Federal

Sharpen the Broad Swords!

An opinion piece by UWA Politics Club President Angus Duncan

Today Kevin Rudd has resigned as Foreign Minister. After months of speculation on Labor’s leadership and 20 months after Julia Gillard  took over as Prime Minister the cracks and tensions within the party it is fair to say have well and truly risen to the surface. I don’t think anyone, not even journalists in the know expected this result.

Mr Rudd made the dramatic announcement at a media conference at 1am in Washington DC.

“Under the current circumstances, I won’t be a part of it.”

To continue in the job, would mean be distracting for the government, Mr Rudd said.

Mr Rudd said there had been some “similar factors at play” in June 2010 when he lost the prime ministership.

“It’s time for some plain speaking on this,” he said.

“The truth is I can only serve as foreign minister if I have the confidence of Prime Minister Gillard and her senior ministers.

“In recent days Mr (Simon) Crean and a number of other faceless men have publicly attacked my integrity and therefore my fitness to serve as a minister in the government.

These comments arose, according to Mr Rudd, after Ms Gillard failed to repudiate comments made by Simon Crean and various backbenches attacking Mr Rudd.

So what can we expect from Labor then? Well first of all the issue is made all the more difficult due to the fact that Labor does not have the ability to govern in its own right. It instead rellies off the support of the independents. Although it seems unlikely that the independents would pack up and head over to support Opposition Leader Tony Abbot, if Mr Rudd is to resign from his seat in Griffith and force a by-election there would be a greater level of concern in the Labor party. A by-election, however, would be all the more difficult especially with a State election in Queensland which Mr Rudd made reference to in his speech. So a by-election in my view seems unlikely.

Are we then going to see a leadership challenge in the Labor Caucus? The first thing to note is that during the press conference Rudd did not confirm he would not challenge, but made clear he would not engage in a, “Stealth attack on a sitting Prime Minister…we all know it was wrong and it must never happen again.” Second of all reports from Ms Gillard’s supporter’s state she has the numbers to lead Labor, meaning that if Rudd was to run he would lose. This is something he would want to avoid. However, resigning from a key portfolio whilst away at an important foreign meeting is a drastic move and possibly hints at some form of leadership challenge. The number gap too between both parties may also not be as great as originally thought. So what are we going to see then? Firstly, Mr Rudd is now a backbencher and secondly, according to reports, a leadership spill is a real possibility for next week.

If I can add my two cents to the speculation, my feeling towards the government is a sense of frustration. In first few weeks back at Parliament we’ve spent more time focusing on talks about leadership rather than focusing on the things that matter to the voters. This is not what a government should be doing. It is now not a policy fight, but is instead now a battle of integrity and the moral high ground. To quote Mr Rudd “There is a human aspect to this,” which I think we also have to understand. It is sad to see such a fabulous foreign minister leave the job in uncertain times and one may wonder whether the “faceless men” of Labor feel they made the right choice 20 months ago. If anything can be taken away from today, next week is going to be a week to watch in the history of Australian politics.

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