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Kevin Rudd, Australia's 26th Prime Minister, held office for two and a half years. His election win in November 2007 brought Labor back into power after 11 years in opposition.
His government was characterised by a commitment to fairness, expressed in education and employment reforms, health delivery and financial initiatives such as taxation adjustments. Kevin Rudd pointed to a 21st-century social democracy where the responsibility of government was to offset ‘the inevitable inequalities of the market with a commitment to fairness for all’.
Like his predecessor Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd departed from firm Labor Party practice by selecting his own ministers, breaking the traditional role of the Caucus. He also broke with tradition to be the first Australian prime minister with a woman deputy, Julia Gillard.
An Indigenous welcome to country at the opening of Australia’s 42nd Parliament and the apology to Indigenous people on 13 February 2008 were historic highlights of the new Prime Minister’s first year.
In his first months in office, Kevin Rudd visited Indonesia, China and Japan, as well as the United States, the United Kingdom, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. During his 31 months in office, his time away on overseas trips totalled seven months.
At home the new government gave immediate priority to Labor’s key reform areas of education, employment, health and climate change. The most successful of these initiatives was the Fair Work Act, reversing the comprehensive workplace reforms of the Howard government. The Minister responsible for this portfolio, Julia Gillard, was also responsible for education, where reforms such as the ‘Building the Education Revolution’ scheme and the ‘MySchool’ website had mixed outcomes.
An outstanding success of Kevin Rudd’s term as prime minister was the government’s management of the global financial crisis of 2008. Australia was one of the few developed economies where the impact was effectively cushioned by government initiatives. The stimulus packages implemented by the Rudd government followed the principles of Depression-era economist John Maynard Keynes by funding public works projects to reduce unemployment and support industrial, retail and services sectors by maintaining buying power.
The government’s policy back-step on climate change was a factor in declining support for Kevin Rudd in 2010. The mining industry’s response to his government’s ‘super profits’ tax also generated influential opposition.
On 24 June 2010 Kevin Rudd became one of the few leaders to be removed by their own party in their first term as prime minister. His two and a half years in office was, however, an above-average term – only 10 of Australia’s 26 prime ministers remained in office more than three years.