Federal Politics

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PM's away, and look who plays

CUP day saw the ubiquitous Kevin Rudd mingling at Flemington with a couple of his backers, cabinet ministers Martin Ferguson and Anthony Albanese, as well as union leader Paul Howes, a ''faceless man'' from the 2010 coup.

Where better to share some cheer with your mates and (sort of) overlook a still-felt wrong but in the Emirates marquee at the Birdcage? When Mr Howes and Mr Rudd encountered each other, there was a good deal of mutual backslapping.

The former PM had paid a visit to Bionic Vision Australia at Melbourne University. Soon he was off, flying to Sydney to launch Phillip Adams' book Bedtime Stories, followed by an interview for the ABC's Late Night Live. Adams had been asking Twitter followers for questions to put.

Mr Rudd, who seems especially visible when Julia Gillard is out of the country - he did his well-publicised Lateline interview when she was in India - says he is not running for his old job. But he's certainly on the run.

Sunday saw him deliver an address titled ''The future of Sino-US relations: building a 21st century Pax Pacifica'' to the Closing Ceremony of the Beijing Forum 2012, at Peking University. He also did an interview from Beijing for Sky TV.

Within hours of landing in Australia on Monday he was co-hosting Ten's The Project, putting the heat on Joe Hockey over the shadow treasurer's leadership ambitions while trying to dance around his own (''I'm not a candidate'', he said when asked whether he wanted his old job back).


Today he will be on the Nine Network's panel, commenting on the US presidential election.

The improvements for Labor and the PM in the polls are considered to have put paid to Mr Rudd's hopes of a return to his old job this year.

This means any chance would depend on the polls early next year.

Julia Gillard ruled out an early election in an interview with a women's magazine published this week. In a new version of the gender offensive, Ms Gillard and six of her women ministers met Marie Claire at The Lodge last month. With a rash of speculation in Canberra that the government might go to the polls early next year, the PM was asked ''Are you going to call an early election?''

She replied: ''I read in the newspaper today that I was, but no''. Ms Gillard has agreements with the crossbenchers to run full term, which would put the election in the second half of the year.

That gives Mr Rudd more time, but if Ms Gillard continues to improve in the polls he won't be able to turn it to his advantage. (It is believed that Labor's own polling is more like this week's Galaxy poll, which had Labor trailing 47-53 per cent, than the 50-50 result of the last Newspoll.)

Some in Rudd's camp say his frenetic activity is not just about being seen by his colleagues but also driven by a determination that, if he can't be top dog, he will just do what he wants. And he always wants to do a lot.

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