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The Walking Dead of Oz

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard must be feeling like the Russian nobles who kept killing Rasputin, only to see the dreaded monk rise again after each strike. She has now destroyed Kevin Rudd, her former mentor and boss, three times: she drove him from power and replaced him as Prime Minister, then beat back two of his efforts in the past three years to return the favor.

But now, as dark clouds gather over the Labor Party, which faces a wipe-out in fall elections according to polls, there are signs that Rudd is trying to overthrow her yet a third time. And there are rumors that Labor MPs, terrified of losing their seats if Gillard is still the face of the party on election day, are thinking of backing Rudd’s bid. The FT reports:

[Kevin Rudd made] a series of appearances in key marginal seats that have underlined his popularity with voters. […]

The former diplomat, who is fluent in mandarin, is blamed for…waging a relentless campaign of revenge that has undermined Ms Gillard’s minority government.

“This is a programme, a jihad of revenge the like of which we’ve never seen before in the history of Australian politics,” Mark Latham, a former leader of the Labor party, said last week.

Both Rudd and Gillard have been heavily damaged by their long feud, and one of the reasons Labor is in trouble is that voters are tired of what looks to be an indecisive and divided party trapped in a never ending soap opera. This latest turn of the screw only heightens the odds that neither Rudd nor Gillard (both of whom are able politicians with a lot to offer) will be running Australia after the voters are heard.

The White House is presumably rooting for a Gillard victory (politically she’s closer to Nancy Pelosi than to Sarah Palin), but US-Australia relations are strong enough that they will roll on smoothly regardless of who wins.

[Australia image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • ljgude

    Well, I have lived in Australia for over 30 years and am a citizen and even I am a bit baffled by this self destructive feud. Australians in general say that in dumping Rudd the Labor party broke one of those unwritten taboos. You just don’t do that to a sitting first term prime minister, rather like, but not the same, as you don’t run against a first term president in the US. So Gillard is perceived as an interloper no matter what she does – I believe unfairly – even though I am not a supporter in general of her or Rudd. Unlike in America, little seems to be made here of Gillard’s being the first female prime minister. Also she is openly secular and in a de facto relationship and few Australians are exercised about that, including myself. To her great credit she managed to form a minority government after the last election that has endured on the basis of negotiating with independents to govern with a one vote majority. But she hasn’t been able to keep the party together despite keeping the government together. Like any government she has accumulated some negatives pushing through a carbon tax after saying she wouldn’t, and introducing a surtax on the mining industry that has not been well received. Still, not enough in my mind to expect a change of government.

    One of the interesting dynamics of the situation is that either she or Rudd may well have lost the last election if the opposition Liberal Party (read conservative) had put up a stronger candidate. Tony Abbot (aka the Mad Monk) is a bit of a SOCON and somewhat like Rick Santorum whom he knows and is said to admire. But Abbot has worked hard in opposition and restrained his unpopular Roman Catholic conservatism.

    This dynamic still prevails so I believe that the election may be a lot closer than current polls suggest. Voting is compulsory in Australia and I believe the labor party faithful will still back their party strongly whoever is leading it despite the internal strife. But at this point it looks like there is widespread dissatisfaction with Labor and the electorate has seen enough of Abbot to consider giving him a go.

  • Jason Bieber

    Mr. Mead, you left out the fact that Gilliard is set to create a carbon tax that not only is disliked by a wide swath of Aussies, she literally overthrew Rudd to avoid precisely such a carbon tax scheme….and then went and proposed one of her own. That’s the primary reason her party is cratering.

    The Labour Party feud isn’t helping, but they are in cahoots with the Greens, and need them for their own coalition gov’t (as opposed to the Abbot-led Liberal coalition). And Gilliard is basically nothing more than a party hack, who lives in the bubble of the left-centered media world in Oz (and as such, falls for bad speechifying against the Liberals). Add it all together, and it’s a toxic atmosphere of one political disaster after another.

  • phineasfahrquar

    “(both of whom are able politicians with a lot to offer) ”

    I’d question that as far as Gillard goes. Her government imposed a destructive carbon tax to fight a problem that doesn’t exist (dangerous man-caused global climate change) and then threatened with heavy fines businesses that explained that the higher costs their customers are facing are due to that tax. Though I supposed that does make her “capable” for a pol who’d be at home in the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

  • Atanu Maulik

    Australia is in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom which is all set to continue as far as the eye can see. Australian politicians are an object of envy for most politicians around the world and only has to worry about problems of plenty. So what is all this bickering for ?

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