Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd resigned yesterday, saying he was unable to continue without Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s support, paving the way for him to make a leadership challenge.
In a dramatic late-night resignation speech from Washington, Rudd said the only honorable course of action was for him to step down, as reports circulated in Australia that Gillard was preparing to sack him.
“The simple truth is that I cannot continue to serve as foreign minister if I don’t have Prime Minister Gillard’s support,” he told reporters.
Australia’s Labor government has been torn by speculation about whether Rudd, who Gillard suddenly ousted as prime minister in mid-2010, but who remains hugely popular with voters, would mount a bid to return to the top job.
Analysts believe Rudd still does not have the votes to topple Gillard in any immediate leadership ballot among the 103-strong Labor caucus, but his move compounds the woes of the unpopular and fragile coalition government.
Gillard has insisted she will lead Labor into next year’s election and reports, which her office refused to comment on, said that she intended to call a leadership ballot early next week.
In a short written statement, she said she was “disappointed that the concerns Mr Rudd has publicly expressed this evening were never personally raised with me, nor did he contact me to discuss his resignation prior to his decision.”
Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan released a scathing statement, accusing Rudd of “dysfunctional decisionmaking” and a “deeply demeaning attitude towards other people, including our caucus colleagues.”
“He was the party’s biggest beneficiary, then its biggest critic, but never a loyal or selfless example of its values and objectives,” Swan said.
Rudd, a globe-trotting diplomat, has abandoned his duties in the US to other officials and he leaves Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson as acting foreign minister. He is expected to arrive in Australia tomorrow to plan his next move, but he noted that the leadership speculation had become something like a “soap opera” and that it was a distraction from the real business of government and left opposition leader Tony Abbott on track to win the next election.
“While I am sad to leave this office, I am sadder still that it has come to this,” Rudd said, adding that in recent days there had been public attacks against his integrity by Labor Party members, including former leader Simon Crean.
“When challenged today on these attacks, Prime Minister Gillard chose not to repudiate them. I can only reluctantly conclude that she therefore shares these views,” Rudd said.
In a swipe at the power of “faceless men” — a reference to factional figures in the Labor Party who backed his ousting — he said: “Australia must be governed by the people, not by the factions.”
He also vowed to never support a “stealth attack on a sitting prime minister elected by the people,” invoking his June 2010 deposing by Gillard, then his deputy, who challenged him for the leadership and prompted his resignation.
Rudd’s ousting took most Australians by complete surprise and his treatment still stirs some sympathy among voters.