It's PM Rudd Again
As a measure of the bitterness that has infected Australian politics and wrought a change in the leadership, the now former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her successor, Kevin Rudd, agreed that whoever lost the challenge would quit politics for good. At least six of Gillard's supporters appear to have decided to leave politics as well.
Just about an hour before the historic meeting to decide their respective fates, Labor Minister and power broker Bill Shorten called a snap press conference to announce his abandonment of Gillard and support for Rudd. The switch of loyalty of two strong Gillard supporters, Sens. Penny Wong and Bob Carr, brought an expectation of change to the parliamentary corridors, leading to a 57-45 vote in favor of Rudd, with the popular Anthony Albanese elected as deputy leader and becoming deputy prime minister, replacing Wayne Swan.
Rudd has been undermining Gillard as prime minister ever since she deposed him for being unpopular with the Australian electorate in 2010. Rudd, elected by the people in 2007 had always believed he was the legitimate leader of the Labor Party and should be the prime minister.
Wednesday was Rudd's third challenge against Gillard. In the second, Rudd failed to even put himself forward as he didn't have the numbers. This forced ministers like Kim Carr and Chris Bowen to resign, indicating the deep divisions within the party due to the bitterness. This third attempt succeeded because most members of the labor caucus knew that Labor under Gillard would probably lose up to 30 seats in the coming polls against Abbott's Liberal National Party Coalition. They saw Rudd as the only chance for the party to reconnect with the people.
However within an hour of the ballot, Labor looked like falling apart, with ministers Wayne Swan, Greg Combet, Craig Emerson, Peter Garrett, Stephen Conroy, and Joe Ludwig all resigning from the ministry. What made it even worse was that most of them also said they would retire from parliament as well. On Thursday Defense Minister Stephen Smith he would retire in this coming election.
The Rudd challenge has saved Gillard from a disastrous defeat at the polls in which Labor would have only maintained a small handful of seats, making it difficult for any future leader to rebuild the party. A large section of the Australian electorate had still not forgiven her for the way she disposed of Rudd in 2010.
Although Gillard had pushed through plenty of achievements during her stewardship, it didn't generate electoral popularity for her, which in the view of many people in the party was bringing the Labor vote down. During the last two weeks in which Gillard defended herself against Rudd's attacks, she tried to mobilize public support with the gender issue, which only seemed to polarize her supporter base even more.
Rudd has always been popular. Knowing how to play the media and campaigning is his strength. His campaigning abilities inflicted so much damage on the Howard government during the 2007 election that even the leader John Howard lost his seat. For many parliamentarians Rudd is their only hope of remaining in parliament after the election. He has for months been operating like a de facto opposition leader, walking around shopping malls in marginal electorates of Western Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, helping out these members.
Rudd is opposition leader Tony Abbott's worst nightmare. Up until 6.30 pm it was almost a foregone conclusion that Abbott would become the next premier. To try and counter the electoral threat from Rudd, the Liberals posted an advertisement on YouTube with insulting comments about Rudd, with comments made by Gillard, Wayne Swan, Craig Emerson, Peter Garrett, Stephen Smith, Stephen Conroy, Kate Ellis, and former politicians Graeme Richardson and Mark Latham.
If the Rudd-Abbott exchange in Parliament on Thursday is any indication of what the election campaign will be like, it going to be a very highly competitive one, where now both Abbott and Rudd will be fighting for their political lives.
A Morgan Opinion poll taken on Wednesday night of 2,000 people in marginal districts around Australia indicated 49.5 percent support for labor and 50.5 percent support for the Liberal National Party, a rise of more than 7 percentage points for labor almost instantaneously. A Newspoll released on Thursday showed a 50/50 dead heat between the two major parties.
So when will the election be held? Rudd in the parliament on Thursday morning indicated that it might be later than sooner, giving him an opportunity to reestablish his authority. He may travel to Jakarta next week for an annual bilateral meeting next week, take over chairmanship of the G20, and take Australia's seat in the UN Security Council, all events that will show him as the statesman he sees himself as. Rudd's public manner since his election last night indicates that he means business and is determined to win the coming election. It would be hard seeing him miss these events for anything.
So the Australian election that must be held within the next four months looks like being strongly fought by two adversaries who don't take kindly to defeat. It's going to be competitive again, where the Australian electorate will likely polarize this time and vote for the major parties, squeezing out the independents from the lower house. The events of this week will be quickly forgotten, where the business of the day will become the main focus of the electorate.
Rudd is well aware that Australians are suffering financially in the outer suburbs, where real unemployment may actually be higher due to statistical definitions used by the Australian Department of Statistics. He declared the China resources boom over and wants to revive manufacturing where the lower Australian dollar will assist. He also knows that the youth of Australia are indifferent to politics and winning them over would greatly assist in securing victory.
He also needs to get business on side, after abandoned tax cuts, issues over union rights to visit workplaces, and 457 visa issues. It is also unlikely Rudd will strengthen the mining tax, as he wants to woo the mining magnates whom Abbott has been courting of late.
Australia will be presented with two visions in the coming election, where Rudd may escape the baggage of the former Gillard Government, where the campaign will be like two opposition leaders fighting for the No. 1 job, with no prize for second place.
One can also see that over the last couple of weeks in the adjustments to Abbott's rhetoric and narrative. Expect Abbott to put up more vision of what Australia would be like under an Abbot government during this campaign, as this is the weakness that Rudd will exploit to the hilt. Conversely, Abbott will exploit the near collapse of Labor, which is almost as catastrophic as the Labor split in 1955 which cost it a lead in government for almost two decades.
Some Liberal members tonight are even contemplating whether they were right to ditch Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader in 2010.
The smile Rudd has been holding back in front of camera is tell-tale of his own deep satisfaction in extracting revenge on Gillard and wresting back the premiership which he had long felt was taken from him cunningly. However for Rudd to pull off a victory will still be a tall order. His party is in tatters, he still has to pull together a ministry, there are still a lot of voters fed up with labor's infighting and want a change, and Abbott is still a formidable opponent.
Expect the next four months to be very eventful in Australian politics, while two 'opposition leaders' show the Australian people all their tricks.