Kevin Rudd has maintained that blame for the decision to walk away from the scheme is shared by Ms Gillard and Mr Swan. Photo: Andrew Meares
Kevin Rudd suffered a panic attack and was driven to "meltdowns" by then opposition leader Tony Abbott's relentless campaigning in the final days of his first prime ministership, a new book has revealed.
The book by journalist Philip Chubb, titled Power Failure, sheds new light on the paralysis over climate policy that gripped the former Labor government in the lead-up to the 2010 election.
In extracts of the book published by Fairfax Media, Mr Chubb - who won a Gold Walkley for the ground-breaking documentary Labor in Power - zeroes in on the period in early 2010 when Mr Rudd switched his focus to reform of the hospital system and avoided addressing the failure of his carbon pollution reduction scheme to pass through the Senate.
Chubb's research, including interviews with 74 people involved with climate policy under Labor, has led him to clearly come down on the side of former prime minister Julia Gillard, treasurer Wayne Swan and their supporters who have blamed Mr Rudd for the paralysis and dysfunction in the government as he delayed a decision on whether to proceed with his emissions trading scheme. He paints a damning portrait of Mr Rudd as agitated, angry and chaotic.
Mr Rudd has maintained that blame for the decision to walk away from the scheme is shared by Ms Gillard and Mr Swan, saying that during the February 2012 leadership contest that the pair urged him to drop the scheme - though the decision was ultimately his.
Chubb writes: "Sometimes Rudd's behaviour in meetings was genuinely worrying. Several sources describe independently how he sometimes physically froze and was unable to continue. He took trips around the garden to help regain his composure.
"While the prime minister was focused on hospitals, he knew he could not just give up on climate policy. But what was to be done? The senior figures in the government, it seemed, were talking about it non-stop. But they could not get through to Rudd, and his paralysis seemed to be worsening."
One Abbott press conference caused a "meltdown", as an observer described it, when the opposition leader promised to fix the hospital system if elected at the 2010 poll. Ministers and senior staff gathered at the Lodge watched as "Rudd hyperventilated and froze so seriously that his chief of staff, Alister Jordan, helped him to his feet and took him for a walk. It seemed he had suffered a debilitating panic attack."
At one point in March 2010, senior Rudd staffer David Fredericks worked with the Department of Climate Change on a package of Direct Action-style measures that could achieve the government's 5 per cent emissions reductions target without putting a price on carbon.
But the proposals were rejected by Mr Swan and deputy prime minister Julia Gillard, with Ms Gillard describing them as "just nonsense" that could not reach the 5 per cent target.
On April 27, 2010 Fairfax Media's Lenore Taylor broke the news that the Rudd government would walk away from its carbon pollution reduction scheme. Mr Rudd tried to pretend the government's commitment remained unchanged - "but of course this was untrue", the author concludes.
Months later Mr Rudd was dumped by his party and replaced by Ms Gillard.