Rudd Returns as Australian PM, Faces Poll Challenge

Natasha Chaku/Melbourne
Rudd Returns as Australian PM, Faces Poll Challenge

Kevin Rudd was today sworn in as Australian Prime Minister for the second time, a day after toppling bitter party rival Julia Gillard, as he appealed for unity with the ruling Labor staring at a likely drubbing in the general election in September.

55-year-old Rudd was sworn in as the country's 28th Prime Minister by Governor-General Quentin Bryce at a short official ceremony at Government House in Canberra, returning back to his role that was taken away from him by Gillard in 2010.

In his first address today in Parliament, he called on MPs to be a "little kinder and gentler" with each other. "Political life is a very hard life, a very hard life indeed," he told Parliament.

"Let us all remember particularly on days like this that in this Parliament, and in this place, we are all human beings, we all have families and we all have emotions, so let us try - just try - to be a little kinder and gentler with each other in the further deliberations of this Parliament," he said apparently referring to bickering within his party that led to his showdown with 51-year-old Gillard, the nation's first woman Prime Minister.

Rudd is considered more popular than Gillard, and while the conservative opposition is still expected to win the next election, his leadership may save Labor from a crushing defeat. Rudd has warned that Labor was facing its worst election loss under Gillard in Australian history.

But he also paid tribute to Gillard, who he defeated in a caucus ballot yesterday by 57 votes to 45. "Through the difficult years of minority Government the former Prime Minister has achieved major reforms for our nation that will shape our country's future," Rudd said.

"On top of all that, I acknowledge her great work as a standard bearer for women in our country; Australia's first deputy Prime Minister, Australia's first woman as Prime Minister," he said.

Anthony Albanese was formally commissioned as the new Deputy Prime Minister and Chris Bowen as Treasurer.

The leadership change comes ahead of the September 14 general elections, which surveys suggest Labor is set to lose. It is unclear whether Rudd will stick to Gillard's schedule of the September election or go for an earlier one.

The earliest date on which Rudd can call an election is August 3. Reacting to the development, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said politics was a "tough business, the former Prime Minister should have been dealt with by the Australian people at an election, not by the faceless men in the caucus last night".

He called on the Prime Minister to explain exactly why Gillard was ousted. "This is a fraught moment in the life of our nation. A Prime Minister has been dragged down, her replacement owes the Australian people and the Australian Parliament an explanation," Abbott said.

Abbott has also demanded Rudd announce his intentions regarding the date of the next election. After losing in the Caucus vote, Gillard said she would also quit politics at the next election.

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