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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links