In a press release that took place in the middle of the night on Wednesday, Kevin Rudd announced his resignation as Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s foreign minister. His announcement came as a surprise, although ongoing tussles between Prime Minister Gillard and Mr. Rudd, as well as speculation that Mr. Rudd would eventually mount a leadership challenge to Ms. Gillard, had been widely reported in Australian media the past few weeks.
In his speech, Mr Rudd told reporters that he had spoken to some colleagues since he announced his resignation and was “pleased and encouraged by the amount of positive support” he had received. In addition, Mr Rudd said that the colleagues he had spoken to “regard [him] as the best prospect to lead the Australian Labor Party” , commenting that he does not believe that “Prime Minister Gillard can lead the Australian Labor Party to success in the next election”.
Ms Gillard took over the leadership of the Labor Party in 2010 when Rudd’s high popularity ratings took a hit after he delayed his proposed carbon emissions trading scheme and refused to implement an unpopular mining tax.
Mr Rudd gave an indication that the reason for his resignation could partly be attributed to fellow Labor lawmaker Simon Crean, who is a strong supporter of Ms Gillard. According to Mr Rudd, Minister Crean “and a number of other faceless man have publicly attacked [his] integrity and therefore [his] fitness to serve as a minister in the government.” His speech is believed to have underlined the acrimonious internal struggle going on within the party.
In a statement hours after Mr Rudd’s announcement, Ms Gillard expressed her disappointment that “the concerns Mr Rudd has publicly expressed…were never personally raised with [her], nor did he contact [her] to discuss his resignation prior to his decision.”
More significantly, Ms Gillard also called for a ballot to be held this coming Monday for the leadership of the Labor party, which she expects to win. “For far too long we have seen squabbling within the labor party which has obscured the government’s achievements and what we doing to build a stronger and fairer Australia for the future,” she said.
Australians are scheduled to vote in a general election in late 2013. Backing for the Labor Party, however, has been weakening while support for the opposition Liberal-National coalition has increased – a recent Newspoll survey reported that 55% of Australians currently support the opposition party as compared to 45% for the Labor Party.
Report: Gillard calls for Australian Labor Party leadership vote [CNN, 23 February 2012]
Report: Australia’s Gillard sparks leadership battle [Wall Street Journal, 22 February 2012]