In a complete reversal of the 2007 elections which swept it to power, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was handed its head by Australian voters on Sept 7. Less than one hour after polls closed, the election was called for the Coalition Liberal/National Party (LNP), headed by Coalition Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott.
The remainder of the evening was spent by political commentators on Australian news networks discussing how many seats Labor would end up losing with barely veiled finger pointing at either Prime Minister Kevin Rudd or former Prime Minister Julia Gillard; depending on which commentator was speaking.
It now looks as if the LNP will capture 91 seats of Australia’s 150 seat House of Representatives with approximately 56 seats going to Labor. Mr. Rudd did win his home seat of Griffith; it was thought he may lose it before the election. Mr. Rudd resigned as Labor Party leader in his concession speech, though has not yet announced if or when he will resign his seat in parliament, as he had promised to do if Labor lost the national election.
Much of the news media coverage on Sept 8 in Australia has been an attempt by both Labor and like minded commentators to lay blame for the massive defeat on the ‘knifing’ of one another for the leadership by both Mr. Rudd and Ms. Gillard as well as bickering and backbiting among other Labor Party politicians and various scandals, including a sex scandal with the former Speaker of the House Peter Slipper who was appointed by Labor.
However, almost as ignored during the 33 day campaign by Labor as Ms. Gillard’s tenure as Prime Minister is the true root cause of Labor’s defeat; the Carbon Tax. Tony Abbott made repealing the law a key plank of his campaign to become Prime Minister equally with stopping illegal immigration and reducing out of control government spending.
The Carbon Tax, originally named Emissions Trading Scheme or ETS, was shelved by Kevin Rudd during his first go as Prime Minister heading into the 2010 election. Mr. Rudd was ‘knifed’ by Ms. Gillard just prior to that year’s election and soon after forming a coalition minority government after the election resulted in a 'hung parliament with no clear majority, then took ETS off the shelf renaming it ‘Carbon Pricing’ and forced it through the House and Senate by 2012.
Australian voters, stung by the onslaught of higher taxes and loss of jobs resulting from what is now known as the Carbon Tax proved this year, that Mr. Rudd was justified in shelving it in 2010. Mr. Rudd effectively acknowledged voter disenchantment soon after returning as Prime Minister at the end of June, by reducing the tax as much as possible without actually calling for a repeal of it.
Mr. Rudd's action likely saved Labor seats which were at risk of loss. Instead of winning 50 or more seats yesterday, Labor was looking to retain between 35 and 40 seats. Several Labor seats though retained, were perilously close in percentages even after party preferences. Thus, it seems Mr. Rudd did 'save the furniture' as described humorously in Australian media.
However, the price Mr. Rudd paid in the process was that he as much as acknowledged to Australian voters that the Carbon Tax/ETS was a mistake from the very beginning. Before being elected, LNP Prime Minister John Howard flirted with the idea of a Carbon Tax and it played a role in his loss to Kevin Rudd in 2007 rather than the Work Choices Scheme, as Labor and political commentators largely claim even today.
Mr. Howard lost his own Parliament seat as well as his party losing power in 2007. Were his loss due only to Work Choices, it’s unlikely he would have also lost his home seat in what normally should have been a secure LNP seat in 2007.
Mr. Rudd from 2007 to 2010 built up enormous popularity with his social programs and the national apology to the indigenous peoples of Australia for the Stolen Generations issue which was and still is a source of national shame for Australians.
Mr. Rudd was however, a keen politician and saw very clearly as he pushed ETS in 2010 that it was hurting both himself and Labor in the polls, so he shelved the initiative. For that, Mr. Rudd was ‘knifed’ by Ms. Gillard who did push it through and for that, Australian Labor has now been condemned back to the political wilderness it previously languished in from 1996 to 2007.