Australia's Labor party must unite its feuding factions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 4:26am

The imminence of a national election in Australia is a reminder that Hong Kong is its second-biggest overseas voting constituency. Locals with Australian citizenship will get their say on the drama leading up to the poll, climaxing in this week's removal of Australia's first woman prime minister by her own party colleagues. Julia Gillard has been replaced as Labor leader and prime minister by Kevin Rudd, whom she herself overthrew in a back-room vote three years ago. The sense of déjà vu does not end there. Gillard and her supporters got rid of Rudd in 2010 because he had poor opinion poll numbers and had lost public confidence. Rudd finally got his revenge because Gillard had even worse opinion poll numbers and appeared to be leading her minority coalition government to electoral catastrophe.

The bottom line that Rudd was the least worst option swung the party-room vote his way. It seems to have been borne out in the latest polls, which show a bounce in the Labor vote. It's not sufficient to prevent the conservative opposition coalition led by Tony Abbott from winning the election, but enough to avoid an electoral bloodbath.

Labor will now have to convince voters it is reunited if they are to give it another chance. It has a lot of making up to do. In a seemingly disingenuous tribute to Gillard after beating her, Rudd mentioned her pre-2010 record as his deputy but not her later achievements as leader, as if to deny the legitimacy of her prime ministership. Ironically, they included an agreement with Beijing for an annual top leadership dialogue, something the Putonghua-speaking Rudd failed to achieve.

In a bid to avert disaster, Labor has risked alienating female voters, to whom Gillard has been portrayed as the victim of a gender-based campaign of bullying and disloyalty. There is also the fear - now that Rudd is leader again and voters need no longer empathise with him as a political martyr - that they will invoke Shakespeare and declare an electoral plague on both Labor's feuding houses. In politics, disunity is death.