Winners are grinners: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Photo: Andrew Meares Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during a press conference with Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Senate Leader Senator Penny Wong and Deputy Senate Leader Senator Jacinta Collins in Parliament House Canberra on Monday 8 July 2013 Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew Meares
Kevin Rudd has used his renewed authority to order historic changes to Labor rules to ensure no sitting prime minister can ever again be removed by the party’s ”faceless men” as he was in 2010.
The changes would see the direct election of the ALP leader by a combination of rank and file ballot and caucus, as well as other preconditions, making hostile leadership changes all but impossible.
The move, which Mr Rudd has used to declare a major membership drive for his party, has taken key players in the ALP by surprise, with NSW state secretary Sam Dastyari admitting he had no warning of the bombshell, which had left him ”flabbergasted”.
”I don’t know what to make of this yet. This was tightly-kept within the parliamentary leadership. The organisation was not in the loop on this,” Mr Dastyari said.
The changes appear to go further even than those advocated by the party’s elder statesmen, Steve Bracks, John Faulkner and Bob Carr. It is understood Mr Rudd honed the package on Sunday night with his leadership circle – Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, a long-term backer of greater democracy, Treasurer Chris Bowen, Leader of the Senate Penny Wong, her deputy Jacinta Collins, and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten.
Arguing that the Australian people wanted to know they would retain the prime minister they elected, Mr Rudd announced the package late on Monday evening following a full ministry and subsequent cabinet meeting.
It comes just days after he ordered a federal intervention into the scandal-plagued NSW branch, and within a fortnight of his own bruising but successful coup over Ms Gillard, which he won by 57 votes to 45.
That followed a long internal campaign of destabilisation by his supporters. Under his new rules, that campaign would have been impossible.
”Today, more than ever, Australians want to know that the prime minister they elect is the prime minister they get,” he said.
”The Australian public requires that certainty – these changes will give them that certainty.”
Candidates for the leadership would not be eligible to stand unless they could demonstrate 20 per cent support from the caucus.
Mr Rudd said he had consulted ”heaps of people” in designing the changes, which must now go to a special gathering of the Labor caucus set for Monday, July 22.
However it it considered extremely unlikely that the Prime Minister would be rebuffed in the shadow of an election.
Mr Rudd’s move comes as a new poll shows the gap between the parties has tightened further and Mr Rudd has increased his lead over Opposition Leader Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister – 53 per cent to 31 per cent.
The latest Newspoll, published by News Ltd Tuesday, shows the ALP and the Coalition tied at 50 per cent each on a two-party preferred basis. Labor’s primary vote is up nine percentage points since Mr Rudd was restored as prime minister two weeks ago, giving the ALP 38 per cent, equal to its level at the August 2010 election.
The Coalition’s primary vote stands at 42 per cent, down six points since the change in Labor leadership.
The poll says voter satisfaction with Mr Rudd is up seven points to 43 per cent from 36 per cent the previous weekend.
Under the reform plan, which overturns more than a century of unchallenged authority by the Parliamentary Labor Party, the leader would be chosen half by direct election involving all rank and file Labor party members, and half by the caucus.
The rank and file ballot would be open to all party members and would take 30 days to conduct – a mechanism presently used to elect Labor’s national president.
While the plan is designed to provide stability and end Labor’s leadership ”revolving door”, the position would be automatically declared vacant following an election at which the party was not able to form government.
In other changes, the frontbench team would once again be selected by way of election by members of Labor’s federal parliamentary caucus, restoring a long-established process which Mr Rudd himself had discontinued early in his first term as prime minister.
”It’s time to throw open the windows of the Labor party structure to the wider community through our membership,” he said.
He said the changes reflected a public clamour for greater transparency and for greater involvement in the conduct of national politics, and he challenged the Liberal Party to consider its own rules in response.
The proposals would ensure a sitting Labor leader could not be removed by force unless there was an overwhelming three quarters of the party room demanding the leader go – a level of support that has never existed in the history of the ALP.
In February 2012, Julia Gillard came closest to achieving that support, and that was as a sitting prime minister, when she defeated Mr Rudd by 71 votes to 31.
The Left faction of the ALP has been pushing for direct elections of the leader for some time.
Labor MPs have come out in support of the move.
Left leader and NSW assistant secretary John Graham argued for the reform at last year’s state conference. On Monday, he described the idea as a ”huge step” to greater democracy within Labor.
The reforms were also supported by long-time Labor MP Daryl Melham who said that the reforms would bring greater stability to his party.
He likened the recent Labor leadership saga to the work of ruthless Renaissance plotter Niccolo Machiavelli.
”Rank-and-file preselections and participation is the way to go rather than backroom factional hacks trying to determine who is going to be prime minister, who’s going to be leader of opposition or who’s going to get a seat in parliament,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.
Labor cabinet minister Penny Wong also supported the changes. ”This hasn’t been the best period in our history in terms of our internals,” she told ABC radio.”We have to move on from that.”
Senior Labor minister Bill Shorten said he was consulted by Mr Rudd before the Prime Minister announced his leadership reforms.
But Mr Shorten would not comment on whether he thought the Prime Minister had broken his promise that he would consult more widely among colleagues before announcing important decisions.
”We know that there’ll be an election sooner rather than later,” Mr Shorten told ABC radio on Tuesday morning.
”One of the questions which Australians ask is, well, what has the Labor Party learned in this term of government? I think one thing we’ve learned is that we need to be very transparent about our stability and how we propose a leader.”
Union boss Paul Howes, who had been a key figure in Julia Gillard’s seizing of the leadership from Mr Rudd in 2010 also backed the changes.
”I think the proposals that Kevin Rudd has put up are smart,” Mr Howes told the Seven Network on Tuesday. ”I’ve always supported party reform and I think electing the leader through a different mechanism is something that has to happen.”
He said Mr Rudd’s proposal was similar to changes made in political parties overseas.
”They’re things certainly that British Labor have done, that Canadian New Democratic Party have done, that the French Socialist Party have done,” he said.
Mr Howes said he hadn’t spoken to Mr Rudd since he took the Labor leadership, but would if the opportunity arose.
Asked his reaction, opposition leader Tony Abbott repeated his call for Mr Rudd to call an election. ”It strikes me as more fake change from someone who is a master at that,” Mr Abbott told ABC TV. ”Surely it’s the people who should be choosing.”Rudd’s Rules
If a leader wins an election they remain leader for the duration of the term, except if the leader resigns, requests a leadership election or if 75 per cent of caucus members sign a petition calling for a leadership election ”on the grounds that the current leader has brought the party into disrepute”. Votes in election of leader to be apportioned equally between the party membership and the caucus. Candidates must be nominated by 20 per cent of caucus. Election for leader to automatically occur following an election loss. Only caucus members elect deputy leader, Senate leader and Senate deputy leader.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called a special caucus meeting for July 22 to vote on the proposed reforms. If caucus does not support them, Mr Rudd will seek a special rules’ conference for the Labor Party.
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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.