The federal Australian Labor Party now has a new Leader and soon Australia will have a new Prime Minister – Julia Gillard. Gillard was elected unopposed when Kevin Rudd bowed to the inevitable of his Party room and elected not to run against his Deputy in a Party room ballot for the Party Leadership. Treasurer Wayne Swan will join her as Deputy Leader and soon to be Deputy Prime Minister – he was also elected unopposed.
In politics, it’s all about the numbers.
Kevin Rudd started the week by launching Sh*tstorm – the book. By the end of the week, he and his office had created a sh*tstorm of their own.
It seems just months ago that Australians were swept up in Kevin 07 fever. But then came Rudd’s back flip on emissions trading and a mining tax which put large and powerful parts of the country offside.
This, combined with Rudd’s inability to connect at a meaningful level with the voters, has seen his personal – and importantly his Party’s – polling figures freefall. A Newspoll this week suggested that In Western Sydney he is trailing both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott as preferred Leader.
The final straw for Julia Gillard came early yesterday. Again, it was all about the numbers.
Early yesterday morning a story ran in The Sydney Morning Herald which revealed that Rudd’s chief of staff had been working his way through Labor’s caucus trying to figure out if his boss would have the numbers to survive a Leadership challenge from Gillard. The story impugned in the eyes of Gillard’s backers (inside the Labor caucus and outside of it) her unwavering loyalty.
Some describe it as the straw that broke the camel’s back but it is clear that plans were afoot and dissatisfaction simmering for some time. Four factional powerbrokers from Labor’s Right played a key role brought to a dramatic head yesterday evening: Bill Shorten, Mark Arbib, David Feeney, and Don Farrell.
It turns out these four horsemen of Rudd’s personal apocalypse had in fact been conspiring all week. Feeney and Arbib, both former Labor state secretaries (VIC and NSW respectively) were convinced Rudd didn’t have what it takes to win a campaign against Abbott in an upcoming election. Or perhaps more to the point that Labor’s chances under Gillard were significantly improved.
Their counsel to Gillard was simple (and this was certainly not the first time she had heard it from them): challenge him.
And then on that basis, instead of enjoying a quiet drink to celebrate Nick Sherry’s 20th anniversary in parliament, Gillard, Rudd and their consiglieri hunkered down in the PM’s office working out what to do next. AWU Leader Paul Howes made it known that his union had withdrawn his support for the PM the next thing we knew Rudd’s fellow Queenslander and Treasurer Wayne Swan would be running as Deputy on Gillard’s ticket.
By morning, all Rudd had left was, ironically the hard left of the Party.
Focus group research conducted by Ogilvy Illumination – Parker & Partners’ research practice – in four electorates in four states around the country last week confirms the judgement made by Labor’s factional hardheads. Conversations about the federal Government’s performance were becoming irretrievably bogged down in discussions about the performance and character of the former Prime Minister.
Abbott’s temperament and likely performance as Prime Minister also attract significant levels of concern. In fact in the Abbott to Rudd match-up on character and temperament the uncertainty over how Abbott might perform as PM was probably on balance sufficient to award the fight to Rudd (in a series of low scoring rounds with no convincing knock-out blows).
This will be important as PM Gillard seeks to define her premiership in its early days. Her skills as a communicator and the current popular take on her personality are strong assets. The assessment of her performance as Deputy PM is more nuanced: regardless of merits of the arguments the school building program is widely seen as one of the signature failures of the current Government and more broadly the Building the Education Revolution program is not seen by many as having delivered substantial results across the country.
On this basis expect to see the Liberal Party tackle the new Government on the basis of their competence and financial management skills – both areas of considerable brand strength for the previous Howard Government with which Tony Abbott is closely connected in the public mind. Abbott will also need to consider recalibrating his style – his action-man style may have been sound with Kevin Rudd as a foil but will less effective with PM Gillard.
Gillard on the other hand will do well to focus on traditional Labor strengths of being on the side of ‘the little guy’ understanding the situation that working people find themselves in and doing what they can to ensure they get a fair go. Gillard’s warmth and genuine people skills will contrast favourably with Rudd’s perceived attributes in these areas.
What will happen in the polls? Expect a (brief) honeymoon period for the new PM as the Labor vote finds its new level under new and more popular Leadership. Voter assessment of Gillard will likely correct itself from an initial high once voters reconcile their hopes for change in the way the Government is doing business with the month to month reality of a new Gillard.
When it comes to popular support there are both swings and roundabouts to holding the top job and while PM Gillard will be given many more opportunities to define herself as the incumbent (and past Deputy) there are plenty of political sh*tstorms you have to weather from the front as Leader.
Julia Gillard’s path to the Prime Ministership has been a conventional rise through the ranks of Australian left-wing politics.
Now 48, Gillard was born in Barry, Wales and migrated to Australia with her family in 1966. They settled in Adelaide and she attended the Unley High School before going on to study Arts and Law, first at The University of Adelaide and then The University of Melbourne. This is where Gillard’s involvement in organised politics began – in 1983 she served a term as National President of the Australian Union of Students and was also Secretary of left wing organisation the Socialist Forum.
Following university, Gillard worked as a solicitor with the law firm Slater and Gordon, becoming the first woman to be appointed a partner of the firm in 1990.
In May 1996, she was appointed Chief of Staff to the then Victorian Opposition Leader and current State Premier, John Brumby – a position she held for two and a half years.
Gillard was elected to Federal Parliament in 1998 for the outer metropolitan Melbourne seat of Lalor, a safe seat for the ALP.
She was first appointed to the Shadow Ministry in November 2001 where she held a range of portfolios. In December 2006, Gillard joined with Kevin Rudd to successfully challenge Kim Beazley and Jenny Macklin for the Leadership and Deputy Leadership positions. She was elected unopposed as Deputy Leader and appointed Shadow Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and Social Inclusion.
Following the 2007 Federal Election, Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Deputy Prime Minister after proving herself to both the Party and the electorate by handling one of the primary battlegrounds in recent political history – industrial relations.
Preferring not to take on the treasury portfolio, Gillard instead took on the “super ministry” of education, employment, workplace relations and social inclusion. Her priorities have included the implementation of several key election mandates, including disbanding of the Howard Government’s WorkChoices regime, replacing it with Fair Work Australia, and implementing the “Education Revolution”.
Gillard belongs to the ALP’s left faction and is well liked within caucus where she is regarded as an extremely hard working and politically astute. She has long been considered one of the Labor Party’s most promising talents. Critically, she is the Labor’s best parliamentary performer.
Gillard lives in the Melbourne suburb of Altona with her partner, Tim Matheson, a hairdresser.