Date: August 23, 2013 12:00AM
Written by: Rachel Baxendale, Reporter, Melbourne and Sid Maher, National Affairs Editor, Canberra
A RETIRED air vice-marshal has accused Kevin Rudd of "bully standover tactics" and a make-up artist has declared he was rude as she prepared him for the people's forum debate, reviving questions about the Prime Minister's character that emerged in his first stint in the role.Air Vice-Marshal Peter Criss revealed Mr Rudd had warned him in a private meeting that funding for veterans would be at risk if he "bagged" the Labor government. He accused Mr Rudd of using "classic bully standover tactics" and threatening veterans with getting nothing if they criticised Labor's military superannuation indexation policy.
The air vice-marshal's comments came to light as Brisbane make-up artist Lily Fontana posted a message on Facebook that suggested Mr Rudd had been rude to her in the lead-up to Wednesday night's people's forum in Brisbane.
The revelations blunted Labor's attacks on Tony Abbott's character, after the Opposition Leader snapped during the forum debate, asking of Rudd "does this guy ever shut up?"
Ms Fontana, who lives in Mr Rudd's electorate of Griffith, wrote in her post: "Just finished doing Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott's make-up for the People's Forum at the Broncos Leagues Club. One of them was absolutely lovely, engaged in genuine conversation with me, acknowledge (sic) that I had a job to do and was very appreciative. The other did the exact opposite! Oh boy, I have ever (sic) had anyone treat me so badly whilst trying to do my job. Political opinion aside ... from one human being to another ... Mr Abbott you win hands down."
The post echoed claims that Mr Rudd had been rude to air force staff during his first term as prime minister. In the lead up to his failed February 2012 leadership challenge against Julia Gillard, an expletive-laden video was leaked of him losing his cool as he prepared a Chinese-language video.
As news of yesterday's Facebook post spread, prompting a string of government ministers to have to defend Mr Rudd's character, the Prime Minister's office was confronted with fallout from Air Vice-Marshal Criss's revelations in an interview on Brisbane radio on Wednesday.
The retired airman alleged that at a meeting in the Prime Minister's office on July 11, attended by Mr Rudd, Defence Force Welfare Association national president David Jamison, DFWA executive director Alf Jaugietis and Defence Materiel Minister Mike Kelly, Mr Rudd warned the DFWA against bagging the Labor government.
"I told him I was going to have to point out to our members that what Labor is offering is not a good deal," Air Vice-Marshal Criss said.
"I'm the national media manager, so I told him I would be putting together policy comparisons of what each party is offering. Rudd said, 'That's fine, but don't bag us, because if you bag us, we'll pull up the drawbridge and you'll get nothing'."
Air Vice-Marshal Criss told The Australian yesterday he had been intending to stay quiet about the incident, but chose to speak out after becoming infuriated with what he termed Dr Kelly's "untruths" about military superannuation indexation during an interview with ABC News Breakfast's Michael Rowland on Monday.
On July 30, the government announced it would boost the military pension of more than 26,000 retired Australian Defence personnel by indexing their payments in the same way as aged and service pensions from next July. But the measure only applies to those aged 65 and over, which according to the DFWA leaves more than 200,000 servicemen and ex-servicemen on insufficient payments.
Dr Kelly said the way Air Vice-Marshal Criss had characterised the meeting was "absolutely untrue". "He's basically saying that the Prime Minister was threatening," Dr Kelly said.
"That's completely untrue. He was there to engage and support (the DFWA representatives) and they were very happy that they were there having the meeting.
"The only way he could have construed that was perhaps that we emphasised the importance of acknowledging the changes to the system that had been made by Labor."
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said he did not accept Air Vice-Marshal Criss's characterisation of the meeting.
"The Prime Minister had a productive meeting with members of the Defence Force Welfare Association, including Air Vice-Marshal Peter Criss," the spokesman said.
"The outcome of the meeting was that the Prime Minister agreed to support the next step of the DFWA's proposal for indexation and we look forward to ongoing constructive engagement with the DFWA on this matter."
Ms Fontana's Facebook post yesterday was shared more than 1000 times on the social networking site before Sky News ordered the freelance make-up artist to take it down.
She contacted Mr Rudd's office and offered an apology to the Prime Minister. By mid-morning, Ms Fontana had posted a new, regretful message.
"Didn't think my personal page/opinion of my day would get so much attention," she wrote. "What a lesson to learn. I've removed the post and regret making the comments I did."
Another Brisbane-based make-up artist, Abigael Johnston, who has worked for the Nine Network, had posted on Ms Fontana's wall about a "similar experience" with Mr Rudd, noting John Howard and Peter Costello were "gentlemen". "The other, I could not even face book (sic) how he treated the crew. Just abhorrent!" she wrote.
When contacted, Ms Johnston said: "That post has been taken down. I have no comment."
Employment Relations Minister Bill Shorten defended Mr Rudd's character, saying he believed the Prime Minister had changed. "I have no doubt that not only is Kevin Rudd a more consultative person, but he is the right leader for these times," he said.
Former prime minister Bob Hawke, in Adelaide for a state Labor event, said voters did not care whether Mr Rudd was rude.
"If you're an intelligent voter, what's going to be more important to you: the fact that, under a great deal of pressure, the Prime Minister was just in passing a bit rude to a person, or that he is going to have for you and your kids and your grandchildren, a better education policy, a better health policy a better economic policy?" Mr Hawke said. Asked about the Facebook post, Mr Rudd said he understood "the person concerned has withdrawn their remarks from Facebook, and they regretted making those comments".
"When you are preparing for a debate with two or three minutes to go and someone walks in and puts stuff on your face, you smile, you are in the zone, you're ready to go," the Prime Minister said. "I don't know about you folks, but I'm not happy about having make-up put on at the best of days.
"You smile, then two or three minutes later out on the stage to participate in the debate - I think a misunderstanding has occurred and I have no hard feelings in terms of the comments which this person has now withdrawn."
Mr Abbott fumbled Ms Fontana's name - calling her "Tilly" - but he praised her professionalism and said the pair had an enjoyable conversation prior to the contest.
He played down his "does this guy ever shut up" remark during the people's forum. "Look, one contest that I can never win against Mr Rudd is a talkathon," the Opposition Leader said.
Mr Abbott said Mr Rudd suffered from being "all talk and no action".
Mr Albanese said Mr Abbott's response to Mr Rudd was "aggressive, was angry, and it reminded me of a leader we used to have, Mark Latham".
"I thought his handshake during the first debate was his first Mark Latham moment, and last night we saw his second Mark Latham moment ... People are right to be worried about this bloke, about whether he is up to the job," Mr Albanese said.
Additional reporting: Sarah Elks