Three years after being knifed by Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd gets revenge and returns as Australian Prime Minister

 

Sydney

In an extraordinary turnaround in political fortunes, Australia's former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, wrestled the top job back today from Julia Gillard, who ousted him nearly three years ago to the day.

Mr Rudd, who was publicly tearful after being deposed in June 2010 and since then has plotted almost incessantly to regain office, was expected to be sworn in as prime minister tomorrow morning by the Australian Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, after  Ms Gillard, 51, formally resigned tonight.

In a piquant twist, Ms Bryce's son-in-law, Bill Shorten, played a pivotal role in the downfall of Australia's first female leader. An influential figure in Ms Gillard's Labor Party and prime mover in the 2010 coup, Mr Shorten publicly switched support to Mr Rudd 20 minutes before Labor politicians voted in a leadership ballot.

Once close colleagues, Mr Rudd and his former deputy had become sworn political foes. Although their enmity remained largely unspoken, Gillard loyalists had denounced him as "dysfunctional", "deeply flawed" and "a psychopath with a giant ego".

Such quotes have been seized on by the conservative Liberal Party, and are already being aired in  TV advertisements which are expected to be frequently replayed in the run-up to an election later this year.

Today's dramatic events lanced the boil which had been festering at the heart of Australian politics since Welsh-born Ms Gillard became prime minister. After the ballot, which Mr Rudd won by 57 votes to 45, an at times emotional Ms Gillard said she would retire from politics at the election.

It was poor polls which led to the 55-year-old Queenslander being knifed during his first term in office - an unprecedented event in Australia. And it was even poorer polls that led to a second sitting prime minister being dumped, amid predictions of the biggest landslide defeat for Labor for generations.

Mr Rudd - who may bring forward the election, set for 14 September - enjoyed widespread popularity after he was elected in 2007, ending 11 years of conservative rule. His ratings plummeted after he announced a new tax on wealthy mining companies, and abandoned an emissions trading scheme.

After he was unseated, the public took to him again, and polls have consistently shown that Labor would fare much better with him at the helm. However, it is doubtful whether he can actually win the election, rather than just saving seats. One commentator compared the leadership change to "putting a new collar on a three-legged dog".

Tonight, Mr Rudd - a former diplomat and fluent Mandarin speaker - was conciliatory, praising Ms Gillard as "a woman of extraordinary intelligence, great strength and great energy". He also promised there would be "no retribution, no paybacks",  and said he intended to "lead a government that brings people together".

For her part, Ms Gillard said she was proud of her government's achievements, which include major health and education reforms, taxing big polluters for carbon emissions, introducing a disability insurance scheme and setting up a royal commission into child abuse in the Catholic Church and other institutions.

Mr Rudd - who lost a previous leadership challenge last year - is expected to unveil new policies in the coming days, likely to include changes to the widely disliked carbon tax and measures to stop the flow of asylum-seeker boats reaching Australian shores.

But he inherits a minority government and a divided party, with nearly half of his parliamentary colleagues still opposed to his leadership. Today saw an exodus of senior ministers, includng the Treasurer, Wayne Swan.

The great paradox is that while Mr Rudd is popular with voters, he is loathed by many colleagues, as well as by civil servants in Canberra, who have been dreading his return. A smiley, folksy personality in public, he is said to be foul-tempered, despotic and terminally indecisive by those who have worked with him.

What Ms Gillard will do now remains to be seen. She may return to her former profession: the law. Noting today that her great-niece is expecting a baby in July, she said she looked forward to being "the most meddlesome great-aunt in Australian history".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Programmer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Bridgend based software de...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Printer

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A specialist retail and brand c...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Class 2 HGV Driver - with CPC

£26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Haulage company based on the Thorpe Indu...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence