The office is comfortable, not overly ornate. His desk faces the door, the dark wooden surface polished and absent of any superfluous papers. A LCD computer monitor sits on the right hand side. The walls of his office are adorned with a mix of photos from his time as Prime Minister, some caricatures and separate times spent with his local constituents. There is a map of Griffith, his electorate (and ours) on the right hand wall. Dressed in open necked shirt and suit pants, former Prime Minister and my local MP, Mr Kevin Rudd stands to greet us.
Taking pride of place on the left wall is a young photo of former 70's Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, which allows me to reflect on both men for a moment. In their times as the country's leader, both men were reformers and both had their time in government cut dramatically short. Both also stayed on to serve in public office after their tenure as PM.
It was Whitlam that had first attempted to bring about change to people living with a disability through his 1974 Handicapped Persons Assistance Act. With the legislation before the senate, it was the 1975 dismissal of his government that terminated the legislation and plunged the disability community further into the dark age.
Now inside Kevin Rudd's office in 2012, there's a strong sense of bridging that divide. Today we've come to talk to him about the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as part of the Every Australian Counts Talk To Your MP campaign.
It's late afternoon and there are five of us visiting him today; two mothers, Tanya and Christine, the children, Jaden and Bonnie and I, Jaden's Dad. The setting for our meeting is a modest 2 seater couch with adjoining chairs overlooking a coffee table. A copy of The Australian and a copy of The Courier Mail are stacked neatly on the table, crisp and unread.
"Hello, young man," says Kevin Rudd, greeting Jaden as I lift 31Kgs of him out of his wheelchair and move onto the couch.
Jaden has his own language and chooses to respond with a raspberry. He's not one for respecting the presence of statesmen. Luckily, no one is offended and we're not ejected from the premises.
Kevin (as he insists we call him) takes one of the lower back chairs for himself and instructs his young constituent officer, Adrian, to take up residence in his high back chair. Bonnie sits quietly next to Kevin.
"How can I help?" he asks in soft spoken tones. He looks tired. He's been through some tribulations these last couple of months. As recently as February, he'd been outvoted in a party leadership challenge. Also, as he informs us, his son's wedding took place the night before.
As I wrestle briefly with Jaden (constantly on the move and my excuse for the bad hair in the photo) one of Kevin's staff pushes a cup of tea onto the coffee table. He takes it straight and I suspect no sugar, as the teaspoon appears dry and the tea clear. He listens intently and makes direct eye contact with the speaker.
We only have 15 minutes so we start straight in with the NDIS. There's no need to go into a NDIS sales pitch. Kevin was involved from the start by instigating the Productivity Commission report into Disability Care And Support in Australia. As a child he had suffered from an illness that damaged his heart and several years later underwent corrective surgery on an aortic valve. He understands the need for change all too well.
Just prior to Kevin being elected Prime Minister, on 30th March 2007 Australia became a signatory to the United Nations Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities.
The following year, over two days on the 19th and 20th April 2008 at Parliament House in Canberra, he brought together a thousand people from around the nation to host the Australia 2020 Summit, a general discussion to promote ideas on forming a modern nation. He was often seen sneaking silently into workshops and was photographed sitting cross-legged on the floor, listening to the speakers.
One of the overriding themes was the plight of Australians living with a disability and their carers. He'd listened to case after case of misery, poverty and frustration. Coupled with what he'd heard, it was immediately obvious that Australia was in direct violation of it's commitment to the UN under the convention.
"People were asking me, why can't we have a better system?" he says in reflection. "I realised we had to do something comprehensive with it, not just skate over it. In my time as Prime Minster, the three reforms we needed to make were to health care, aged care and disability care."
At the summit, the UK model of a government-funded, self-directed disability scheme was frequently mentioned. This concept of a social insurance model took shape and Kevin officially requested the Productivity Commission to investigate; to not only see if Australia could afford such a scheme but to document a specific pathway toward implementation. Before the report was completed, on 24th of June 2010 Kevin was deposed as Prime Minister by Julia Gillard and her supporters.
Several years on from this event, it's hard not to still think of him as the PM. Throughout the course of our conversation, we slip and make references to his government colleagues as your ministers. The Australia 2020 Summit website still has a photo of him on its main page with the caption, The Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd.
He is greatly admired in his own electorate. Two weeks earlier we'd encountered him in the local shopping centre, swamped by people and creating shopping trolley gridlock. In the wider community, as recently as February 2012, a Newspoll approval rating showed him at 53% to current Prime Minister Julia Gillard's 28% when voters were asked the question; Which one of the following do you think would be the best candidate to lead the Labor party?
Post 2010 Federal election, the country remains polarised between the Liberal party and the Julia Gillard led ALP. The nation is still uneasy with the way in which Kevin was deposed. There is a strong sense that it was the people that put him in charge and that only they should be the ones to remove him. Constitutionally, that's not the way it works in Australia and the "R-word" is a discussion for another day.
Meanwhile, outside of all the politics, the John Walsh and his Productivity Commission team continued on it's 18 month journey and delivered it's report to Government on 31 July 2011. It hit Canberra like a brick hurled through the main front doors. It had consulted with thousands of people struggling to provide services to the needy. It documented personal cases and provided finances on how to fund the NDIS. Disability rights were now right up there on the agenda and there was no way it could be ignored.
We ask Kevin how can families best be involved in the forging of the NDIS? How best to shape the NDIS so that we get the horse and not the camel? Perhaps, most importantly, can we get started now and make it real in 2012?
It's at this point that Kevin excuses himself to reach forward for the tea.
"This is my take on it," he says, sipping silently. Placing the tea back on the table he motions to Adrian, who is waiting with pen raised and notepad open.
He sees no reason why the NDIS cannot start to happen this year and he wants to confirm the possibility of this for us. He orders letters to be written to all ministers relevant to the NDIS on timeframes and community involvement. Secondly, he instructs meetings to be organised during the next Parliament sitting week for him to follow up on the correspondence.
In his time as PM, it has been reported that he went through many staff. He delegates instructions politely but swiftly. I get the impression that there is no margin for slackness or time to state it twice. Such work is best left to the those with youth and vim on their side.
Having briefly overstayed our time, we present Kevin with a red Every Australian Counts T-Shirt. He holds it up and lays it across his chest proudly in much the same way a father might do so upon receiving a new shirt at Christmas. Our meeting ends with a photo for the Every Australian Counts photo gallery. The next constituent is in the outside waiting room.
Critics, here, will say that we've achieved very little, that Kevin will not be able to do anything, that he has no political pull in Canberra now.
However, by not taking part in the democratic process in which we live, by not talking ideas over with your MP, it becomes a certainty rather than a possibility that nothing will be achieved. We cannot simply leave everything to Julia, or to Tony or to Kevin and expect them to fix everything for us. As constituents, if you are passionate about any change then it is in your interest to become involved with the process of reform. If you get nowhere, at least you had your say.
For Kevin, there may be no Return Of The King style homecoming to The Lodge. However, as with Whitlam, when he does decide to depart public life, I believe he is determined for it to be a time of his and his electorate's choosing, rather than at the hands of anyone else.
There are too many people to thank here for the NDIS and no one should claim ownership of it. I do think when it's bedded down, beyond 2020 and politics, history will remember Kevin kindly as a reformer that instigated change for many people living with disability, their carers and parents.
Yesterday, Kevin Rudd made a Constituency Speech in Canberra. It's not every day your son gets mentioned in Parliament, for the right reasons.