Australian Politics: The Return of Kevin Rudd

Guest Blogger: Dr. Andrew Banfield, Australian National University

Replacing a sitting Prime Minister less than three months out from a September election is interesting.

Replacing Prime Minister Gillard with a former Prime Minister Rudd, who his cabinet colleagues labeled just last year an “egomaniac” and “control freak” is remarkable.

Add to the story that this is a complete reversal of what happened three years ago the last 24 hours have been extraordinary.

There has been angst in the Labor Party for some time about their 2013 electoral future.

The polling numbers for the incumbent Labor Government are bad: once in a generation, landslide, 1993 Progressive Conservatives bad. Because Australia selects their party leader via parliamentary caucus vote, there had been discussions for two years about a potential leadership change.  Indeed, there had been a plethora of rumors that the Rudd was going to challenge one more time. Of course, he’d tried twice in the past three years and failing both times.

There are only two ways you can challenge for the party leadership:

(1) an agreement of one-third of the caucus, or

(2) the current leader can call for a spill.

Around 1pm local time there was a breaking news report that a petition was circulating for a special caucus meeting and leadership spill. As the story gained strength throughout the day, it was clear that a tilt for the Labor leadership – and Prime Minister of Australia – was in the cards.  At about 4pm, the Prime Minister announced that she was calling a special caucus meeting for 7pm where the leadership would be decided ‘once and for all.’  Indeed, she upped the stakes by saying if she lost she would resign from politics – and encouraged all challengers – Rudd – to do the same.

Like any good title fight, as 7pm neared the contenders entered the room: Prime Minister Gillard with a group of supporters, soon-to-be Prime Minister Rudd alone.  An hour later the final result: 57 votes Rudd, 45 votes Gillard.   In the aftermath, another six cabinet ministers resigned their posts including: Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, Wayne Swann.

What does the change in leadership mean for the forthcoming election?

Prime Minister Rudd is a populist and an excellent campaigner.  This will no longer be an obvious route for the Liberal-National Coalition.

Indeed, some analysts and MPs are suggesting that Labor has an outside shot of winning with Rudd as leader. Whatever happens in the coming months, the events of the last 24 hours have been nothing short of extraordinary.

Andrew Banfield is a Lecturer and Deputy Head in the School of Politics and International Relations at the Australian National University.

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