Kevin Rudd has completed one the great political comebacks in Australian history by reclaiming the prime ministership from Julia Gillard in a party room vote in Canberra tonight, 57 votes to 45.
Earlier, Victorian factional heavyweight Bill Shorten switched his allegiance from Ms Gillard, whom he supported as late as this morning, to Rudd. Rudd is now seen by many as the ALP’s only hope of avoiding an electoral wipeout in the September 14 election.
Outgoing leader Julia Gillard had said prior to the vote that she would resign from Parliament if she lost the leadership ballot.
The result may provide hope for Labor MP in marginal electorates; but first it raises critical constitutional questions over whether an early election will be called.
Expert comment follows:
Maxine McKew, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at University of Melbourne
The return of Kevin Rudd to the Labor leadership puts some real contestability into the election campaign. Rudd at least, will make Tony Abbott sweat and that’s a good thing. Democracy demands a contest.
The last time that Rudd and Abbott went head-to-head was on the issue of health during a National Press Club debate in April 2010. Even though he was facing off against a former health minister, Rudd wiped the floor with him. Rudd’s leadership represents an immediate confidence hit for embattled government MPs.
He is an energetic and convincing campaigner, a big plus for those defending shrinking margins in electorates across the country, and he is, after all, the bloke who beat John Howard.
Rudd now has a unique opportunity - to lift the national debate above the noxious poison that has been the recent norm, and to re-connect the Labor Party with the mainstream of Australian voters. Does he have a chance? Absolutely. Can he win? If he leads with purpose and moral clarity, he may yet surprise us.
George Williams, Anthony Mason Professor, Scientia Professor, Foundation Director - Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at UNSW
The process now is that Julia Gillard will tender her resignation to governor-general Quentin Bryce, and in doing so will advise the governor-general on who to appoint as her replacement. This is likely to be Kevin Rudd on the basis that he is likely to have the confidence of the parliament, but whether or not he has the numbers could be tested on the floor of parliament.
August 3 is the earliest possible date for Rudd to hold an election of both houses of parliament, while November 30 is the latest possible date.
If opposition leader Tony Abbott calls a no confidence motion and it is successfully passed, you would expect he would be given the chance to form government, and in turn you could see if he had the numbers. It is possible that Abbott would not pursue a no confidence motion - he might not want to become prime minister at the end of the term - but might instead push for an early election.
In these scenarios you look to what the independents as the kingmakers will do. As it is a minority government the Labor leader is not guaranteed to be prime minister, so we wait to see how the uncertainty about their positions will be resolved.
Eva Cox, Professorial Fellow Jumbunna IHL at University of Technology, Sydney
Julia Gillard lost the prime ministership not because she was a woman. She lost the prime ministership because she didn’t connect - there were a whole lot of problems and unfortunately a lot of it’s going to be tagged as a gender issue and I don’t think it was.
I think a lot of the unpleasantness was gendered but I think basically she was not connecting with people and unfortunately it sort of ended up blowing up in this particular way.
It was interesting listening to Rudd’s speech before he went in. He very clearly attacked Abbott on policy and I think that’s what somehow or rather got tangled and it didn’t work. One of the things that I am concerned about is if we do end up with a gender debate on this, that we will end up creating a sort of myth about the whole thing - because every time a man falls over we don’t claim men are incompetent.
When Barack Obama was asked whether his election meant black people had equality, he said, “no, we’ll get equality when we get a stupid black person in power”. I think it’s a bit like that. I think some of the stuff that’s gone around in the last few weeks about gender has really obscured the fact that there has been a major problem of communicating policy within the Labor party. She’s had to wear it and I think we have to blame the party and not the person.
I think Rudd’s got a clearer idea of where it might go and he might actually get some passion back into the party because what it’s been doing at the moment is sort of deadening itself down. There’s no sense of excitement about the Labor party even the fact that they’ve got two fairly good policies, that gets muted down because of all the other ones that don’t work.
I think (Rudd’s leadership) will mean that there won’t be an (electoral) rout. I’ll be very surprised if they got back in but I think at this particular stage it wouldn’t be a rout or they’ll have enough seats in the Senate so as not to give the Coalition government a good go.
Labor has got the capacity to spring back from this because I think there’s a Labor vision. One of the things that Rudd said, and I’ve heard it again and again, people felt the moment they didn’t want to vote for either major party and I think what Rudd will give people is a reason to vote Labor.
Trevor Cook, University of Sydney
Gillard is much closer to the unions than Rudd is, so this move will be problematic for the union movement. Rudd will want to run as a presidential candidate, beholden to no-one in the party. I don’t think he’ll think he owes anything to anyone in the party or the unions. If he has a chance of winning, he has to run on a sort of Peter Beattie platform.
On the other hand the unions have a lot at stake. They don’t want Abbott and they don’t want Abbott with a large, majority control of the senate. It cuts both ways for them.
Bill Shorten did as many union officials do when they reach parliament: he put his future ahead of his past. I think he’s quite serious when he says he’s committed to the Labor party.
I think if Rudd does win, this will be a signal change to the labour movement, the relationship between the union movement and the ALP. Whitlam didn’t have any relationship with the unions, and it didn’t seem to matter that much until inflation hit.
Geoffrey Robinson, Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin University
I think today showed that ultimately the desire to minimise losses at the next election is what motivated Labor MPs. It took a long time for that to happen but it happened.
Now it’s a matter of the government focusing on the election. The party will unite reasonably well, but voters will not forgive these dramas fairly quickly. The popularity issue isn’t going to be fixed: there is still the carbon tax, the asylum seeker issue, issues about the economy.
Labor now have a slightly bigger chance, but they still don’t have much of a chance. It will minimise some losses, like Queensland, which looks a complete disaster area, and New South Wales as well.
There should be a focus on left wing issues like carbon pricing, asylum seekers. Is marriage equality an issue that can be put on the agenda? This could reel in leftist voters that may have been lost to the Greens.