Win Or Lose With A Vengeance
By Bernard LaganFebruary 27, 2012
Prime Minister Julia Gillard decisively won the leadership ballot, sending Kevin Rudd packing. But Rudd is not her only enemy.
On a wall of the government party room at Parliament House in Canberra, there is room for just one more portrait of a Labor leader amongthe frames that go back to 1901. There is a last white space next to Julia Gillard. If we accept the old wisdom, "Revenge digs two graves", and the new wisdom that flowed from the Prime Minister's enemies on Feb. 27, then we might expect that space to be filled before the next election. And it is unlikely to be Kevin Rudd.
Perhaps that is why the challenger's eyes seemed to linger for a moment or two on that empty space as he rose up and departed, with his wife and children, after his post-defeat appearance, without taking a single question. He looked maimed, and appeared to be sliding off, stung by a leadership ballot result that even he conceded - at 71 for the Prime Minister and 31 for himself - was a strong result for Gillard.
Just before the ballot, Mr Rudd made a last appeal to his colleagues in the party room, acknowledging just how searing his campaign to wrest the leadership from Julia Gillard had been upon his party.
"This has been a difficult, almost violent, ballot," Rudd said.
His pitch to the Labor caucus relied on his record as a Prime Minister and as Foreign Minister, and also included the seizure by Julia Gillard of his old job. "Today gives us an opportunity to deal with the events of June 2010," he told the party room. "As Albo said on Saturday, what was done in 2010 was wrong. That's the people's view. That's the view of the overwhelming majority of our supporters and our branch members. Not just what was done, but how it was done."
After the vote, enough carping. He said there would be no further challenge from him before the election; "To Julia I would say the following, as I have said just now in the caucus: I accept fully the verdict of the caucus, and I dedicate myself to working fully for her re-election as the Prime Minister of Australia."
Within the hour, the Prime Minister made her own appearance. She could not - and chose not to - avoid the blood all around her and her party that the past week has left. It has been ugly, she admitted.
"I can assure you that this political drama is over and now you are back at centre stage where you should properly be and you will be the focus of all of our efforts," she told the nation, staring down the barrel of the camera trained on her.
While the Prime Minister and her supporters sorely want the leadership question to be settled, that appears unlikely; one-third of her caucus and a quarter of her Cabinet sided with Kevin Rudd in yesterday's party room ballot.
Bruce Hawker, Kevin Rudd's campaign manager and the public face of the Rudd challenge, told The Global Mail after the ballot: "Clearly we are disappointed. We were hoping that public opinion would be reflected in caucus opinion. In the end, it was probably in inverse proportion to the public endorsement of Kevin Rudd. So Julia Gillard has certainly won the battle. The big challenge for her now to is win the war. Against Tony Abbott. I think Tony Abbott would be pretty happy with it [the result]. He feared Kevin Rudd because the opinion polls gave him good reason to."
Inside the Rudd camp the view is that the Prime Minister, no matter how much she believes that she is able to catch and deal with Tony Abbott, will not be able to garner the sustained lift in the opinion polls that she and her party need - especially given how much fresh ammunition has been gifted to her Coalition opponents this week.
The harder heads arrayed against her in the Labor Party do not believe she will lead the party to the next election and that a third candidate for the leadership will emerge - or be drafted.
The most likely candidates are the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, or the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten.
Rudd is bound, they say, by his pledge after the Feb. 27 ballot not to challenge before the next election. But if Julia Gillard were to step aside before the election - an event all sides consider unlikely - then Rudd could re-emerge.
Tactically, the Rudd forces got a poorer-than-expected result yesterday because they did not get more big name Cabinet defections to their side, other than Anthony Albanese. And, they now admit, the so-called shock-and-awe tactic of the Prime Minister's forces, which saw Kevin Rudd attacked by his own party's Cabinet and the depictions given of the disorganisation and chaos of his office during his period as Prime Minister, sapped his campaign of votes.
The 40-vote margin that secured Julia Gillard's victory eclipses the 22-vote margin that Bob Hawke had when he beat off Paul Keating's first attempt to oust him. Keating used the margin to leverage a second - and successful - challenge. Rudd faces a much bigger hurdle to win in any second challenge.
Hawker believes the public campaign fought between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, while unprecedented and unpalatable, will be largely forgotten by the time of the next election. "I think that the public see this as a rather extreme form of the hurly-burly of politics," says Hawker. "They don't like it, that's pretty clear. But I don't think they are all that surprised by it. Provided everyone can unite behind Julia, this won't be a strong memory by the time the next election comes around."
What has surprised most is Julia Gillard's belated concession after yesterday's ballot that she had been wrong not to have exposed Kevin Rudd's chaotic Prime Ministerial office before last week. She said: "In all of the things that have happened over the last few days, I have had the opportunity to explain the circumstances of 2010 and how I became Prime Minister. I accept that I should have explained that at the time.
"I have now had the opportunity to do so, but having taken that opportunity, I believe the discussions about 2010 should now be at an end, our focus is on 2012 and all the years that lie beyond for the Australian nation."
But, as the Opposition's Christopher Pyne very quickly demonstrated in Parliament yesterday, her revelations about the failings in Kevin Rudd's office - that led to her becoming Prime Minister - raise one obvious question: Why, then, did she appoint Kevin Rudd her foreign Minister, when, in her words, Rudd had "very chaotic work patterns"?
As Kevin Rudd, on the far backbench, read and sipped water, both looked to be in their political graves.
Such is the price of revenge.
View The Global Mail’s photo essay, Scenes from A Spill, by Mike Bowers.