A hastily convened caucus of Australian Labor Party federal MPs replaced former prime minister Kevin Rudd with his deputy, Julia Gillard, on June 24. This made her Australia's first woman PM. Treasurer Wayne Swan replaced Gillard as deputy PM.
The dramatic takeover unfolded publicly the previous night when the chiefs of Labor's right-wing factions withdrew their support for Rudd.
Rudd's demise followed a nosedive by Labor (and Rudd) in opinion polls. The context was the series of backflips on climate change and refugee policy. Rudd had tried to win back popular support by announcing a 40% Resource Super Profits Tax (RSPT) on the mining industry.
But the mining companies did not want to see a little more of their riches taken as tax, nor have the RSPT become an example for other governments. The mining companies, supported by Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, went on the offensive. This may have sealed Rudd’s fate.
Australian mining share prices shot up after Gillard's takeover. One of her first announcements was that her government was halting its media campaign on the proposed RSPT. She said the door was open to the mining companies for negotiations. The Minerals Council of Australia responded by suspending its multi-million dollar advertising campaign against the RSPT.
Fortescue Metals CEO Andrew Forrest and BHP Billiton welcomed the change in leadership.
This was a case of ruling class attack against a divided, confused and anxious working class in the lead-up to a federal election. The ALP's factional machinations that toppled Rudd were the lurching and desperate reactions to broader, more powerful forces.
Media speculation indicates that Gillard may take a “tougher stand” on refugees.
Gillard has hinted that this might be the case, identifying “border protection” as one of her three top policy priorities (along with climate change and “ending the stoush over the mining tax”, ABC Online said on June 25).
Rudd’s comments to the media when the challenge to his leadership was first announced adds weight to this fear. Rudd said: “I believe it is absolutely wrong for this country … to get involved in some sort of race to the right … on the question of asylum seekers.”
A Coalition electoral victory seems less likely now. The June 26 Sydney Morning Herald reported that a poll conducted shortly after the leadership change found Gillard had a 21% lead over opposition leader Tony Abbott as preferred PM. Labor’s support rose 14 points to 47% of the primary vote, while the Coalition fell 1% to 42%.
Support for the Greens dropped from 15% to 8%, the SMH said.
A range of progressive activists told Green Left Weekly about their reaction to Labor’s leadership change.
* * *
Sam Watson, Murri leader and Socialist Alliance lead Senate candidate
This leadership change is all about saving the ALP from defeat in the coming federal election. The decision was made by the Labor machine and has nothing to do with changes that might benefit all Australians.
For Aboriginal people, it is a case of “same horse, different saddle blanket”. We need to call on Gillard to end the Northern Territory intervention as soon as possible.
Richard Downs, Alyawarr People’s Walk-off spokesperson
Until the new PM acknowledges the racism and discrimination that has been imposed on our people across the NT; until the NT intervention is abolished; until a new chapter of engagement and consultations begins to create a joint partnership with us, nothing will change. Aboriginal people have lost all confidence with state and federal governments.
Yet we leave our door open for the new PM to meet with myself, and elders and leaders from all different language groups, on the new way forward. We advise the new PM to remove all previous baggage, including Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin, who we have no confidence in, to achieve the goals set by the federal government in closing the gap.
Helen Said, community activist from Melbourne's northern suburbs
Gillard is part of a government that has upheld Howard's Welfare to Work legislation and changes to the child support formula, which has condemned many sole-parent families to a life of poverty.
Gillard is the first woman PM of Australia, but not a PM for the women of Australia.
Pip Hinman, anti-war activist and Socialist Alliance candidate for
NSW Labor used the same tactic by installing Kristina Keneally as premier. But when the superficiality of the stunt wears off, people still want to know when real change will come.
People want real alternatives: they are fed up with politicians without conviction.
Tim Gooden, secretary, Geelong Trades Hall Council and Socialist Alliance member
The new leadership of the Labor government has an opportunity now to introduce a real response to climate change, to undo the damage done to refugees by the Howard government and under Rudd, and to resolve the outstanding issues with the trade union movement, including abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
But I am not holding my breath.
The ALP leadership is looking to gain some votes for putting in a woman PM, but sisters should not expect any favours. Remember, Margaret Thatcher was a woman.
Labor has shown no leadership on the refugee issue. Real leadership means having the guts to tell the public that it would take 30 years to fill the MCG with refugees on current arrival numbers.
John Gauci, secretary of Inner City Teachers Association (Sydney) and member of the NSW Teachers Federation executive
Teachers have already seen Gillard’s politics in the school league tables campaign. Gillard was fully conscious of the damage that league tables have done in Britain, yet she persisted with their publication in Australia.
Gillard threatened the WA branch of the Australian Education Union with de-registration simply for taking industrial action.
Sharon Firebrace, Koori activist and Socialist Alliance Senate candidate for Victoria
Gillard will be just as anti-union as Rudd was. Now is the time to push for the removal of fines against unions and the removal of the ABCC and other anti-union laws. We need the right to strike, but there is no way the ALP will ever support it.
There is no sign that Gillard will do anything to reverse the racist apartheid laws in the NT, where Indigenous people have fewer rights than non-Indigenous people. Indigenous workers get paid as little as $4 an hour. That's exploitation of black labour. It's weakening us economically and disempowering us.
The ALP government has also been promoting racism towards refugees and migrants. Some migrants are working for as little as $8 an hour. That is exploited labour.
We need a united workers’ party. That is the only way that we'll change things.
Tim Anderson, activist, writer and lecturer at Sydney University School of Political Economy
After the excitement of a Rudd-Gillard “transition” dies down, we should remember that all power plays in Australian politics have to do with the Australian oligarchy — that peculiar mixture of banking, mining, investment conglomerates and media.
Who could have imagined, a few weeks back, that an election might be fought on the basis of a tax on the super-profits of a handful of the super-rich? Why would there be any popular support at all for a tiny group of super-fat cats, unless they controlled the daily means of public debate?
So when Julia appears with her “new” package, watch out for the deal done over the mining tax.
Ewan Saunders, Socialist Alliance candidate for Brisbane
Now is the time for the trade union movement and the community to say enough is enough. We must demand that Gillard and the ALP stand up to the mining giants over the government's proposed tax on mining super-profits.
We need to reject the dictatorship of the giant corporations and demand genuine popular democracy — where the interests of ordinary people prevail over the rampant greed of big business.
Jess Moore, Resistance leader and Socialist Alliance candidate for
Cunningham in NSW's South Coast
People are angry with what Labor has done — and failed to do — in government. We need real change, not more factional manoeuvring from Labor.
We shouldn't let Rudd’s removal fool us.
Alex Bainbridge, APEC 2007 protest organiser and Socialist Alliance candidate for Perth
Gillard in her first media conference paid tribute not only to previous right-wing Labor prime ministers but to Howard and Costello as well.
She also commended Rudd for reinforcing the unjust war in Afghanistan.
Rudd was elected under the banner of “change” and “new leadership” but didn't deliver anything like the progressive changes we need. Gillard has now become PM because people are still hungering for real change and genuine progressive leadership.
I will cheer if the ALP under Gillard turns towards a progressive agenda including. But we’ll only get any of these advances if we step up our campaigns now. Gillard does not deserve a “honeymoon period” — we need real action now.