Rudd Quits Australian Politics After Twice Serving as Leader

Kevin Rudd, who served as Australia’s prime minister twice before losing the Sept. 7 election, announced his retirement from politics.

Rudd, 56, who reclaimed the top Labor job on June 26 after Julia Gillard ousted him as party leader in 2010, stepped down from the post in the wake of Labor’s election defeat and said he will now quit his Queensland lower-house district of Griffith, forcing a special ballot.

“It was right and proper that I report my decision to the parliament at the earliest opportunity,” Rudd told parliament in Canberra late yesterday. “I have chosen to do so now to create minimal disruptions to the normal proceedings of the House”. Parliament is sitting this week for the first time since the election.

Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, entered parliament in 1998, became Labor leader in 2006 and enjoyed record-high popularity ratings after defeating John Howard’s coalition government in 2007. His departure from politics may help his party, which lost the September election to the Tony Abbott-led Liberal-National coalition, rebuild under Bill Shorten’s leadership.

“With Gillard and Rudd both gone, the ghosts of Labor’s tumultuous six years in power have been put to rest and Shorten now has a clear run at leading the party’s next generation,” said Andrew Hughes, who conducts political-marketing research at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Leadership Challenges

“This has been the product of much soul-searching for us as a family over the last few months,” Rudd said yesterday. “For me my family is everything, always has been, always will be, which is why I will not be continuing as a member of this parliament beyond this week.”

Rudd retained the district of Griffith in the September election in a contest against the Liberals’ Bill Glasson, securing 53 percent of the vote on a two-party preferred basis. The Australian Electoral Commission will now set a date for the special election in the seat. The two-party measure is determined by votes for other candidates subsequently being distributed as preferences to contenders from the major parties.

The former leader is seeking to have his daughter selected as Labor’s candidate for the special election in Griffith, the Canberra Times reported today, citing senior party officials it didn’t identify. Jessica Rudd lives in Beijing and is 29 years old, it said.

Early Popularity

Rudd’s initial popularity as prime minister was boosted in part by his apology to the indigenous Aboriginal population for past abuses and his move to sign the Kyoto Protocol. That waned after announcing plans to implement a 40 percent tax on resource profits and as internal party criticism emerged of his alleged autocratic leadership style.

After Rudd was ousted by Gillard in June 2010, senior party figures accused him of seeking to destabilize her government, claims he denied. He was appointed minister for foreign affairs, a post he resigned when he mounted and lost a leadership contest in February 2012.

Rudd’s defeat of Gillard in the June leadership ballot came as Labor struggled in opinion polls, with voters turned off by party infighting and concern over policy backflips. After losing the September election, Rudd was replaced as party leader by former union official Shorten.

“Along with the apology to Australia’s indigenous people, history may show that Rudd led the nation through the subprime crisis without going into recession,” the Australian National University’s Hughes said.

“Many of his Labor colleagues are convinced that his return to the prime ministership this year saved the party from an election rout.”