Rudd undone by party infighting, own failings

Rudd undone by party infighting, own failings

Australia's outgoing prime minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, held lofty goals for himself, his nation and the region but he was ultimately undone by party infighting and his own personal failings. His recent political fortunes were a veritable roller-coaster ride, as he rose and fell and then rose again in spectacular fashion - only to end with another dramatic fall in Saturday's federal election.

Resigning as Labor leader on Saturday, he said: "There comes a time when you know you have given it all." His resignation leaves Australia's oldest political party leaderless and further drains its talent pool after nine former ministers did not stand for re-election.

Immediate questions remain over Mr Rudd's intentions - whether he will also resign from his district, which would trigger a special election, or stay on in Parliament.

"My responsibility has been to maintain Labor as a fighting force for the future so that we can unite behind the next leader of our party," he said. Yet there was no denying that the loss was a devastating one for a man who once stood tall as one of the nation's most popular prime ministers ever.

When he came to power in 2007, Mr Rudd, 55, presented a fresh and energetic alternative to the 11-year-old John Howard government. He ran an almost flawless campaign, even upstaging then Prime Minister John Howard by delivering a speech in his fluent Mandarin at a state lunch for China's then President Hu Jintao.

Mr Rudd's ambitions for his first term were almost boundless and his passion for the international stage earned him the nickname "Kevin 747". He proposed forming a new regional grouping, the Asia-Pacific Community, as well as securing international agreements on climate change and nuclear disarmament. Somewhat characteristically, none of these goals came to pass.

During his first two years as leader, the ambitious workaholic helped steer Australia through the 2008 financial crisis and apologised to the Aborigines for the government's past wrongdoings. His approval rating skyrocketed. But he came back to earth just as swiftly.

Although he labelled climate change "the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time", Mr Rudd abandoned his plan for a carbon emissions trading scheme after he could not persuade the Senate to back it.

The electorate quickly lost faith in him and he was attacked relentlessly by then opposition leader Tony Abbott for making promises he could not deliver. Further troubles loomed as Mr Rudd took on the powerful mining industry with a proposed mining tax.

Finally, with his approval ratings plummeting, he was deposed in 2010 by his deputy, Ms Julia Gillard, who had the virtual unanimous support of Labor's MPs.

It was a personal tragedy for Mr Rudd - who fought back tears at his final press conference - but it paved the way for three years of spectacular infighting in the ruling Labor party.

Mr Rudd was determined to claw his way back to the Labor leadership. He was blamed for nasty leaks to the media against Ms Gillard during the 2010 election campaign, which may have cost her an outright majority in Parliament.

The infighting prompted numerous Labor ministers and MPs to publicly state why they had turned against Mr Rudd, saying he was arrogant, aloof and a "dysfunctional" prime minister.

Fellow Labor MP, Mr Steve Gibbons, described him as "a psychopath with a giant ego" . Former Treasurer Wayne Swan said he was disloyal and had "no Labor values".

But Mr Rudd made a triumphant return after launching a leadership challenge in June. His Labor colleagues turned to him in the hope that he could improve its chances in the election, with Ms Gillard facing a devastating defeat.

Despite giving Labor an initial boost in the polls, Mr Rudd ran from behind during the five-week campaign and was forced to resort to a scare campaign, culminating in Saturday's defeat.

A former adviser to Mr Rudd, Mr Lachlan Harris, told ABC on the election eve: "I think that night (the ousting of Mr Rudd in 2010) has had an incredibly damaging impact on Labor and its two greatest players.

Together they were unbeatable. They destroyed each other, and the results are going to be very, very ugly for Labor." Though his fate seemed clear in recent weeks, Mr Rudd declared at his election launch last weekend: "I have been in tougher spots before and come back from behind." Now he will need to assess his future.

Given his passion for foreign affairs, he has sometimes been touted as a possible United Nations envoy or ambassador. Having endured defeats and risen again, it is unlikely the nation or the world has seen the last of Mr Rudd.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.



This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.