Backstabbing, misogyny and a miracle: The decade of disposable prime ministers


22 Dec

As we approach the end 2019, nine.com.au is looking back at ten stories that shaped the decade. In the second part of our series we take a look at Australia making history with a first female Prime Minister - and the remarkable turn of events that followed.

Five prime ministers in 10 years, more backstabbing than Game of Thrones, and an election result that even the winner believed was a miracle.

In Australian politics, the decade that has followed John Howard's "relaxed and comfortable" era has been anything but.


Australia started the decade by making history by electing Julia Gillard as the country's first ever female prime minister. But it marked the beginning of a series of leadership spills on both sides of politics that would dominate parliament over the next 10 years.

The first spill

Kevin Rudd scored a Labor landslide in 2007 to end Mr Howard's more than 11 years in power. Ms Gillard was his deputy and right-hand woman, and part of Labor's "gang of four" strategic thinkers that included Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner.

But Mr Rudd's public poll numbers had slipped, and support within the party was waning amid the failure of the government's home insulation scheme and rising internal dissatisfaction with his leadership style.

On June 24, 2010, despite months of denying she would overthrow Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard pounced. A late-night meeting with her closest Labor supporters combined with a sudden swell of support, saw the former lawyer seize power and become Australia's 27th prime minister.

Never before had Labor, or Australia, had a female leader. Additionally, Mr Rudd's sudden and spectacular downfall made him the first Labor prime minister to be dumped from office before completing a first term.

History is made

Two months after seizing power, Australians went to the polls and Ms Gillard was able to cling to power in a minority government after doing a better job than Liberal leader Tony Abbott negotiating support from crossbench MPs.

The narrowness of the win spurred a fractious period in politics.

One of Ms Gillard's defining moments was her speech to parliament in 2012 on misogyny.

"I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man," Ms Gillard declared, pointing at Mr Abbott across the parliamentary chamber.

"If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror."

The 15-minute speech went viral and amassed hundreds of thousands of views around the world.

It was sparked by Mr Abbott's motion to have Peter Slipper removed as speaker over texts Mr Slipper had sent to an aide. Mr Abbott said that each day Ms Gillard continued to support Mr Slipper was "another day of shame for a government which should have already died of shame".

By 2012, the bruising political battles were taking their toll and the second-wave of spills began to hit.

Rudd resigns

Murmurings began that Mr Rudd, who was the Foreign Minister, wanted to have another go at the leadership. He resigned from cabinet and said he did not think Ms Gillard could win the next election. The Prime Minister called Mr Rudd out, spilling the Labor leadership in a party room vote on February 27. She won, 71 to 31, and Mr Rudd was banished to the backbench.

The drama wasn't over, however, with tensions continuing in the Labor Party. There was a failed bid in March 2013, and then it was time. Ms Gillard called a leadership spill live on television on June 26, urging the would-be opponent to join her in pledging that the loser would retire from politics. Mr Rudd swooped, and the ousted became the anointed and he once again became Australia's prime minister.

His reign was short lived. Just 83 days after taking power Mr Rudd was ousted in the September election and Mr Abbott achieved his dream of becoming prime minister. Mr Rudd quit parliament.

Liberals lead

New party in power, fresh start. Not quite. While the Liberal-led Coalition has held power ever since, it too has been marred by infighting, backstabbing, scandals and leadership spills.

From the start, Mr Abbott struggled in the polls, something enemies within his party would not let go of. After 30 consecutive losses in opinion polls, Mr Abbott may have cast the final straw when he reinstated the knight and dame systems into the Order of Australia honours and appointed Prince Philip a Knight of the Order of Australia.

In September 2015, Minister Malcolm Turnbull made his move. Resigning from his post at Communications Minister, Mr Turnbull made it clear he would run for the party leadership. The punt paid off, and he won the ballot 54-44.


Turnbull's time

Mr Turnbull's reign wasn't much smoother. An election in 2016 saw the Liberals retain a majority government by a single seat.

As the years went on, so too did the chaos at Australia's highest level. In August last year, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton challenged Mr Turnbull's leadership. That bid failed but only served to heighten tensions within the Liberals. Mr Dutton announce he would seek a second spill. Mr Turnbull said if he received a petition with at least half the party's signatures, he would call vote and step down from the leadership. That petition came through, and Scott Morrison was elected leader as an compromise candidate amid a bitterly divided Liberal party room.

A shock win

Mr Morrison had just months to try to repair the Liberals' tattered image before an election due in early 2019. Bill Shorten, who had held steady as Labor leader since the Rudd-Gillard debacle, was considered a shoe-in despite his unpopularity in opinion polls.

In May, voters defied the polls and delivered the Coalition to a second term in government. Remarkably, Mr Morrison government not only held onto power, but increased the government's majority.

"I have always believed in miracles," Mr Morrison told his supporters in his victory speech.

© 2019 Nine Digital Pty Ltd


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