Julia Gillard has now been prime minister longer that Kevin Rudd. This milestone was marked rather modestly in January but it is a milestone of some significance in this election year.

Given how she came to the job, given the fact that Labor did not manage to win majority government in 2010 and given the fact that most commentators reckon that Tony Abbott has been the most successful opposition leader in living memory, this is a singular achievement.

Indeed, looking back on what has been a tumultuous three years, Gillard’s survival as prime minister is a triumph of persistence, political cunning and self-belief. It took her almost the whole of this term of minority government to do so, but Gillard now appears to be comfortable in her prime ministerial skin.

She is still disliked and distrusted by a significant, if shrinking, minority of Australians and the odds are still that her government will lose the election that is likely to be held some time in September or October. And there will always be a minority who consider her an illegitimate prime minister – just as there is a significant minority of Americans who, despite the fact he that he comfortably won a second term, consider Barak Obama an illegitimate president.

But Julia Gillard has managed to do what many commentators thought was beyond her; survive the political savagery of her ascension to the job, survive the verbal savagery of the personal attacks on her by some leading members of the opposition, including Tony Abbott.

Not to mention Kevin Rudd’s determination to at the very least, remain an alternative to Gillard in the top job if the majority of Labor caucus members happened to become convinced that Gillard was leading them to an electoral disaster.

Gillard has survived all these challenges. She has grown into the job and is more comfortable with the trappings of office. In a sense, time alone – the fact that she has now been prime minister for a considerable amount time, with all the political advantages and burdens the office brings with it – has transformed her.

None of this is to minimise her failings and failures, her cynicism on some issues like asylum seeker policies, or her political timidity on issues like gay marriage; there is no great evidence to suggest that Gillard is a particularly politically brave politician. But those questions about who is the 'real’ Julia Gillard and those questions about the way she came to the job no longer matter all that much. She is the prime minister.

The consequences are significant. For a start, it is now less acceptable to vilify Gillard personally. This applies to the opposition and the shock jocks who routinely referred to Gillard in terms that were never used in reference to any other prime minister.

Abbott’s low approval rating with women has many causes, but it has more to do with the brutality of his political language and increasingly, his seeming lack of respect for the office of prime minister than with sexism.

There was a time not so long ago – perhaps no longer than 12 months ago – when it felt like Australia had no prime minister at all, that the political contest was between two oppositions and two opposition leaders, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

In the aftermath of the 2010 election, and for a significant time after it, Tony Abbott’s great achievement and indeed, the only reason he deserved to be considered an outstanding opposition leader, was that he was able to level the political playing field, to deny Gillard and therefore the government, the political benefits of incumbency.

As a result, Abbott had media 'cut-through’, he was given the sort of media coverage that other opposition leaders would have died for. Abbott managed to create a political climate that felt like Australia could go to the polls at any moment and was therefore in the middle of a brutal election campaign.

Ironically, as we enter an election year, that has changed. It changed some time in the second half of last year when it became clear that the Gillard government was not about to fall over – despite the Slipper affair and the Craig Thomson affair – and would run a full term.

At that point, Abbott’s strengths increasingly became handicaps. Abbott’s discipline, his constant use of slogans, his daily photo opportunities, his political rhetoric, which might have been appropriate if this was the really the most dishonest and most inept government in Australian history, a government that had to be removed immediately, seemed increasingly inappropriate. He was in danger – is now seriously in danger – of being considered a one trick pony, with a trick that no longer suits the political times.

What all this means is that Gillard and her government now have the advantage of incumbency and history shows that incumbency matters, that Australians are reluctant to unseat governments, especially first-term governments like Gillard’s.

There is another important consequence of Gillard’s survival and the fact she is now clearly a legitimate prime minister in her own right. Kevin Rudd’s ability to disrupt Gillard’s tenure or to play a significant role – for good or ill – in the lead-up to the election is now negligible. This is remarkable, for it was only 12 months ago that Rudd challenged Gillard for the leadership and though he lost that challenge comprehensively, many of his supporters – including his supporters in the media – believed it was only a matter of time before Rudd was back in the top job.

