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Rudd: crashing not crashing through

By Jo Coghlan and Scott Denton - posted Monday, 27 February 2012

The events currently occurring in Australian politics are not as surprising as many political commentators are suggesting. Since Kevin Rudd was toppled as the leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party in June 2010, the events of this week were written in stone. It has only ever been a matter of when. Today, when the 103 members of the Labor caucus vote in a leadership ballot, Kevin Rudd will get the equivalent of his day in court. Since Julia Gillard became Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd has plotted and schemed to ensure his return to the leadership. Leadership, in this case is not about leadership of the Labor Party but about leadership of the nation. Kevin Rudd is not interested in being an Opposition leader, he wants to be Prime Minister. Political commentators are correct to talk Rudd's machinations as revenge.

The events of today will not end the Kevin Rudd saga. The numbers don't matter. An open ballot will see Rudd secure 35 votes at best. This means Julia Gillard will retain the Labor leadership and the Prime Ministers job with 68 votes. Rudd will sit on the backbench and wait. But Kevin Rudd is not Paul Keating. In 1991 Keating lost a leadership ballot to Hawke by about the same margin. He quit the Treasurer's portfolio and from the backbench argued, making his case with his caucus colleagues, for a leadership change. The difference between Keating and Rudd was that Keating made an argument about government: that government took leadership, vision, courage and policy. Fastforward to Rudd sitting on the backbench and he can't make those arguments. He has had his time as Prime Minister and was considered by the ALP as a poor party leader, lacked political vision, and didn't have the courage to follow through on policy.

There is another fundamental difference between Keating and Rudd. Keating might not have been the most popular person inside the Labor Party in the 1980s and 1990s but he had political understanding of the Labor Party that was toughened by the brutality of the NSW Branch of the ALP. Keating knew Labor people, he knew how backbenchers thought, he could read a political mood, and he could cajole when he had to. Rudd doesn't have Keating's understanding of the Party. He has isolated himself from Party elders, ignored party traditions, and dismissed what some still refer to as Labor traditions. He isn't a union man, and he wasn't a Sussex Street boy. Rudd is not Paul Keating.


Kevin Rudd maybe popular in the electorate but he is not popular in the federal parliamentary Labor party. While Keating used the backbench to work the numbers to topple Hawke, Hawke ignored him. Rudd will not be ignored on the backbench. His every conversation and every movement will be watched. He will not be the free agent that Keating was. Rudd will only be further isolated. In six months when he would normally challenge again it is probable that his votes will be the same, perhaps even losing a few of his believers.

This being the case, today won't matter. The Rudd saga will continue. Rudd, in one sense is more like Whitlam: crash or crash though. It is a case of the former rather than the latter. If not for a minority government, any other Prime Minister would have sacked Rudd long ago. This is the only way to end the Rudd debacle.

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This article was first published on the election review on February 23, 2012.

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About the Authors

Jo Coghlan is a lecturer in the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Southern Cross University.

Scott completed a PhD on Australian electoral politics in 2010. He is an academic at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. He regularly writes on Australian and American elections and electoral history.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Jo Coghlan
All articles by Scott Denton

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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