Rudd accused of wasting public money on a butler

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The Independent Online

The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was accused yesterday of employing a taxpayer-funded butler during overseas trips, amid signs that his political honeymoon may be over.

Opposition politicians claimed that a "travel assistant" listed as a member of Mr Rudd's staff was a Jeeves-type figure who shined his shoes and put out his clothes each morning. Harking back to Mr Rudd's promise to help working families in Australia, Senator Michael Ronaldson asked a parliamentary committee: "How many working families have a butler?"

Mr Rudd has enjoyed record approval ratings since his Labor Party swept John Howard from power six months ago, but his run of popularity may be coming to an end.

Australians are angry about rising fuel prices, and claim the government could do more to ease the burden. Conservative politicians have exploited that discontent, promising to cut the excise on fuel if elected. Mr Rudd responded by saying he would consider removing consumption tax from fuel to reduce pump prices.

But it is not only the global price of oil that is hurting Mr Rudd. The Prime Minister has been castigated by many in the Australian art world for describing the work of the internationally renowned photographer, Bill Henson, as "absolutely revolting". His comments followed a police raid last week on a Sydney gallery exhibiting Henson's photographs of naked adolescents.

Mr Rudd was condemned by Cate Blanchett, the Oscar-winning actress, who took part in a Rudd-led summit on Australia's future last month. Blanchett was among 43 figures from the arts community who wrote him an open letter, saying: "The potential prosecution of one of our most respected artists is no way to build a creative Australia, and does untold damage to our cultural reputation."

Mr Rudd's office has spent the past two days rebutting accusations of Bertie Wooster-esque over-indulgence. Senator Ron-aldson claimed: "We've got this man who is travelling overseas with a butler or a valet or a footman or man-servant." But Mr Rudd's staff insisted that the travel assistant merely helped him with invitations, gifts and travel arrangements.

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