“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” - Plato
Well, Australian politics has once again proven that it is a volatile, yet not unpredictable, arena of power games. On the 24th of June 2010, Kevin Rudd elected Prime Minister of the Labor Party is ousted form leadership by his deputy Julia Gillard who assumed the top job, becoming Australia’s first female Prime Minister. For nearly two years, Rudd and Gillard have been playing power games, garnering support in a Government that is hanging on the edge of a precarious, small majority. Various political scandals, leaks, squabbles and leadership speculation have made the Labor Party seem like a spent force in the political stakes and the alternative on the side of the Liberals is not an option that many Labor supporters would consider as an alternative on election day, especially given the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott never a popular choice as Prime Minister.
On the 27th of February 2012, Julia Gillard won a leadership poll quite comfortably, with Rudd getting 29 votes to her 73 votes of support in the Labor Caucus. On the 30th of January Gillard announced a September 12th election this year. This marked the beginning of the end of hopes of a Labor party re-election with litmus test polls making it quite clear that she could never lead the Labor party to a win in this poll.
On June 26th Kevin Rudd was re-elected as Prime Minister by the Labor Caucus defeating Julia Gillard 57 to 45 votes. Rudd has taken back the PM position, three years to the week after he was pushed out. It is easy to imagine that Kevin Rudd may think that this has all been about righting a wrong, seizing back what was his “by right”. He did say in the press conference immediately after the ballot results were announced: “In 2007 the Australian people elected me to be their PM. That is the task that I resume today …” The leadership squabble has been costly to the party and contributed to, although is not responsible for, Gillard’s failures. This has not surprisingly, led to Gillard’s announcement about her retirement from politics.
These events of the past three years have highlighted that the Australian Labor Party nationally has experienced its most rancorous divisions since the split of the 1950s. The present situation, contrary to the split of the 1950s, involves the party in government, as opposed to the 1950s when the party was in opposition. More damning now, is the reason behind the divisiveness, which in the 1950s was due to ideological and philosophical differences within the party ranks while now, egos seem to be involved. This may reflect the deterioration of politics worldwide into polls based on personality and popularity rather than fundamental differences in political policy, ideology and key strategic directions.
The progressive, slightly left-leaning Labor party in Australian politics has in the last two decades moved towards the right, becoming more capitalistic, more conservative and more influenced by globalisation policies that favour big company interests. The conservative, rightist Liberal party is not much different from the Labor Party in ideology and policy, but perhaps they may be more honest in the rhetoric that admits the direction they advocate. Many people later this year will have a real problem when they go to vote. We may see quite a shift towards the minor parties, the worse case scenario being one of the small parties holding the balance of power, which may make governing the country difficult. We shall see what we shall see…