Kevin Rudd says he offered to stand aside for Julia Gillard to become prime minister at the end of 2010 if the government was facing election defeat — but Ms Gillard welshed on the agreement just minutes after it was made.
For the first time, Mr Rudd has spoken on the record about the pivotal meeting with Ms Gillard in the prime minister’s Parliament House office on the evening of June 23, 2010, witnessed by Labor elder John Faulkner.
Mr Rudd said the conditional offer of a leadership transition — without a vote of the Labor caucus — came after a long discussion about the performance of the government and its electoral prospects.
Ms Gillard, according to Mr Rudd, agreed he could have more time to lift the government’s standing with voters.
“We had a discussion about her concerns about the government’s direction — a large part of which was news to me,” Mr Rudd said. “I put to her the simple proposition that if by the time the election was due at the end of the year the government was not in a winning position then of course I would not wish to remain as leader.”
Ms Gillard “agreed with that approach” but then took a phone call outside Mr Rudd’s office and returned to say that she had now decided to challenge his position as Labor leader and prime minister.
“Both Faulkner and I were stunned by the about-face,” Mr Rudd recalled.
“I said: ‘So you have just reneged on an agreement with me in front of a witness given only 10 minutes ago?’ To which she said, ‘Yes’. At which point I concluded the meeting.”
The former prime minister’s comments are included in a book released next week, Rudd, Gillard and Beyond, in which he also speaks about the need for further internal Labor reform and his policy legacy in government. Ms Gillard declined to be interviewed for the book.
Mr Rudd said it was “pointless” and “unproductive” to dwell on regrets in politics, but he added he did not foresee a challenge to his leadership and lamented being “such a trusting bastard”.
His only other key regret was “to have succumbed to the council of others” to defer implementation of his signature climate change policy, the carbon pollution reduction scheme, in early 2010. That decision led to a collapse in his approval rating as prime minister.
Mr Rudd identifies his government’s response to the GFC as one of his proudest achievements. “To have brought the country through the global financial crisis without delivering us into a recession, by avoiding mass unemployment, and by doing so with one of the world’s lowest levels of debt and deficit, was itself a considerable achievement and has been globally recognised as such,” he says in the book.
Last July, as reinstalled prime minister, Mr Rudd successfully led a push to change Labor’s caucus rules so that the party leader is elected by parliamentarians and party members. He urged the party to do more to dilute the influence of faction leaders.
“There is a group within the Labor Party who prefer power in Labor rather than Labor in power,” he said. “What I mean by party reform is throwing the doors and the windows of the party wide open so that people of talent and ability can prevail through open preselection processes, as opposed to allowing those decisions to be made in dark rooms by a bunch of factional powerbrokers.”
Mr Rudd’s offer to stand aside for Ms Gillard to become prime minister if he failed to lift the government’s standing is similar to the deal between Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in 1988. Mr Hawke agreed to stand aside after the 1990 election but later walked away from the agreement.
When Ms Gillard left Mr Rudd’s office, it was after her adviser, Amanda Lampe, had entered the room and told her she was wanted on the phone. According to sources, she was urged to challenge Mr Rudd by her caucus supporters and staff.
“Gillard was the last person on board,” says an MP from Ms Gillard’s inner circle. “There was no strategy, no conspiracy, no planning, no move on Rudd in advance. Gillard did everything she could under the worst possible circumstances to help. He just wouldn’t listen.”
Some in the Rudd camp, however, now believe that in hindsight the signs were clear Ms Gillard was preparing to launch a bid for the prime ministership perhaps months in advance.
The Australian revealed yesterday that two days before the meeting with Mr Rudd, she sent an email to the prime minister and his chief of staff, Alister Jordan, saying she was “desperately concerned” about Labor’s standing in the polls and the problems with its asylum-seeker policies.
Troy Bramston is the author of Rudd, Gillard and Beyond (Penguin), released next Wednesday