Gillard and Rudd: a short history

by John Quiggin on July 14, 2013

I was asked in comments a while back to say something about the recent developments in Australian politics, in which Labor PM Kevin Rudd, deposed in favour of Julia Gillard three years ago, has returned to office. I won’t explain the mechanics of the process here, but instead talk about the personalities, policy differences and the issue of gender and misogyny. I’ll disclose up front that I supported Rudd’s initial selection as Labor leader, opposed his deposition, and supported his return, and that my views of Gillard are generally negative. For a reasonably balanced pro-Gillard case, you can look at this piece by Julia Baird.

A crucial point in understanding the issue is that Rudd was, and is, well-liked by the Australian public, but disliked, even hated, by many of his colleagues and other insiders.[^1] By contrast, Gillard was, and is, well liked, by her colleagues. This positive view was mostly shared by the general public, at least, those who cared enough about politics to have a view, until her installation as Prime Minister, and even for a short while thereafter. As Deputy PM, she was generally seen as the heir apparent to Rudd, and no one (AFAICT) foresaw any big problems for a female PM. We’d already had women as premiers and party leaders in most states, and the assumption was that there was bound to be a woman PM before too long.

However, beginning with her coup against Rudd, which was a complete shock to most voters, she came to be hated by large sections of the Australian public, with a venom that I can’t recall for any other public figure since John Kerr (who, as Governor-General, sacked an incumbent Labor Prime Minister in 1975). As a result of Gillard’s unpopularity, Labor was headed for a catastrophic defeat in the elections due this year. At least initially, Rudd’s restoration has turned things around, with the two parties now running level in the polls.

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