Although Australia has one of the strongest economies in the world, it seems that voter dissatisfaction, the uncertainty of a minority government and a resurgent Opposition has led to the defeat of the country’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a 57/45 Labor Party room vote. In Canberra last night the governing ALP despatched Ms. Gillard after months of internal party bickering over the party’s September 14 election prospects in favour of former PM Kevin Rudd. Ms Gillard had defeated Mr Rudd in similar fashion three years ago when his own polling was poor.
Governments and Oppositions have learned that poor communications with the electorate and internal bickering is political death. For months there has been speculation about a change of leader as the ALP’s polls have declined. The last published opinion poll had the ALP at less than 30%, with the two-party preferred poll at 58% for the conservative Opposition led by Tony Abbott and the ALP at 42%, an historic low point.
While the Gillard government has some major achievements, such as reforming the education funding system and introducing a national disability insurance scheme, its failure to communicate and resonate with a sceptical electorate has seen most serious commentators predicting the Government’s defeat in September.
The new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is seen as a far better communicator than his predecessor, which is one reason why he attracted such a strong vote and why he may help change current voting intentions.
In his first press conference last night following his election, he called for consensus in the ALP. The last Labor leader to do that was probably the Party’s most successful Prime Minister Bob Hawke.
Rudd also singled out his wish to work more closely with the business community, a group which has been highly critical of Prime Minister Gillard and which is now contributing heavily to the Opposition parties ahead of the election. He touched on Australia’s youth who he acknowledged have ‘switched off’ from party politics and many of whom will vote for their first time in the next election.
His approach overnight has been to communicate stability while highlighting the major changes to his cabinet and government.
On the other side of politics, the Opposition have skillfully highlighted the dysfunctional nature of the ALP government and the distrust which has led to the dumping of a once-popular Prime Minister. They have already released an advertisement on YouTube highlighting divisions and are skilled users of social media in particular.
Time will tell if Rudd has the necessary skills to reverse the ALP’s fortunes, but the more effectively the Government and Opposition communicates with the electorate, the better their chances of convincing a highly critical population.
- Nic Jarvis, Director, Corporate & Issues Management