Politics has seen some fast moves but the one that unfolded in Australia last week had to be among the fastest. In less than 24 hours, Kevin Rudd, the hero of Labour party's comeback in the 2007 election and once the most popular Australian Prime Minister, saw the premiership slip from his hands into that of his deputy, Julia Gillard. The revolt within Labour was triggered by the rapidly falling popularity of Mr. Rudd and his government in opinion polls conducted in May. This happened after he deferred a vote on an important scheme to tackle climate change that was promised by Labour during the election campaign. The Emissions Trading Scheme was an initiative to reduce Australia's carbon emissions. But without adequate support for it in the powerful Senate, where Labour does not enjoy a majority, Mr. Rudd had to announce that the government would take a decision on how to proceed on it after a couple of years. It was amid the discontent over this issue that the government slapped a new tax on mining profits. In the face of a high-voltage campaign against the tax by the big mining companies and their shareholders, a beleaguered Mr. Rudd could not convincingly defend the idea that profits from a national resource must be shared nationally. With the government's ratings crashing in every opinion poll, and national elections due next year, a nervous Labour decided swiftly to jettison its leader in favour of Ms Gillard. In the end, Mr. Rudd's two big achievements — ratifying the Kyoto protocol, and a formal apology to the aboriginal people of Australia — were of little help in a high-stakes political battle.
The new Prime Minister, the first woman to make it to that office in Australia, faces the task of correcting the course of “a good government [that] was losing its way” and recouping lost ground for Labour. Ms Gillard, who entered parliament first in 1998, is known to be a pragmatic politician. One of her first actions in office was to reach out to the mining companies for negotiations to arrive at a compromise on the tax. She has also promised a review of the government's stand on carbon-trading. With immigration a major issue of concern to Australian voters, Ms Gillard has signalled a break from the Rudd vision of a “big Australia” and her preference instead for a “sustainable Australia.” It could end up giving Labour a Right-ish look but her party is unlikely to complain if it can win them the next election.