Rudd Bids to Change Labor Rules to End Mid-Term Leader Ousters

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who ousted Julia Gillard to reclaim the top post last month, proposed changing the rules of his governing Labor party to prevent another mid-term party leadership coup.

“This rule change is clear: If a leader of the Australian Labor Party takes the party to the election and they are returned to form the government of the nation, that person remains as leader of the party in the government for the duration of that term,” Rudd said yesterday. He’s proposing to allow members of the party a vote on its leadership.

Rudd is seeking to unify Labor after a series of leadership battles distracted the party and left it trailing Tony Abbott’s opposition in opinion polls ahead of an election this year. He defeated Gillard in a June 26 vote by members of the party’s parliamentary caucus. Gillard herself ousted Rudd in a party coup in 2010, a move that stirred voter discontent and raised questions over her legitimacy in the role.

“This is a fairly sensible move designed to reduce the likelihood of the party from going through yet another round of internal instability,” said Zareh Ghazarian, a political analyst and lecturer in politics at Melbourne’s Monash University. “This is Rudd trying to stamp his authority on the party in the small window of opportunity he has before the election,” which must be held by the end of November.

New Guidelines

Under the proposed guidelines, votes from Labor’s membership will be weighted 50-50 with votes by caucus members when deciding the party’s leadership, Rudd said. Caucus will hold a special meeting on July 22 to discuss changing the rules.

Labor would hold a leadership ballot if it lost an election, he said. The changes would also allow a vote after a leader resigned, at their request, or when at least 75 percent of the caucus signed a petition requesting a ballot because the leader had brought the party into disrepute.

“The federal parliamentary leader of the Labor party will be elected jointly by the party membership across the nation and the members of the federal parliamentary Labor party,” Rudd said.

Rudd resigned from the top job in June 2010 after being told by Gillard that she had the numbers in caucus to ensure victory in a party-room challenge. He then became foreign minister before resigning the post in February 2012 to challenge Gillard, a contest he lost.

In March, he declined to vie for the job after Gillard, 51, declared the leadership open. Last month he won a caucus ballot, garnering 57 votes to Gillard’s 45.

Rudd’s Return

Rudd, 55, has said he returned to the leadership to avoid a “catastrophic” election defeat for Labor. The party is trailing the coalition by two percentage points on a two-party preferred basis, from 14 points a week before his challenge, according to the latest Newspoll.

The proposals mirror methods of electing the leadership of the Labor party’s counterparts in Britain and Canada, Monash’s Ghazarian said.

“It’s designed to weaken the influence of factional power players in the party and put a stop to the type of constant leadership speculation that we’ve had over the past three years,” he said.

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