The Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard rolls on after another extraordinary day in Australia politics. Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean fell on his sword after his ‘circuit breaker’ call for a spill failed to flush out Kevin Rudd. In the week leading up to the vote, the party remained solidly behind Gillard while the media bought the “Rudd BS” as Mark Latham called it. Latham said Rudd’s politics were based on the “whatever it takes” culture instilled in the party by 1980s numbers man Graham Richardson.
Latham was never a fan of Rudd, but he was right the former Prime Minister always had a healthy dose of whatever it takes, hidden only slightly behind very thin skin. A few days ago he used the bravura of a St Patrick’s Day speech to make an Ides of March declaration “I will challenge…”. The pause that came before the rest: “…any of the Liberals present to claim to have a greater Irish heritage than me” hid the real punchline: It was Gillard’s job he was challenging for. Just as Rudd’s Irishness is fake, today he proved he was no Cassius either. After consulting his backers, he realised he didn’t have the numbers again and decided not to contest the ballot. Rudd painted his decision as “honouring his word” not to challenge.
Gillard won her third ballot as leader, the two unopposed ballots sandwiching her one victory over Rudd last year. Television screens which boasted ‘non-stop coverage of the Labor leadership’ fixed on the sombre Prime Minister as she faced the Canberra press gallery after the vote. Over the whirring and clicking from photographers, Gillard said she would make a statement but would not take questions today, because “there is very much work to do”.
Gillard thanked the caucus for its continued support. She accepted it as Prime Minister and Labor leader, not because she sought office for its own sake, but to help Australia meet it challenges. Gillard repeated they had a lot of work to do to ensure “jobs and opportunity” and to ensure they were “getting ready for the future”.
Gillard outlined the Government’s purpose: implementing the NBN, rolling out Disability Care, fighting cost of living pressures, and above all increasing access to “world class education”. Gillard said the leadership battle was settled in the most conclusive way possible. “It has ended now.” Gillard said they would be getting on with the job “in a few minutes” and handed over to deputy PM, Wayne Swan, also re-elected unopposed.
Swan said there was strong support for the PM in the party room. “This Prime Minister is a tough leader, and a leader who is a great champion for our country and for the reforms that are required to create future prosperity,” Swan said. “Today’s result does end these matters once and for all.” Swan also ended with the promise to get back to work. After all, he has a budget to prepare.
Expect this mantra of “work” to be used a lot in the coming months as Labor clears the decks for the September election. But don’t expect the press gallery to pay any notice. Joe Hildebrand set the tone with a vicious attack on Gillard’s regime, outing himself as a Rudd supporter in the process: “For an electrifying few hours this week there was the tantalising prospect that Labor was not hurtling towards certain oblivion and there was a chance, however remote, that it might actually win the next election on the back of a resurgent Kevin Rudd.”
Hildebrand was right about the disaster of Rudd’s panicked overthrow in 2010 for which Labor is repenting at leisure. But putting Rudd back in now would be beyond panic. Electoral defeat in 2013 is still the likely outcome for either leader, given the polls and the contempt of the press gallery. Today’s events show how much Rudd is still detested in the party for his overwhelming ego and his chronic failures to consult as leader.