Published on Mornington Peninsula News Group website on 12 August, 2013.
Also appeared in print in Mornington News and Westernport News on the same day (see below).
HE recently referred to himself as the “the glasses-wearing kid in the library”, but Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s reception at Langwarrin Park Primary School on Friday was more akin to that of a rock star.
Flanked by Labor party “minders” and school officials, Mr Rudd arrived in a government vehicle to a group of waiting children chanting his name.
At least 50 media people looked on as Langwarrin Park principal Ray Flanagan welcomed Mr Rudd and local ALP candidate Sonya Kilkenny to a school full of visibly star-struck pupils and teachers on the fifth day of the federal election campaign.
Mr Rudd’s appearance in Dunkley followed a visit on Thursday by former Liberal PM John Howard, accompanying sitting Liberal MP Bruce Billson on a day of campaigning in one of the nation’s most marginal seats.
Ms Kilkenny – a lawyer, mother of a young son and Seaford resident – has been busy in the community during the election campaign, appearing at shopping centres in addition to using Facebook, Twitter and an iPhone app to connect with constituents.
Her official campaign launch was held at Frankston’s Long Island Golf Club on Thursday night.
Mr Rudd’s visit gathered huge attention, not only from national media outlets but also in the community. The crowd size was impressive given the news of Mr Rudd’s visit only reached the electorate late on Thursday.
“We only found out that he was coming yesterday afternoon,” school captain Kaytlan Gray said.
“When we told our class, no one believed us,” school captain Mitch Charles said. “They only believed us when Mr Flanagan made an announcement; then they were really excited.”
Mr Flanagan and the school captains escorted Mr Rudd as he made his way through the school’s corridors very slowly, partly because he left no small hand unshaken and partly because the media frenzy surrounding him prevented anything faster than shuffling.
A light was almost broken by one TV crew’s boom microphone, while Canberra photojournalist Mike Bowers growled at a few cameramen for almost hitting children’s heads with their equipment. But it was the smaller cameras Mr Rudd clearly focused on, obliging anyone who asked for one of his famous “selfies”.
It seemed the common school rule banning the use of mobile phones was temporarily lifted.
There was some discussion among students about starting a “hashtag” on photo-sharing network Instagram to track the photographs.
“My friends were actually talking about ‘#selfiewithKevin’ last night,” Kaytlan Gray said.
Mr Rudd held Prep class chickens, listened to music performances by pupils, and watched grade six students tutor younger pupils. But according to the school, it was business as usual.
“We didn’t do anything different,” Mr Flanagan said. “It was just a normal Friday morning. The only thing we did differently was that [the media] couldn’t film in the music room so we pulled our bands out into the foyer.”
The media-savvy PM was careful to reiterate Labor’s contribution to the school’s recent refurbishments.
“This is the library that we built, is it?” Mr Rudd asked Mr Flanagan more than once, referring to the government’s 2012 Building the Education Revolution scheme, which helped the school to overhaul its main buildings.
“We modified about a dozen classrooms and we also built that library and computer lab,” Mr Flanagan said.
Mr Flanagan said he was thrilled with the government’s new Better Schools (previously Gonski) funding plan, which will provide $6.8 million to Victorian schools.
“This school should receive an extra $3.8 million over the next six years as a result of this new investment,” Mr Rudd told the media in a press conference broadcast live from the school’s library.
“That helps provide more one-on-one attention for kids whether they are littlies who might be having a bit of a problem with their literacy and numeracy or kids who are being held back a bit because they are bursting with energy and enthusiasm to learn things.”
The Better Schools plan was highlighted by Ms Kilkenny as a priority for Dunkley. She did not discuss any other local initiatives, and instead told The News that education was her primary concern for the campaign.
“A very important issue [for locals] is education and that’s why I was so pleased that we could get the Prime Minister down for the day to one of our schools,” she said.
Although the Coalition has indicated it would honour any agreements reached by the current government under the Better Schools plan, Ms Kilkenny suggested the funding may not be secure.
“Our kids down here in Dunkley deserve 100 per cent commitment to Better Schools. That’s what I’m out here fighting for.”
Ms Kilkenny was expected to address the media in the press conference, but journalists’ questions for Mr Rudd ran overtime and, as usual, he had to “zip”.