There will be no Rudd comeback. There will be no Rudd challenge – as he has affirmed – nor is there the remotest possibility that he will be drafted by caucus to replace Gillard as prime minister.

The improbable has happened: Rudd’s prime ministership is now history and Kevin Rudd is increasingly just another backbencher and about as powerless and inconsequential as most backbenchers.

Kevin Rudd will not be prime minister after this year’s election but there is still a chance that Julia Gillard will be. Chances are that this election will be a real contest.

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    An accurate summation Michael (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 23).
    Now that Christmas is over and parliament has yet to resume, politicians will be considering the next election and their future.
    Who would be better to lead the Liberals to the Polls? The deeply unpopular Abbott or the more charismatic Turnbull?
    Abbott may not make it to the next election. Nine months is plenty of time for Turnbull to put on a charm offensive and win back the female vote.
    The Liberals would be better off letting Abbott go after the attack dog work in the last three years and putting in Turnbull, someone with far less baggage who can win the election.
    Gillard is a Thatcherite who like Abbott and Howard are only interested in gaining and holding power (At least Thatcher had a political agenda). If Turnbull replaces Abbott who must be an embarrassment to many in the Opposition, Gillard could be in jepardy (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 23).
    Shame that all and any reference to legislative achievement is left out of this piece. Has been a good Minority Govt, and the work it has done is also a factor (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 23).
    Let me rewrite it slightly (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 23).
    Julia Gillard faced three big problems: that Labor did not win majority government in 2010, that Tony Abbott enjoyed support from the mainstream media as total as it was undeserved, and Kevin Rudd’s obvious machinations both for revenge and for return.
    But Julia Gillard has managed to do what many commentators were happy to be persuaded was beyond her; survive the political savagery of her ascension to the job, survive the verbal savagery of the personal attacks on her by some leading members of the opposition (including Tony Abbot) and the Hard Right mainstream media commentators, and give Labor a fighting chance in 2013.
    To the Hard Right-dominated media Labor's greatest crime is not to embrace Austerity and institutionalising ruling class power by joining Joe Jockey in announcing the End of the Age of Entitlement.
    In the public mind her high point as a personality in 2012 was her misogyny speech, which the mainstream media worked to downgrade to a minor tantrum in which Tony Abbott was often portrayed as the victim. In contrast, her speech was enormous popular with social and international media. It also considerably improved her standing with the public, while causing serious damage to an Opposition Leader whose unrelenting destructiveness inevitably reinforced such charges.
    I totally disagree with all the points made in this article. Please Michael, name just one achievement of this government. Or if available, make a list of her achievements and put a price, or an income figure generated through these individual achievements (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 23). And then, do exactly the same for her failures. Do you remain convinced that this is a good government? The Labor Government has cost Australia a large amount of money.
    An interesting piece from a journo I have long felt had genuine credibility. Not sure that there is much balance in this story however (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 23). I was particularly taken with; "She is still disliked and distrusted by a significant, if shrinking, minority of Australians". Two words; "shrinking" and minority" should be questioned. Presumably Michael has some hard proof of this. Thought that there needed to be some comment on her judgment - including handling of the AWU affair. Realise that this was written pre-Novis which, given our short term attention span, will remain flavour of the month. Yes, there are both pluses and minuses about the Gillard leadership but I would suspect that many of us, probably not a shrinking minority, are deeply troubled by the pure, unadulterated political opportunism which has dominated her reign.
    This is another example of the left wing press seeking to build support for a terrible Prime Minister and government prior to the election (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 23). The argument for Gillard seems to be that the country has survived so far so it must be alright! My cohort know that it is necessary to heed the past to avoid future mistakes. I suspect that the electorate will pay attention to that truism at the election and opt for another way forward - the one less likely to take future generations deeper into debt. It is a conundrum that while the vocal left and much of the press are now trying to make a positive case for Gillard, she remains anathema to many middle class Australians. I agree that those who wish to see the back of Gillard and the Government are neither a 'minority' nor 'shrinking'.
    Australia still does not have a Prime minister (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 24). What we have is a dictator in the making who will cut any deal to ensure their own personal survival. All in the interests of the party and the nation - naturally. Just ask the good people of the Northern Territory. Confidence in the integrity of the three arms of democratic government are being undermined in reality and in the eyes of the powerless voters - parliament, the judiciary and the public service. Accepted practice and process out the door. Next Captain's Choice could well be an election date in 2014 or later. Now that would be the right thing to do!
    Perhaps writers of complimentary columns like this one won't be so carried away when current police investigations into allegations surrounding the creation of a false Power of Attorney gather momentum. Such a misdemeanour would be an unforgivable electoral deal breaker (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 23).
    When newspaper columnists omit highly important aspects of their subjects of public interest, they tend to lose credibility.
    There are probably as many people out here in the real world who do not expect Julia Gillard to survive within Labor after the Slater and Gordon events are factually and fully aired. They are probably already plotting her political demise. Prime Ministers must have backgrounds of the highest standards, beyond reproach in terms of demonstrated honesty and trustworthiness, or they will find themselves run out of business.
    How any one can have any faith left in the labor government and the so called independents is simply beyond my understanding (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 23). Howard was a very bad prime minister with his gst and subsequent spending on middle class welfare. Gillard is a liar,a backstabber and borrowing money to spend on crazy stupid wastefull schemes.
    What's the matter with people that they cannot and will not look at what the labor party is doing to australia?
    Michael , read Michael Smith's blog this morning and then reaffirm the sentiments of sopport you expressed for the P.M. in this article ---words fail me !!! (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 23.)
    Gillard has the hallmarks of many far left politicians of failed communist governments (Time wrought Gillard's transformation, January 23). She bribes some with the results of the efforts of others that she steals. Thatcher observed accurately that such politicians will spend other people's money until the money runs out. I am amazed at how synchophantic certain of the media are and how lacking in basic economic thought they are. Many of the commentariat including Michael, give rapturous applause for the concept of the NDIS and Gonski schemes without ever analysing the detail, or possibility of those schemes can be brought into operation. Michael's unrelenting bias is evident when analysing Abbotts strengths and dismissing the fact that of the two leaders, Abbott has performed his (elected) task on behalf of the people of Australia with consummate skill and has kept the government to account. If Michael approves of the Australia Day attempted attack on Abbott in 2012, let him say so and declare his reporting bias.
    Not only do we have pygmies in politicts, but their tenure is made easier by reporters such as Michael.
    And to finish, if Gillard and her strident left wing AG manage to get this muzzle on free speech imposed on the electorate, you could presumably sue me because I have offended you by bringing you to task. Such are the people you support. Give me Abbott any day. At least you know what he stands for.

