In a shock move at the end of June, Kevin Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister, regained the Australian prime ministership, deposing Julia Gillard in a 57-45 vote among Labor Members of Parliament. Ms Gillard, who had herself deposed Mr. Rudd in similar fashion in June 2010 to become Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, had sustained a minority government with the help of the Greens and a handful of independents. She has now announced that she will leave politics at the next general election, which she had earlier stated would be held on September 14, and several of her cabinet, including Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan, have resigned their ministerial positions. Anthony Albanese, Ms Gillard’s transport minister, who managed Mr. Rudd’s leadership campaign, becomes the new Deputy Prime Minister; the Greens and the relevant independents have stated that they will still support the government. Internationally, Canberra’s key positions will not change; these include the close strategic collaboration with the United States, and the pursuit of its strategic partnerships with India and Japan.
Domestically, the new Prime Minister can expect turbulence. One likely reason for the leadership challenge was that the government’s poll standing indicated a loss of 35 seats in the impending election; that would have given opposition leader Tony Abbott’s coalition a huge majority. Labor MPs, who can also see the beginnings of an industrial slowdown, may be banking on the fact that Mr. Rudd’s ratings among probable Labor voters were better than Ms Gillard’s. They may even have been nervous of the gross sexism towards Ms Gillard that has repeatedly surfaced, revealing an ugly, misogynist strain in Australian public life. Mr. Rudd will, however, have to deal with serious problems over the carbon tax, which has voters fearing higher energy bills, and with the thorny issue of refugee policy; several Australian governments have been criticised for sending refugees to Nauru rather than admitting them to Australia for evaluation of their claims. Ms Gillard also faced Indigenous Australian resistance to uranium mining in traditional Indigenous lands. The Labor Party has, moreover, been hurt by this acrimonious second change of leaders; that only members of the federal parliament elect the leader both raises questions about intra-party democracy and can create a gulf between Labor MPs and their supporters, who may well wonder what the party stands for. Nevertheless Ms Gillard’s achievement in becoming her country’s first woman Prime Minister and in opening the way for more women will stand, and of that she can be proud.