Gillard could face challenge as Australian minister quits


AUSTRALIA’S FOREIGN minister, Kevin Rudd, dramatically resigned last night, following months of speculation that he was preparing to challenge prime minister Julia Gillard for leadership of the Labor party.

Mr Rudd announced his resignation at a hastily convened and sparsely attended press conference in a Washington hotel, while on an official visit to the US. It was 1.30am in Washington but 5.30pm in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne – just in time to ensure the story led the 6pm television news.

“While I am sad to leave this office, I am sadder still that it has come to this. The last time I resigned from a position in public office was when I resigned as prime minister,” he said.

In June 2010 Ms Gillard challenged and deposed Mr Rudd, who was then prime minister, two months before the election which saw Labor retain power as a minority government despite losing 11 seats.

With the party now languishing in the polls, local media have reported for weeks that Mr Rudd has been counting heads to see if he has enough support to topple Ms Gillard.

Though tension had been escalating all day yesterday, with several senior ministers calling for an end to the internecine feud, Mr Rudd’s resignation still took his colleagues and the media by surprise.  Mr Rudd said that what he called “faceless men” had publicly attacked his integrity in recent days. “When challenged today on these attacks, prime minister Gillard chose not to repudiate them,” he said.

“I can only reluctantly conclude that she therefore shares these views. The simple truth is that I cannot continue to serve as foreign minister if I do not have prime minister Gillard’s support.”

Ms Gillard released a brief statement last night saying she was “disappointed that the concerns Mr Rudd has publicly expressed this evening were never personally raised with me, nor did he contact me to discuss his resignation prior to his decision”.

Mr Rudd flies back to his constituency in Brisbane today, where he says he will discuss his future with his family and supporters.

A clue to his intention lay in one line near the end of his resignation speech.

“There remains one overriding question for my caucus colleagues and that is who is best placed to defeat [opposition leader] Tony Abbott at the next election.”

Ms Gillard will hold a press conference today where it is expected she will call for a leadership ballot on Monday.