    This report surely is as out of touch with the real world the same way a lady on the Q and A TV programme recently said - "the Govenment gave me my [false] teeth, my hair [wig?], my medical attention and tablets" and thats why I vote Labor - with no apperent realisation it was the tax paying Private sector members of our society that really paid for it all . . . On a similar point . . . and food for though . . . .why do Pubic Sector employees pay tax anyway as it all goes round in a circle as Gov pay them, and then tax the money, and pay it back to them in the next month with a top up from the Private sector to pay their high salaries at the levels they get paid. We have a group of people do this every month in the ATO and as a department we have created another group of Gov beauracrats paid to do this - it is like Mad Hatter land . . . whereas the Private sector have been directed by Government [under severe threats and penalities and accountants paid by them] to fill out all the Tax forms deduct taxes from their employees and shoppers[GST] and their business [Payrol Tax] and then send the money to the Government [so the ATO do no work except take the money and send out a bunch of tax inspectors to make sure the private sector comply with law [including the new ones recently passed by Parliment on theCarbon Tax , MMRTax etc. . ]. Make one wonder how the smaller private sector group of people in the country carry this great burden . . . They are then admonished to do so more productivly and improve their productivity . . . . Lets report on the real world fro time to time and not rubbbish We need to radically change our mind set to have a better Government and improve our Productivity instead of living with the worst Government we have ever had . . .