by Zareh Ghazarian
If some reports are to be believed, Kevin Rudd will replace Julia Gillard as leader of the ALP and become prime minister again by the end of next week. This raises questions about the political and constitutional implications if such a change was to occur.
On the political front, Rudd’s return would be a Machiavellian triumph. Despite being dumped in 2010, Rudd has never left the forefront of Australian politics. He consistently maintained a high public profile, much to the chagrin of his political opponents within Labor: first as the country’s foreign minister, then as a backbencher after a failed leadership challenge in 2012.
Constantly fuelling Rudd’s prominence in the political debate was the fact that Gillard never established an election-winning lead over the opposition according to opinion polls. Opinion polls showing Rudd to be more popular than Gillard have been a regular feature, precipitating speculation about whether Rudd would one day return to the top job.
An interesting feature of the Rudd-Gillard battle is that it appears to be built on popularity rather than policy. Indeed, those who support Rudd do so because they believe he is more popular with the electorate – suggesting that there is little difference in the leaders’ policy programmes.
Complexities since 2010
Had Labor won a majority in its own right at the last election, a change of leader would not be so complicated. It would be a fairly straightforward process of Gillard leaving the position to Rudd, as Rudd did when Gillard challenged in 2010.
As it stands, Rudd can win the leadership battle of the party but – thanks to Australia’s political system – may not necessarily lead the party to the election as prime minister.
The convention in Australian politics is that the prime minister is the leader of the party (or collection of parties and individual MPs) that holds a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. Furthermore, she or he must be able to pass supply and withstand motions of no confidence.
The problem for Labor now is that it relies on the support of the cross-benchers to remain in government. And there is no guarantee that the cross-benchers will support Labor if Rudd becomes prime minister.
As a result, the governor-general would require Rudd to demonstrate that he had the support of the lower house. Of course, with parliament rising at the end of next week, this could be difficult. But, if Rudd was to win the leadership at the end of next week, the governor-general could recall parliament by using powers outlined in section 5 of the Constitution.
The Rudd-led Labor would then be at the mercy of the cross-benchers. If they support Labor in ano confidence motion, Rudd would gain confirmation of his prime ministership. But if they vote with the opposition, Tony Abbott could be installed as caretaker prime minister until the election was held.
The timing of the election is also fluid, despite Gillard having named September 14 as the date earlier this year. If, in fact, Rudd was to take over, the earliest date a joint House of Representatives and Senate election could be called is August 3. It would be probable that he would go for the earlier date to capitalise on the expected popularity he would enjoy immediately after taking office.
A new Rudd way?
Rudd would also try to distance himself from the Gillard years by breaking links with unpopular policies. For example, he could propose changes to Gillard’s centrepiece policies such as the carbon pricing scheme and school funding reform in an attempt to garner greater support from the electorate.
The relationship between Labor and the Greens, already frosty since Bob Brown’s retirement, would continue to deteriorate under a newly-installed Rudd. He would seek to rebuild Labor’s image as a party that could govern in its own right.
Despite the potential benefits some Labor MPs identify by toppling Gillard, there is a great deal of political danger in reinstalling Rudd. Aside from the constitutional questions, a number of high profile ministers have vowed to never work for Rudd again.
While Rudd could scramble to fill ministerial positions with other MPs, voters may not have enough time to be convinced about the quality or credibility of his new team.
Three years and several leadership challenges later, Labor appears to be unable to move on from the Rudd-Gillard battle. But by potentially fixing a perceived weakness and replacing Gillard, Labor may open up more problems for itself at this late stage of the electoral cycle by reintroducing Rudd as leader.
Dr Zareh Ghazarian is a lecturer within the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University.
This article orginially appeared on The Conversation.
Master of Journalism: Double Masters with Warwick information session
Information Session: Thursday 2nd June 6.30-8.00pm
Monash in Focus: Kate Brabon, Vogel’s Award winner
Monash in Focus recently featured Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award winner Kate Brabon. Kate is a PhD … Continue reading Monash in Focus: Kate Brabon, Vogel’s Award winner
Monash journalism students report on federal election for UniPollWatch and The Guardian
Monash University’s journalism students are part of Australia’s largest newsroom, reporting on the 2016 federal … Continue reading Monash journalism students report on federal election for UniPollWatch and The Guardian
Monash Gender Peace and Security secures Linkage Grant
In a success for Monash Arts research, the Gender, Peace and Security Initiative has recently secured a major ARC Linkage … Continue reading Monash Gender Peace and Security secures Linkage Grant
Vogel’s Literary Award for PhD candidate Kate Brabon
Earlier this week, Kate Brabon was announced as the winner of the 2016 Australian/Vogel’s Literary … Continue reading Vogel’s Literary Award for PhD candidate Kate Brabon
The Monash Media Lab: a great place to learn
Head of School, AP Mia Lindgren, and TV presenter and academic, Waleed Aly, talk about what makes the new Lab so important for students of Media, Film and Journalism.
Monash Arts welcomes the first Monash Asylum Seeker Bursary recipient
Ali Khan, a new member of the Monash Arts student family, came to Australia from … Continue reading Monash Arts welcomes the first Monash Asylum Seeker Bursary recipient
Place and Character: Monash Prize judge Mridula Chakraborty on what she loves to see in new literature
We recently chatted to Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing judge (and Monash academic) Mridula … Continue reading Place and Character: Monash Prize judge Mridula Chakraborty on what she loves to see in new literature
Monash Media Lab Launch Social Media Round-Up
[View the story “#MonashMediaLab Launch” on Storify] Find out more Read more about the launch … Continue reading Monash Media Lab Launch Social Media Round-Up
A big deal: Global Studies students at Womensphere Conference, New York
For the two Monash students it was a first to be mixing with a group of such high profile business leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs, academics, philanthropists, artists and musicians – but they soon felt welcome.
Literary Commons brings inter-cultural Indigenous writing to Melbourne
Literary Commons plays on the idea of ‘commons’, the space where communities and cultures share … Continue reading Literary Commons brings inter-cultural Indigenous writing to Melbourne
New York bound: Global Discovery Program applications now open
The trip of a lifetime awaits eight talented Monash students who will wing their way … Continue reading New York bound: Global Discovery Program applications now open