Ruthless Kevin Rudd takes his revenge on Julia Gillard
The new Labor leader may have triumphed in his three-year battle against Julia Gillard, but he faces a monumental task to win over the voters
When Kevin Rudd was swept to power as Australian prime minister in 2007, the Putonghua-speaking former diplomat was the largely unknown but seemingly genial face of progressive politics.
Six years later, Australians know him as a ruthless adversary who waged a three-year leadership struggle to topple Julia Gillard after she ousted him amid plummeting Labor support in 2010.
Rudd, 55, knows better than anyone the monumental job facing his party to regain the trust of voters, who polls show have grown weary of Labor infighting.
Rudd also has to regain the trust of his own bitterly divided party, in which many MPs switched allegiance to Gillard in the first place in frustration over his imperious leadership style and chaotic decision-making.
In November 2007, he and Gillard together brought the Labor Party back to power in a landslide after 12 years in the political wilderness.
Rudd consistently topped opinion polls in an enduring love affair with the Australian public until the ardour cooled before the elections in 2010 and Gillard pounced.
Gillard's ousting of Rudd characterised her climb to power, but she had to fight off repeated challenges. Getting things done was never straightforward for Gillard, who won only the narrowest of victories in the 2010 election, resulting in a hung parliament which forced her to cobble together a minority government with the support of independents.
But she was tough, most famously displaying her hard exterior in a speech in October last year, when she ripped into conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott in an extraordinary outburst watched by millions on YouTube.
"I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, I will not," stormed Gillard, who had to scale the male-dominated ranks of the Australian Labor Party.
The speech was an overnight sensation and briefly boosted her in the polls. But the former industrial relations lawyer always struggled to win over public opinion.
Everything from her Australian drawl to her penchant for white jackets was criticised, often to the extreme.
She was once called "deliberately barren" for her childlessness and only this month was faced with a menu from a Liberal Party fundraiser offering a dish called "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail - Small Breasts, Huge Thighs and A Big Red Box".
When she reversed an election pledge on a carbon tax, she endured a furious backlash.
The Welsh-born immigrant, who lives with her partner, former hairdresser Tim Mathieson, said in December her formidable inner strength and calm were among her chief attributes.
"I have always had a very strong sense of myself and not had that easily pushed and pulled by the views of others," she said.
But her brutal removal of then-boss Rudd always overshadowed her time in office.
Political insiders joke that while Gillard was liked least by those furthest from her office - voters - Rudd is liked best by those who have never had to work with him.
Known for his volatile temper, the 55-year-old came from humble beginnings, enduring a tough childhood, when he was forced to temporarily sleep in a car aged 11 when his family was evicted from their Queensland farm following his father's death in a road accident.
He said that experience shaped the views on social justice that led him to run for federal parliament, where he was elected in 1998 at his second attempt.
Despite his dumping as prime minister Rudd remained popular with voters, consistently coming out on top as preferred leader ahead of Gillard.
Rudd has tried to mend fences and promised lawmakers there would be no fallout from the leadership battle.
"Everyone makes mistakes," a candid Rudd said at a Sydney Catholic college this month, in a speech interpreted as reaching out to disgruntled party members with a promise of change.
"One of the things that I have been slow to learn is the importance of simply privately and publicly acknowledging the good work of others."
The switch to Rudd may be too little too late for Labor.
Polls show Labor facing a defeat of huge proportions with the loss of up to 35 seats in the 150-seat lower house, which would likely take the centre-left party a generation to recover from, worse than its last period in the wilderness between 1996 and 2007.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse
KEY DATES IN AUSTRALIA'S LEADERSHIP WAR
June 23 - Then deputy Gillard challenges Rudd to a leadership ballot as his popularity plummets following a series of policy mis-steps including shelving an emissions trading scheme and skirmishes with the mining industry over tax rises.
June 24 - Gillard wins unopposed and quickly calls national elections.
August 21 - The Labor Party fails to win a majority, prompting Australia's first electoral deadlock in 70 years.
September 7 - Minority lawmakers throw their support behind Gillard after lengthy negotiations, ensuring Labor's return to power with a fragile coalition. Gillard appoints Rudd as foreign minister.
March 8 - Gillard's popularity drops to a record low amid plans for a pollution levy, despite pledging there would be no such tax under her government. Furious protests break out.
November 8 - Labor passes its controversial emissions reduction scheme. Rudd consistently places ahead of Gillard as preferred leader in polls.
February 22 -Rudd resigns as foreign minister in Washington.
February 23 - Gillard calls a leadership ballot.
February 27 - Gillard wins the ballot 71-31. Rudd promises full support.
January 30 - Gillard calls national elections for September 14.
March 21 - Senior cabinet minister Simon Crean demands Gillard call a leadership vote and urges Rudd to stand. Gillard immediately calls a ballot but Rudd declines to challenge.
June 26 - After weeks of rising speculation, Gillard announces a party leadership ballot cutting short back-room moves to depose her. Both Rudd and the prime minister commit to quit politics if they lose. Rudd wins the ballot by 57 votes to 45.