they did, he might by now also be on a war-on-terror charge of rubbing shoulders with the enemy.

Rudd’s drunken night out pales into insignificance when compared with the performances — many and legendary — of a man who spent nearly a decade at the helm of our nation. Many of us didn’t like him much, but few of us these days look back on Bob Hawke’s dominance of the political scene as a national disaster. It was a dominance that came on the heels of years of acknowledged heavy drinking; and, I’m sure, he would admit, more than one visit to places a would-be PM would be well advised not to frequent.

Hawke took a vow to go on the wagon, and kept it while he led the country. He earned much voter respect for that resolute action. It took courage and was surely one of the toughest decisions he ever had to make.

Because of this week’s revelations, Kevin Rudd is likely to have won and lost quite a lot of votes. He might even have come out of it with a credit.

Should he now make the vow that Hawke made, Rudd could perhaps win himself a lot more respect—and votes.

And Alexander Downer, if indeed he is the man who generously let us know that Rudd is just an ordinary, red-blooded bloke at heart, could be wishing he had kept his mouth shut.

Bob Hawkins

THE big decision Australian voters have to make before the end of the year became crystal clear this week. Their choice for PM is between:

— A man who drank too much and ended up in a strip club, the evidence suggesting he does not make a habit of it.

— And a man, who, stone cold sober, chose to abuse innocent children by locking them up with their parents for years behind barbed wire enclosures. Most of these families were ultimately judged legitimate refugees and entitled to a sanctuary they mistakenly thought Australia, as a signatory to the UN’s declaration of human rights, would have provided without first stealing years of their life from them.