Julia Gillard tonight conceded defeat to Tony Abbott after a hard-fought five-week election campaign.
Although Prime Minister Gillard announced the election date on 30 January, it was not until Monday 12 August that the Governor General dissolved the House of Representatives.
Thus started an intense campaign, interrupted twice by doomed attempts by former MP, Kevin Rudd, to resurrect his leadership. On the first occasion, 21 March, Ms Gillard called a leadership spill in response to a request from former minister Simon Crean. She was the only candidate. On the second occasion, 26 June, the Prime Minister called another leadership spill, this time Mr Rudd putting his name forward. Both candidates promised to resign and leave politics should they lose.
Despite the Rudd forces thinking victory was nigh, Prime Minister Gillard pulled off a major coup, defeating Rudd by 59 votes to 43 in the Caucus, despite two-time turncoat Bill Shorten supporting Rudd.
Surprisingly, Kevin Rudd honoured his commitment to depart politics, immediately resigning his seat of Griffith. In the subsequent by-election Liberal Nationals candidate, Bill Glasson, scored a narrow victory over the ALP’s Paul Howes.
With the departure of Kevin Rudd, the Government started to appear united, with former Rudd supporters surrendering absolutely to the Gillard ascendancy. There were no more leaks and the subversion of the Government by Rudd supporters immediately ceased.
Yet Gillard had to confront the legacy of a mismanaged economy and a string of broken promises. While the polling remained dreadful for Labor, its MPs seemed resigned to their fates and worked to limit losses.
The Prime Minister ran a negative campaign targeting Tony Abbott and his shadow ministers with claims of misogyny, a desire to ‘slash and burn’ and ‘mindless austerity’. One strand of the campaign tried to target Tony Abbott through a smear suggesting he took instruction from the Vatican. Others strands hinted to a ‘hidden agenda’.
Despite the negativity from the Labor camp, the Coalition focused on its main themes of stopping the boats, abolishing the carbon tax and getting the budget into repair. The Coalition also attacked Labor for its broken promises and incompetent administration.
When Labor entered the formal election campaign on 12 August, the major polls suggested it would struggle to obtain 30% of the first preference votes and 35 seats in the House of Representatives.
But Julia Gillard proved a tireless campaigner and her support rose through the campaign. She was assisted by a well-run and united Campaign Headquarters and she stuck rigorously to plan and script.
Ultimately, however, voters drew a line under the Rudd and Gillard governments. The mix of broken promises, poor policies, disunity and pathetic implementation led inexorably to a change of government.
In the new Parliament, the Coalition Government is likely to win 92 seats, Labor 54, the Greens 1 and others 3. Labor picked up 33.7% of first preference votes.
In delivering her concession speech, a tearful Julia Gillard announced that she would soon resign her seat of Lalor, stating
Tonight we accept that Labor has been thrashed. There is no doubt about the result, nor the magnitude of the loss. Our primary vote is at a 100-year low. I believe that the Government delivered effective and much-needed policies. We were let down by the internecine fights between various factions of Labor and in particular by our former leader who continuously undermined a great government. Tonight I announce my departure from politics. It is time for a new generation to take up the Labor fight. With Mr Rudd and I having departed, there is now an opportunity to cement the unity I have enjoyed since 26 June. I have no doubt that the Gillard Government would have won had I enjoyed that unity from the first day of my administration. I look forward to a great Labor victory under a united team in 2016. It is now time for the Caucus to select my successor.
The moral of this story?
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
In both dimensions the Labor Government loses in a massive landslide, one week apart. The defeated party cannot accept the defeat and blames disunity rather than its own policies. In this scenario, though, Rudd has departed Parliament leaving the new leader – who is selected by Caucus only – to run the Opposition without having Rudd commencing take 3 for the ALP Leadership.
All in all, I think Labor would have been better sticking with Julia Gillard rather than switching to Rudd. I admit that I was worried for a few days when Rudd returned – I though he might win. Mea culpa. But that would never be – Rudd thinks he is the smartest person and has so many personality flaws that it was almost inevitable that his campaign would go awry.
Rudd is cunning and a plotter. But he is no intellectual. He is just another failed Labor leader, one of a conga line of failed Labor leaders.