Bloomberg News

Rudd Rules Out Return to Labor Leadership as Gillard Digs In

March 22, 2013

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

The U.S. and China are “two mutually non-comprehending powers,” said Kevin Rudd, Australia's former foreign minister. “They are going to require an extraordinary level of statecraft both on the part of the Chinese and the Americans.” Photographer: Mark Graham/Bloomberg

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he will never again run for the leadership of the Labor party, after yesterday declining to challenge Julia Gillard for the premiership.

“Julia Gillard has my 100 per cent support,” Rudd told reporters in Brisbane today. “As I have said in a written statement earlier today, there are no circumstances under which I will return to the leadership of the Australian Labor party in the future.”

Rudd is seeking to end speculation he’ll try to reclaim the job that Gillard took from him in a late-night party coup in June 2010 amid declining poll ratings and complaints about his autocratic style. He’ll remain in parliament and seek re- election in his Brisbane seat of Griffith, he said today.

His statement “serves to put the question of Rudd’s leadership to bed,” said Zareh Ghazarian, a politics lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne. “But what it doesn’t do of course, is ease the pressures that Gillard is under.”

Gillard called a leadership ballot yesterday in a bid to end days of speculation that she’d lost the support of her lawmakers. She now has the challenge of unifying the party, which trails Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition in opinion polls, ahead of elections scheduled for Sept. 14.

“This is all definitely over,” Gillard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio today. “People can be reassured that all of this is done and dusted now.”

Zero Chance

Rudd, who was defeated by Gillard when he challenged her for the leadership in February last year, told reporters he consulted with Labor colleagues yesterday before the party room meeting and was told he had “zero” chance of obtaining a significant majority if he contested the ballot. He called on the party to “unite totally” behind Gillard.

Media reports that lawmakers would turn to Rudd, intensified after opinion polls indicated Labor would win the election with him at the helm. A Newspoll survey of 1,143 people published March 12 in the Australian newspaper showed a Rudd-led Labor getting 56 percent support on a two-party preferred basis and the opposition under Abbott getting 44 percent.

The poll, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, forecast a 52-48 percent split in favor of the opposition with Gillard as Labor leader. The two-party preferred measure is designed to gauge which party is likely to win enough seats to form a government.

“What we saw yesterday in the party room on display for all to see was the very strong and very enduring support for the prime minister,” Treasurer Wayne Swan told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio today. “What we got was a very strong endorsement of the prime minister and that does resolve this matter once and for all.”

Labor Backbench

While Rudd resigned as foreign minister when he challenged Gillard last year, he continues to serve on the Labor backbench.

“What is he waiting for, what does he want -- that media narrative will continue as long as he is sitting there in the back bench,” said Sally Young, a political-science professor at the University of Melbourne and author of “How Australia Decides: Election Reporting and the Media.”

Rudd, 55, has faced antipathy from Labor’s senior ranks over his leadership style during his term as prime minister from 2007-2010. Swan last year described Rudd as a man of “great weakness” who had demeaned his party colleagues during his tenure as prime minister.

Record Popularity

Rudd enjoyed record-high popularity ratings after defeating John Howard’s long-running Liberal-National coalition government in 2007, boosted in part by his apology to the indigenous Aboriginal population for systematic abuses by the state.

His popularity faded when he backed away from commitments to cut carbon emissions, and ebbed further when mining companies helped finance an advertising campaign against his plan for a 40-percent tax on resource profits.

While his statement today may reduce speculation that Rudd will seek a comeback, it doesn’t remove disaffection within Labor’s ranks over Gillard, Ghazarian said.

“There are about 40-odd caucus members who supported Rudd and were clearly dissatisfied with Gillard’s performance,” Ghazarian said. “They’re going to be agitating for Gillard to fall and so it leaves the door open for someone else.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at mheath1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Edward Johnson at ejohnson28@bloomberg.net; Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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