I’ve avoided posting on Australian politics for a long while because it’s really been a bit farcical, and frankly, I have found the whole thing deeply depressing. For overseas readers, our present Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, came to power in June 2010 after ousting the incumbent elected Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, after Rudd’s ratings fell and he was perceived have become embroiled in a number of controversies. In July 2010, a Federal election was called. Neither party had a clear majority, and Gillard’s Labor Party came to power as a minority government, with support from three independents and the Greens. Gillard’s reputation has subsequently tumbled in the opinion polls to levels well below Rudd’s. Rudd is still around though; he was our Foreign Minister, until about an hour ago. And for the last few months, speculation has been rife that he is going to oust Gillard. It reached fever pitch over the weekend. This morning, it was reported:
Mr Rudd told TV reporters in Washington DC this morning he had no plans to mount a leadership challenge.
“Can I just say, as I’ve said many times before, that we have a Prime Minister; I support the Prime Minister; and I intend to remain as Foreign Minister,” Mr Rudd said.
“I’m fully engaged with being Foreign Minister and there are many things on the agenda at present.”
It is with, ah, great sadness that I announce, ah, that I will resign as Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. I am sad because, ah, I love this job. I’m totally dedicated to the work that we are doing in Australia’s name around the world and I believe that we’ve achieved many good results for Australia, and I’m proud of them. It’s therefore been for me a great privilege to serve our country as Foreign Minister, to represent our people abroad, and I thank the people of our country for their support as I’ve discharged these responsibilities. But while I am sad to leave this office, I am sadder still that it has come to this. The last time I resigned from a position of public office was when I resigned as Prime Minister of Australia. And regrettably, there have been some similar factors at play today.
It’s time for some plain speaking on this. 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, Minister 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. When challenged today on these attacks, Prime Minister Gillard chose not to repudiate them. I can only reluctantly conclude that she therefore shares these views. The simple truth is that I cannot continue to serve as Foreign Minister if I do not have Prime Minister Gillard’s support. I therefore believe the only honourable thing, and the only honourable course of action, is for me to resign, and I do so with a genuinely heavy heart and after much personal reflection.
There are other factors, too, that I have had to take into consideration today. The truth is, the Australian people regard this whole affair as little better than a soap opera, and they are right, and under current circumstances, I won’t be part of it. It is also, I believe, a distraction from the real business of government. I also believe it’s affecting the business community and I agree with recent statements by peak bodies to this effect. It is important that business confidence is maintained in Australia. The economy and jobs are core to what any responsible government is about.
I also believe that this ongoing saga is bad for my good friend Anna Bligh as she fights the fight of her life in Queensland. She’s a great Premier; she’s a good friend. And I believe the good people of Queensland deserve some clear space over the coming month as they make up their minds on a very important decision on the future of Queensland, my home State, a State I’m very proud to be from. The truth is I also feel very uncomfortable doing this from Washington and not in Australia, but I don’t feel as if I have a choice, given the responsibilities I have before me over the days ahead here in Washington, in London on the future of Somalia, and piracy in, ah, the Indian Ocean, and in Tunis on the future of Syria. These are important challenges for the world, where a responsible Australian voice needs to be heard, a voice which I have sought to inject in my period as Foreign Minister on these core challenges. And under no circumstances do I want Australia’s international reputation brought into disrepute because of this ongoing saga.
Therefore Ambassador Beazley will discharge my functions here on my behalf in Washington tomorrow and the Permanent Secretary of my Department, Dennis Richardson, will represent me in London and in Tunis. I will return home to Brisbane tomorrow, arriving back there on Friday morning. Over the days ahead I will be consulting openly and honestly with my family, with my community, and my Parliamentary colleagues, taking their counsel on what I should do next, and what my next step should be. I will then make a full statement to the Australian people on my future before Parliament resumes next Monday. I deeply believe that if the Australian Labor Party, a party of which I have been a proud member for more than thirty years, is to have the best future for our nation, then it must change fundamentally its culture to end the power of faceless men. Australia must be governed by the people, not by the factions, but I can promise you this: there is no way — no way — that I will ever be party to a stealth attack on a sitting Prime Minister elected by the people. We all know that what happened then was wrong, and it must never happen again. I would like to thank very much the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Their Secretary, Dennis Richardson, Australia’s former Ambassador here in Washington, is a first class Australian diplomat, and through him I would thank the Department’s executive and all the Deputy Secretaries I’ve worked with, day after day, week after week.
[I should note that this is my personal transcript of Rudd's speech, taken from the ABC website, not an official version.]
What now?!? I note that Rudd does not definitively rule out any challenge to Gillard; he merely says that he will not be party to a stealth attack, and that he will consult fully with his family, his community and his colleagues over what he should do next.
In a way it’s a relief to have it all out in the open — the whole thing has been bubbling away under the surface for so long now. I would not be surprised if there were a challenge on Monday; but I’m no political expert — let’s just watch this space.
Wayne Swan has attacked Rudd in a rival press release:
…for too long, Kevin Rudd has been putting his own self-interest ahead of the interests of the broader labour movement and the country as a whole, and that needs to stop.
The Party has given Kevin Rudd all the opportunities in the world and he wasted them with his dysfunctional decision making and his deeply demeaning attitude towards other people including our caucus colleagues. He sought to tear down the 2010 campaign, deliberately risking an Abbott Prime Ministership, and now he undermines the Government at every turn.
He was the Party’s biggest beneficiary then its biggest critic; but never a loyal or selfless example of its values and objectives.
For the interests of the labour movement and of working people, there is too much at stake in our economy and in the political debate for the interests of the labour movement and working people to be damaged by somebody who does not hold any Labor values.
Julia has the overwhelming support of our colleagues. She is tough, determined, forward-looking, and has a good Labor heart. She has a consultative, respectful relationship with caucus while Kevin Rudd demeaned them. She’s cleaned up a lot of the mess he left her and has established a good, Labor agenda. She’s delivering major reforms, and getting things done that her predecessor could not. Colleagues are sick of Kevin Rudd driving the vote down by sabotaging policy announcements and undermining our substantial economic successes.
Gosh. The knives are out on all sides.
Meanwhile, Gillard is going to call a ballot.