Q&A: Is this end for Australia's Kevin Rudd?

Former foreign minister Kevin Rudd arrives for the Labor leadership ballot on Monday.

Story highlights

  • Julia Gillard defeats Kevin Rudd in leadership challenge
  • Rudd says he "fully supports" Gillard for re-election as Australian PM
  • Challenge exposed splits in Australia's ruling Labor Party
  • Gillard says she's confident she can take Labor to an election win against Tony Abbott

The vote seemed assured even before Australian Labor Party members entered the room to decide whether to dump Julia Gillard as prime minister.

Gillard won the ballot with 71 votes to 31 for Kevin Rudd, the former foreign minister who mounted a bold bid to win back the job he was elected to do in a general election in 2007.

Before the vote, Rudd vowed to abandon his leadership ambitions, if his colleagues returned Gillard as prime minister. Now that they have, is that the end of the matter?

Rudd's reaction

After losing the vote, Rudd addressed the media in what commentators described as possibly the biggest press conference ever held by a backbencher, a position traditionally held by new politicians or those on their way out.

Rudd congratulated Gillard on her "strong win," and confirmed that he would focus his efforts on serving the residents within his electorate as a Federal Member of Parliament.

Amid speculation that he would mount another bid for the job within months, Rudd said Gillard had his complete support to win the next election.

"I dedicate myself to working fully for her re-election as prime minister of Australia," he said.

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Australians must head to the polls before November 30 next year when the current Labor government's term ends.

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How did we get here?

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The twists and turns of an increasingly acerbic leadership battle have captivated the nation since Rudd dramatically quit his post as foreign minister last Wednesday.

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Rudd's resignation and subsequent bid for leadership exposed internal party tensions that had been simmering since Gillard ousted Rudd to become prime minister in June 2010.

Back then, Gillard seized on a dip in Rudd's popularity in public opinion polls to tip him out of office. Soon after, she assigned him to the post of foreign minister.

He resigned after Gillard failed to support him in the face of a public attack from senior party member, Simon Crean, the Minister for Regional Development.

Accusing Rudd of disloyalty, Crean urged Rudd to "put up or shut up." He did, and that led to the loss in Monday's vote.

How has Gillard responded?

Soon after Rudd conceded defeat, Gillard said the vote had been an "overwhelming endorsement" of her continued leadership of the party.

In the typically blunt style of an Australian politician, she said Australians had had a "gutful" of the leadership battle and promised to switch the focus back to them.

"I can assure you that this political drama is over, and now you are back at center stage where you should properly be, and you will be the focus of our efforts," she said.

Her main challenge now will be to win the next election against Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition, a coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party of Australia.

Both Gillard and Abbott are trailing in public opinion polls behind Rudd, who remains the leader of choice for most voters.

Gillard has said she has no doubts that Rudd was being genuine when he pledged his support for her, saying he spoke with "honesty, candour... and I absolutely accept it."

Is that the end of the matter?

Rudd's decision to contest a vote that he looked unlikely to win has prompted theories about his true intentions in the lead up to Monday's vote.

In his blog for The Australian, political commentator Chris Kenny said Rudd's decision to contest the leadership was "a political move of evil genius."

"Rudd knew he would never swing sufficient numbers in one challenge. But he needed to sway sufficient numbers to make his bid look credible and with 31 votes he has done that," Kenny wrote.

"He wanted to demonstrate that he is the people's choice. His clever publicity campaign and messaging has certainly made that clear to the nation."

Kenny added: Rudd's "shadow will loom large over the government, with compelling evidence showing his leadership could pull the government back into contention in the polls."

Can Labor win the next election?

Much work will need to be done to repair the damage inflicted on the Labor Party by its very public spat.

The party has been trailing badly in the polls. The public doesn't seem to be convinced that Gillard is the person to take the country forward.

They want Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, whom voters see as a "nice bloke," according to John Stirton, research director at media research company Nielsen.

In the last few days, Rudd said he had been "demonized" by his party colleagues. In accepting defeat, he held out an olive branch, saying "I bear no grudges, I bear no one any malice and if I've done wrong to anyone in what I've said or in what I've done, to them I apologize."

Party insiders had painted the former prime minister as an autocrat who was impossible to work with. Some of the harshest criticism came from Treasurer Wayne Swan who accused Rudd of "dysfunctional decision making" during his 18 months in office. Gillard also joined in, accusing Rudd of having "very chaotic work patterns" that resulted in "paralysis in the government."

Gillard tried to stick a band aid over the wounds Monday by saying that Rudd's "many achievements" as prime minister would be "honored," and that Labor's scars could be healed.

"We have come together before, and we will do so now. We will move forward as a united team. I am absolutely confident of that," she said.

It remains to be seen whether voters are prepared to look past the splits in the ruling party to endorse it again for another term. Until Rudd's election in 2007, the Labor Party had been out of office since 1996. If Gillard fails to turn public opinion around, the party seems set for another long spell on the political margins.