, SYDNEY, Jun 26 – Australia’s former leader Kevin Rudd ousted Prime Minister Julia Gillard as Labour chief in a dramatic ballot on Wednesday, deposing the country’s first female premier as the party fights for electoral survival.
The embattled Gillard – who will quit politics in September – called the vote after a day of internal party manoeuvring in favour of her arch-rival and predecessor, whom she had ruthlessly deposed in 2010.
Rudd won the vote of Labour lawmakers 57 to 45 amid mounting unease in the party over an expected rout by Tony Abbott’s conservative opposition at the national polls scheduled for September 14.
Gillard made a late-night visit to Governor General Quentin Bryce to offer her resignation and recommend Rudd be reinstated as prime minister, three years and two days after he was dumped by the party.
Analysts said Rudd may move the election date forward to August, hoping to capitalise on a bounce in the polls and build on his previous vows to reorient Australia’s resources-fuelled economy towards the Asia-Pacific region.
“In 2007 the Australian people elected me to be their prime minister. That is a task that I resume today with humility, with honour and with an important sense of energy and purpose,” said Rudd after his victory.
“In recent years politics has failed the Australian people, there’s just been too much negativity all round. There’s been an erosion of trust; negative, destructive personal politics has done much to bring dishonour to our parliament.
“All this must stop.”
At a pre-ballot news conference, Rudd said he had been persuaded by MPs and “thousands” of ordinary Australians demanding he challenge Gillard “because of the parlous circumstances we now face”.
In 2007 the Australian people elected me to be their prime minister. That is a task that I resume today with humility, with honour and with an important sense of energy and purpose, said Rudd after his victory.
Gillard dispatched her rival in a 2010 party room coup but he remains popular with the public and is seen by many as Labour’s best hope of salvaging the elections, despite a series of policy missteps leading to his ousting three years ago.
Making his pitch ahead of the caucus vote, Mandarin-speaking Rudd, 55, said Labour was “on course for a catastrophic defeat unless there is change” and the people of Australia had made their feelings known.
It was a night of heavy casualties for the party, with several top Gillard appointees refusing to serve under Rudd including Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan, who was replaced by transport minister Anthony Albanese.
Trade Minister Craig Emerson, Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig and Climate Change minister Greg Combet also stood aside.
It was the third time since the 2010 election that Gillard’s hold on power was tested.
The charismatic Rudd himself launched an unsuccessful challenge in early 2012 while foreign minister, but was routed 71 votes to 31 and was forced onto the backbenches.