26 Jun 2013

Kevin Rudd ousts Julia Gillard as Australian prime minister

Julia Gillard has been ousted as Australian prime minister by rival Kevin Rudd, just three years after she toppled Rudd in a similar fashion.

Kevin Rudd is set to become the prime minister of Australia – again – after beating incumbent Julia Gillard in a leadership challenge just three months before the elections.

Mr Rudd’s leadership challenge was a bid to prevent a catastrophic defeat for the ruling Labor party at the September elections, but whether or not it will make a difference remains to be seen.

The events mirror a similar situation three years ago, when Ms Gillard ousted Kevin Rudd as prime minister, drawing comparisons with Voldemort and Harry Potter: one must be destroyed for the other to survive. Ms Gillard confirmed after the vote that she will be quitting politics (watch the video above) and asking Australia’s governor general to accept the politically resurrected Kevin Rudd as prime minister.

Mr Rudd, a former diplomat who speaks Mandarin, won the ballot with 57 votes to Ms Gillard’s 45. It’s the final showdown in a political rivalry that has lasted years and dogged the Labor party throughout its recent period in power.

This is the third leadership coup mounted by Mr Rudd in recent months – one in 2012 and then another in March this year. And of course, Ms Gillard seized the Labor leadership and the country back in 2010 effectively from under Mr Rudd’s nose – almost three years ago to the day of this new leadership contest.

It’s fair to say the instability has not impressed the electorate – nor, seemingly, Ms Gillard, who said ahead of the vote: “There are no more opportunities, tonight is the night, and this is it.”

Early elections?

Australia was set for elections on 14 September, but Mr Rudd could call a vote sooner to try and capitalise on his greater popularity with voters and an expected honeymoon period with the electorate. However, the dramatic leadership tussle may not make a difference to who governs Australia after all because the ruling party is so unpopular.

Andrew Greene, a political correspondent at ABC in Australia, told Channel 4 News from Canberra: “Kevin Rudd has knocked off the woman who took his job three years ago and he now faces the prospect of a tough election against the Conservative opposition led by Tony Abbott.

“Almost no-one now thinks it would be possible for Labour to win the elections under either Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd. The polling has been very bad for Gillard – Labour was looking at a loss of 30 seats. Rudd is expected to save a number of seats but it is still likely to be an electoral drubbing.”

Senior ministers including Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan, Education Minister Peter Garrett, Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Climate Minister Greg Combet announced their ministerial resignations in the wake of the coup. Transport Anthony Albanese was named deputy leader.

The story of Julia and Kevin 
Political insiders joke that while Julia Gillard was liked least by those furthest from her office - voters - Kevin Rudd is liked best by those who have never had to work with him. So while Julia Gillard has been ousted in a bid to win back voters, when Mr Rudd was deposed in 2010, it was more about parliamentary frustration over direction and chaotic decision-making.

But whatever the background, the fact is that their political power struggle has turned off voters from across the spectrum, prompting the incoming prime minister to say: "There's a reach out to young people, turned off by negative politics. I want to ask you to please come back and listen afresh."

Former Labor leader Mark Latham told ABC television: "
This is a programme - a jihad of revenge - the like of which we've never seen before in the history of Australian politics and it goes beyond the normal human reaction of revenge."

Behind the rivalry of the two main players, the back story is the slump in support for the ruling Labor party. Recent polls suggested that the September elections could see Labor lose up to 35 seats, leaving the Conservative opposition with a massive majority in the 150-member parliament.

While Ms Gillard is liked internationally - Caitlin Moran tweeted earlier "Sad news about Julia Gillard. Yes, she wasn't perfect. But feminist role models don't need to be perfect. Currently, they just need to exist" - domestically, her own popularity has slumped along with her party's, leading to the coup from the more popular Mr Rudd.

Concerns over asylum seekers, the mining tax and climate change have not been adequately addressed, voters feel, and it's time for a change.

But many further afield remember how Ms Gillard, Australia's first female prime minister, has battled against sexism throughout her time in power, often with a sense of sheer chutzpah many would like to see from more British politicians. Her 15-minute tirade against the misogynist behaviour of opposition leader, Tony Abbott, went viral - and at least internationally, it is speeches like this which she will probably be remembered for when the leadership battle dust settles.

"I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, I will not. And the government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever. The leader of the opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office.

"Well, I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the house of representatives, he needs a mirror."