In Australia, political change comes quickly and brutally

Now-former Australian PM Kevin Rudd and new PM Julia Gillard in happier days

While Canada’s political tussles seem to drone on endlessly to the increasing non-interest of the 88 percent* or so of Canadians who only pay passive attention to politics at best, Australia has gone down a different road. Whenever there’s a dispute over who’s best able to lead a political party down in Oz, it’s sorted out quickly — and brutally.

Witness the events of the past five weeks or so, which culminated in yesterday and today’s dramatic political shootout in Canberra, Australia’s capital city, which saw first-term prime minister Kevin Rudd deposed and replaced by Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister.

May 17, 2010: “Julia Gillard is laughing off suggestions she would be a better prime minister than Kevin Rudd, one of her frontbench colleagues says… Jenny Macklin says the federal Labor party is fully behind its leader, adding Mr Rudd and his deputy are ‘a great team'”

June 13, 2010: “Julia Gillard has dismissed as ‘completely absurd’ suggestions that she should replace Kevin Rudd as prime minister amid growing concern about Labor’s inability to turn the focus away from its proposed mining tax.”

June 14, 2010: “[M]inisters and factional bosses, both on and off the record, stressed yesterday there were no moves afoot to replace the Prime Minister with Julia Gillard or anyone else to try to revive the government’s flagging fortunes.”

June 21, 2010: “The Prime Minister will face Labor MPs on Tuesday but his leadership is not expected to be challenged.”

June 23, 2010 6:32 a.m. Winnipeg time: “The ABC has learned that powerful party figures have been secretly canvassing numbers for a move to dump the Prime Minister and replace him with his deputy, Julia Gillard.”

June 23, 2010 9:30 p.m. Winnipeg time: “The Governor-General, Ms Quentin Bryce AC, will swear in the Hon. Julia Gillard MP as Prime Minister and the Hon. Wayne Swan MP as Deputy Prime Minister at Government House today at 12.30 pm.”

This isn’t the first time that a change in prime minister has come abruptly in Australia. In 1975, then prime minister Gough Whitlam was unexpectedly fired by the Governor-General and replaced immediately by opposition leader Malcolm Fraser. In 1991, prime minister Bob Hawke was replaced on short notice by Paul Keating, his former finance minister.

Australian opposition parties are even less forgiving of their leaders. Australia’s opposition Liberal Party (which is actually a conservative party, despite the name) has had three leaders since former prime minister John Howard left the scene less than three years ago: Brendan Nelson (Nov. 2007 to Sept. 2008), Malcolm Turnbull (Sept. 2008 to Dec. 2009) and Tony Abbott (Dec. 2009 to present).

Since Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is a long-standing observer of Australian politics — he is reportedly an admirer of John Howard, the small-c conservative who governed Australia from 1996 to 2007 — there is an important lesson for him to take away from all this. It’s that prime ministers are rarely endangered by their ideological foes. The real danger comes from the ‘friends’ in your own party who will smile and share a laugh with you one day, only to remorselessly thrust a knife in your back the next day when you’ve become a threat to their ambitions.

* – According to the 2006 wave of the World Values Survey, only 12 percent of Canadians said that politics is “very important” in life. Thirty-seven percent said politics was “rather important”, another 37 percent “not very important” and 14 percent “not at all important”.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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