Dumped Australian prime minister vows to campaign for divided government ahead of elections
CANBERRA, Australia – CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister dumped by his own party, said Thursday he will campaign for the woman who replaced him, in a rare show of unity for a government that appears bitterly divided ahead of elections later this month.
Lingering anger over Rudd's sudden ouster in June has overshadowed Prime Minister Julia Gillard's campaign to win a second three-year term for her center-left Labor Party at the Aug. 21 polls.
Her campaign has had to deal with a string of government leaks to the media, suspected to be from Rudd or Rudd loyalists, including claims that she reneged on a secret deal when she challenged Rudd's leadership and that she had unsuccessfully argued in confidential Cabinet meetings against increasing pensions because old people didn't vote for Labor.
Rudd, who has denied responsibility for the leaks, said Labor infighting was distracting voters, making them fail to take note of negative aspects of the policies of opposition leader Tony Abbott on health, education and climate change.
"There is a real danger at present because of the rolling political controversy about myself, that Mr. Abbott is simply able to slide quietly into the office of prime minister," Rudd told reporters at a news conference in which he refused to take questions.
He said he could not "stand idly by and watch Mr. Abbott try to slide into office by default without any real scrutiny being applied."
Rudd said neither his nor Gillard's government had been perfect, but "the fundamentals of the economy and the policy directions of our country are absolutely right."
He noted that Australia had avoided recession while the U.S. and European economies remained weak.
Rudd said Gillard had asked him to join her campaign. He would begin campaigning with her from next week in his home state of Queensland and in New South Wales, the two states where opinion polls show that swings against the government were strongest.
Gillard, who described her government as the election underdog, welcomed Rudd's support.
"We do share a deep sense of belief about what's right for this country," Gillard told reporters.
Rudd first announced on Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio late Wednesday that he planned to campaign for Gillard's re-election.
"Life's too short to carry around a great bucketload of anger and resentment and bitterness and hatred," he said.
Gillard took on Rudd at the urging of Labor powerbrokers concerned by weeks of bad opinion polls for the government. She explained to the public that she had ousted him because "a good government had lost its way" under his leadership.
She has offered Rudd a senior ministry position if Labor is re-elected.
Nick Economou, a Monash University political scientist, said Labor would genuinely welcome Rudd's support in the campaign, with opinion polls showing Abbott's conservative Liberal Party gaining popularity and even possibly winning.
But having Rudd on the national stage would also remind many voters of their anger at how Labor had dumped a leader whom they overwhelmingly supported at the last election, he said.
Abbott predicted Rudd would harm the government's chances.
"His presence on the campaign trail will be a reminder of the kind of political thuggery which now haunts the modern Labor Party," Abbott told reporters.