Former Australian leader Kevin Rudd has thrown his support behind the woman who ousted him, Julia Gillard, to lead Labor at the next election, but only after repeated prompting.
In his first major interview since trying to unseat his arch foe in February, Rudd also made clear he “won’t be silenced” from speaking out on major issues.
Now a backbencher, Rudd, also a former foreign minister, is widely believed to still harbour strong leadership ambitions and had to be pushed to mention Gillard’s name.
“Of course the government can prevail against Mr [Tony] Abbott at the next election,” he said, referring to the conservative opposition leader.
Asked if victory could be achieved in elections that are scheduled for next year with Gillard as leader, he replied “Under the prime minister’s leadership.”
It took two more attempts by the interviewer for Rudd to finally acknowledge: “Under Prime Minister Gillard’s leadership.”
The nation’s first female prime minister retained office after crushing Rudd 71-31 in a secret ballot of the 103 Labor parliamentarians in February, although only 102 votes were cast with one member absent.
It was among the biggest-ever wins in a Labor leadership ballot after one of the most spiteful campaigns in recent history.
Gillard called the vote in a bid to end a bitter standoff with Rudd, whom she deposed as leader in 2010 in a shock party coup.
Rudd came to power in a 2007 election landslide that ended more than a decade of conservative rule, but a series of policy mis-steps saw him lose the confidence of party chiefs and he was axed for the more pragmatic Gillard.
Observers say he never forgave her.
Rudd remains popular and leadership speculation continues to simmer, but he insisted he simply wanted to help Labor defeat Abbott.
“My views won’t be silenced in the public debate because the issues for Australia are so stark,” he said.
Rudd likened himself to former British prime minister Gordon Brown, a member of the House of Commons who contributes to policy debate domestically and internationally.
“I think that’s what is expected of us, to lend our contribution to the national public political debate,” he said.