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.
Translation Nation at The Emerging Writers’ Festival
Join us at the Emerging Writers’ Festival this month as Monash Arts proudly presents; Translation … Continue reading Translation Nation at The Emerging Writers’ Festival
The history diviners: the emerging stories of early Gallipoli visitors
As The Water Diviner is released on commercial television and premieres in Los Angeles, researchers at Monash University reveal the identity of the film’s central character. Monash University historian Professor Bruce Scates and his doctoral student, Rebecca Wheatley, have spent years charting early Australian journeys to battlefields overseas.
Peter Singer: The Most Good You Can Do
The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas about Living Ethically Hosted … Continue reading Peter Singer: The Most Good You Can Do
State of imprisonment: Victoria is leading the nation backwards
by Dr Marie Segrave, Dr Anna Eriksson and Emma Russell This article is part of The Conversation’s series, State … Continue reading State of imprisonment: Victoria is leading the nation backwards
Registrations open for 5th ACFID University Network Conference
Monash University, in partnership with ACFID, is hosting the 5th ACFID University Network Conference on … Continue reading Registrations open for 5th ACFID University Network Conference
Monash at the Malthouse Podcast: ‘Nothing to Lose’
Last month, Monash took part in a panel discussion at the Malthouse Theatre on body … Continue reading Monash at the Malthouse Podcast: ‘Nothing to Lose’
All things being equal
Are we making headway in getting greater women’s participation in Asia-Pacific politics? by Jacqui True … Continue reading All things being equal
Monash student wins Melbourne Press Club Student Journalist of the Year
Monash University’s Jenan Taylor has won the Melbourne Press Club’s 2014 Student Journalist of the … Continue reading Monash student wins Melbourne Press Club Student Journalist of the Year
A new degree sets new horizons
The Bachelor of Global Studies was officially launched last month by Dr Simon Adams, Executive Director … Continue reading A new degree sets new horizons
Apply now to study in Italy, New York or Indonesia this year
Monash Arts offers students a number of opportunities to make their study experience an international … Continue reading Apply now to study in Italy, New York or Indonesia this year
Monash academics draft working paper on ‘Women in Politics’
Monash Academics from the School of Social Sciences, Professor Jacqui True, Dr Swati Parashar and … Continue reading Monash academics draft working paper on ‘Women in Politics’
Joint PhD program offers global research opportunities for philosophy student
Thomas Ryan is the first Monash University student to study at the University of Warwick … Continue reading Joint PhD program offers global research opportunities for philosophy student