The Return of Rudd

Ian TullochIan Tulloch

First published in the Bendigo Advertiser on Friday 28 June, 2013

Kevin Rudd has returned as Labor Prime Minister in the most dramatic of circumstances.  After weeks of turmoil in the Labor party with bad polls and the focus on Julia Gillard’s leadership, on Wednesday afternoon, the Labor caucus voted 57 to 45 to restore Rudd to the leadership.  The fallout from the leadership change is unprecedented.  Not only do we have a new Prime Minister, but a new Deputy Prime Minister (Anthony Albanese), a new Treasurer (Chris Bowen) and a new Labor leader in the Senate (Penny Wong).  Gillard will now leave the parliament at this year’s election.

It is clear that the continued destabilisation campaign run by Kevin Rudd’s supporters in the caucus against Gillard, has had its impact.  Until very recently the Rudd camp did not have the numbers.  Indeed it has only been in the last week or so that Bill Shorten switched his support to Rudd, thus precipitating the challenge.  And, surprisingly, Penny Wong, previously a strong supporter of Julia Gillard, also switched sides.  No doubt the state of the opinion polls and the looming election date where important factors here.

Labor will now go into the election campaign with a front bench missing Greg Combet, Stephen Conroy, Peter Garrett and Craig Emerson and with a new and relatively inexperienced Treasurer, Chris Bowen.  The big question of course is will the change of leadership work for Labor?  There is likely to be a short term boost in Labor’s fortunes but the overall impact of Rudd’s resurrection is not so clear. 

One major reason for Labor’s poor standing in the electorate has been its inability to sell its economic credentials which by world standards are impressive.  There is little time left to turn this around.  The election date currently set for 14th September may well change, but it will only be a matter of a few weeks either way.  Rudd needs time to fashion a new image for federal Labor and there is not much time left to do so.  He will be reluctant to change policy direction – but may be tempted to again change the ALP’s asylum seeker policy given the perception that this is one of Labor’s electoral weaknesses.

Tony Abbott would prefer to face Julia Gillard at the election.  He now has a different opponent, which will force a change of tactics on behalf of the opposition.  The Coalition parties though will have plenty of advertising ammunition given the vitriolic attacks on Rudd by many senior cabinet ministers over the past few months.

Federal Labor remains deeply divided.  Whether the caucus will unite behind Kevin Rudd remains to be seen.  If they don’t then the change of leadership will not save Labor from an election thrashing.  If they do then there is a chance that Labor will retain some seats they had almost given up on.  But there is almost no chance that Labor can win the next election, even with Kevin Rudd as leader. 

Ian Tulloch is a political commentator and academic based at La Trobe University Bendigo