Rudd faces huge task to drum up support

By Greg Ansley

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Photo / AP
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Photo / AP

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is firmly back in power and facing the harsh realities of rebuilding his Government, convincing voters to turn back to Labor in time for whenever the election will now be held and recapturing the political agenda from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Nothing will be easy. Rudd faced difficult policy decisions from day one, hammered home by fierce Opposition attacks on asylum seekers, the carbon tax, trust and stability in a rowdy parliamentary session that saw a succession of MPs expelled from the House.

The gap-toothed front bench behind him as he returned fire was a further reminder of the job he faces: a third of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's ministry, including some of its most senior members, quit after Rudd won Wednesday night's leadership vote.

Within the party there are deep and abiding personal animosities, towards Rudd and the supporters who destabilised the Government over the past three years, and towards senior Gillard supporters who changed their vote in caucus.

Key among these is Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, a potential future leader, who acknowledged the fury he had brought upon himself, rejected suggestions he was a traitor and pleaded that any retribution not include his family.

But there have been positive signs.

The Council of Trade Unions urged its members to unite behind Rudd to ensure that Abbott does not win power, and a snap Morgan poll made after the vote showed a sharp leap for Labor.

The poll said that in the two-party preferred vote that determines Australian elections Labor now trailed the Coalition by just one point and concluded that if an election was held now the result would be too close to call.

Just when the election will be held is now in doubt.

Gillard had set the date as September 14, but there is conflicting speculation that Rudd may go early to capitalise on a return-to-power honeymoon and to blunt Abbott's counterattack, or, alternatively, that he may delay until later in the year.

Pressed by Abbott in Parliament yesterday, Rudd sidestepped the issue and said only that it would conform with constitutional requirements, which sets a deadline for this election of November 30.

Rudd is also unlikely to face a test of his ability to govern, with Abbott saying he was not likely to seek a vote of no-confidence because it was the people's responsibility to choose their government.

"All we've had for the last three years are back-room deals and back stabbing orchestrated by the faceless men who are not interested in the welfare of the Australian people," he said.

Rudd would also probably command a majority. While the votes of retiring independent New South Wales independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott are uncertain, he would be supported in a confidence vote by north Queensland MP Bob Katter, the Greens' Adam Bandt, Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie, former Labor MP Craig Thomson and disgraced former Speaker Peter Slipper.

Rudd has also started adding heavyweights to his frontbench: Leader of the House Anthony Albanese is the new Deputy Prime Minister, former Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is Treasurer, turncoat Gillard supporters Penny Wong and Shorten remain in finance and workplace relations, and Gillard loyalist Gary Gray has agreed to remain as Resources Minister.

However, others have quit: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Schools Education Minister Peter Garrett will leave politics. Treasurer Wayne Swan, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig have moved to the backbenches.

Whatever the team, Rudd will need to show he is a changed man, as he says he is. His autocratic, micromanaging style and bad temper alienated colleagues he will have to unify.

Speaking in Parliament after being sworn in, Rudd appealed for an end to the negativity that had eroded trust in politics, and for a new approach to the "very hard life" of politicians.

Yesterday's question time showed there is little chance of that. The Opposition is planning a campaign that will focus on the abuse heaped on the resurrected Prime Minister by Labor colleagues during leadership spats.

The Coalition is already airing a cartoon depicting Rudd and colleagues as headless chooks, with an entire arsenal in reserve, including Labor MPs' public descriptions of Rudd as "a psychopath", a "giant ego", "dysfunctional" - and more.

Rudd will also have to discredit Abbott's continued attacks on Labor as a profligate, incompetent Government whose stability remained in doubt and whose policies were unchanged.

- NZ Herald

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