01 July 2015

Labor set to abandon Kevin Rudd's leadership rules

Labor has left the door open for the caucus to reverse Kevin Rudd's rule that makes it nearly impossible for the party's elected leader to be toppled in a midnight coup.

The Australian Labor Party's draft national constitution, published on its website, includes changes made to the way the leader is elected - by an equally weighted ballot of caucus and party members.
ut significantly, it does not include the caucus-approved rule that the prime minister can only be removed if 75 per cent of MPs agree to force a ballot. This is lower - 60 per cent of caucus - for an opposition leader.

Asked about the change in the party's draft national constitution, current leader Bill Shorten said: "The party's united and I'm very grateful for the support I get from my federal parliamentary party."

The changes, aimed at preventing a sitting prime minister from being suddenly toppled, were introduced by former leader Kevin Rudd after his political resurrection and signed off at a special caucus meeting in Balmain in July, 2013.

While the caucus rule is still binding, the decision to exclude it from the national constitution, due to be approved at national conference in July, means elected MPs can, at any time, void the rule if they so wish without having to go back to the party for approval.

Despite this, the likelihood of the rules being changed in the near future to replace Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is slim. There is a desire in the caucus to break the long merry-go-round in replacing leaders that started with the decision to replace the opposition leader Simon Crean with Mark Latham in 2003 and culminated with the Rudd-Gillard leadership wars while Labor was in government.

There is also a belief within Labor that in the event the leadership was ever taken from Mr Shorten, he would undermine the new team.

On Tuesday, Mr Shorten said the Labor Party's rules were a matter for the party.

"I'm not worried about the issue and the party's united and I'm very grateful for the support I get from my federal parliamentary party," he said.

Pressed on whether the caucus rule had been left out of the draft national constitution, Mr Shorten deferred the question to party headquarters.

"You'd have to ask the federal Labor Party for that but what I would say is that in terms of the assumption underpinning it, is there unity in the party? Yes there is," he said.