Ed Jacobs reports from Australia on the kerfuffle around Kevin Rudd's resignation.
Less than two years since Labor’s Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female prime minister – ousting the incumbent, Kevin Rudd, following fears over his chances at the 2010 election – and that very same Kevin Rudd has resigned as Foreign Minister, triggering a raft of speculation about a possible leadership challenge.
After months of discussion about the leadership of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), centred on relations between Gillard and Rudd, things this week came to a head as ministers supportive of Gillard urged her to take action against Rudd.
The tipping point came as cabinet minister Simon Crean accused him of outright disloyalty to the prime minister and government. With the prime minister seemingly reluctant to distance herself from Crean’s comments, Rudd has now decided it best to step down.
Speaking at a dramatic early morning press conference in Washington, Rudd declared:
“The simple truth is that I cannot continue to serve as foreign minister if I do not have prime minister Gillard’s support.
“It’s time for some plain-speaking on this. The truth is I can only serve as foreign minister if I have the confidence of prime minister Gillard and her senior ministers.
“In recent days Mr Crean and a number of other faceless men have publicly attacked my integrity and therefore my fitness to serve as a minister in the government.
“When challenged today on these attacks, prime minister Gillard chose not to repudiate them. I can only reluctantly conclude that she therefore shares these views.”
Most strikingly off all however, and the clearest hint that he is contemplating a bid to regain the leadership of the ALP, came as he turned his attention to his party’s electoral prospects.
Discussing concerns within Labor about the continued polling success of opposition leader, Tony Abbott, Rudd argued:
“There is one overriding question for my caucus colleagues, and that is who is best placed to defeat Tony Abbott at the next election.
“Mr Abbott, I believe, does not have the temperament or the experience to ever be elected to hold the high office of prime minister of Australia.
“But at present, and for a long time now, he has been on track just to do that.”
Unsurprisingly, the statement has led the Australian media to launch into a frenzied round of speculation about what happens next, with Sky News Australia predicting Rudd will make a formal challenge to regain the premiership as early as next week when Parliament reconvenes, echoed by ABC News.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald meanwhile, Daniel Flitton argues that the move by Rudd is part of his search for vindication, with bitterness still felt at the way he was trounced by Gillard in 2010.
Writing for the paper online he argues:
“One exasperated Labor MP told me this morning to see Labor’s leadership battle was akin to watching an ugly, messy divorce. Everything built over the years by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard since 2006 is being torn apart.
“The children — the ALP members — are the innocents caught in this spat. The house sold off, furniture divided, and on and on.
“For all the sniping in the shadows over the past few weeks and months, the public can no longer doubt the level anger between these former partners.
“Rudd has set himself as the victim. It’s a ”soap opera”, he says, and ”I won’t be part of it” for the good of the nation. The truth is undoubtedly more complex.
“Rudd appears to want vindication, for the history books to record that the Labor party wronged him in 2010.
“There is no great policy issue at stake here — this is entirely about personality, the bitterness of separation.
“The other man in this picture, Tony Abbott, is almost an afterthought, although Rudd has cleverly raised the spectre of an Abbott government to focus Labor minds.”
In his analysis meanwhile, Troy Bramston, writing in the Australian, had a simple message for the now former foreign minister:
“When Kevin Rudd returns to Australia on Friday morning he should immediately meet with Julia Gillard and tell her that he is challenging for the leadership.
“If Rudd is to maintain any sense of credibility, show that he has courage and that he can put the party and the government above matters of personal rivalry, then he should force a showdown now.”
Meanwhile, speaking to ABC Radio’s “PM” programme, the network’s election analysis Antony Green had a sombre message for the ALP, explaining:
“On current polls the Labor Party has no chance of winning the next election. They need a significant turnaround. Before the next election I think the general view would be that, in my view I can’t see Julia Gillard leading the government to the next election.
“She is just not popular enough. The government’s polling is poor; that sometime between now and the election there will be a change of leadership.”
But the appetite for a straight Gillard/Rudd rematch for the leadership is, according to Green, not going down particularly well within the parliamentary party. He went on to explain:
“If they’re going to make a change it would have been more likely later in this year and they would want another option. They don’t want to have to choose between Gillard and Rudd again.
“It’s a bit like after Andrew Peacock lost in 1990 Federal election, the Liberal Party wanted another choice other than just John Howard again and I think the party’s in that sort of position.
“They’d acknowledge they’d probably want a change of leadership but they want it to be a reasonably good transfer of power and they want another option rather than going to Kevin Rudd again.”
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