Friday, 2 September 2011

All is not well in Gillard's office

Panic drives push to shuffle Julia Gillard's cabinet

PM Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen  meet the press
 at the Commonwealth Offices in Brisbane yesterday.
Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen Source: The Australian

LABOR powerbrokers are pressing for a ministerial reshuffle and a shake-up of Julia Gillard's office in an effort to lift her government's performance and shore up her leadership.

While factional leaders have acknowledged that the High Court's repudiation of the Prime Minister's Malaysia Solution has hammered the government's credibility, they are not contemplating a leadership change.

Other Labor sources are less optimistic, warning that the party's Right faction is promoting Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten as possible replacements.

Labor was in disarray yesterday as Ms Gillard and her cabinet wrestled with the policy implications of the High Court's rejection of her plan to send 800 boatpeople to Malaysia in return for 4000 proven refugees.

The setback - in one of three critical policy areas Ms Gillard vowed to fix when she was elevated to the prime ministership in June last year, along with climate change and the mining tax - sparked widespread ridicule of Ms Gillard by the opposition and commentators, who questioned her ability to deliver policy outcomes that could stick.

"If we move on her, no matter how bad the polling gets, we will not only have the NSW disease, we will die from it," the source added, referring to NSW Labor's frequent replacement of its leaders before losing office this year.

Wayne Swan yesterday declared Ms Gillard's leadership was "absolutely" safe. He also rejected suggestions Labor had a credibility problem in his home state of Queensland. "Not at all . . . We have a strong economy and we have a very big reform program which is going to benefit this state in many significant ways," he said

There was heavy debate about the future of Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, with senior Right sources praising his performance and saying they would not allow him to become "the fall guy".

Ms Gillard defended her minister, saying he acted at all times in accordance with her instructions. But at a news conference she refused to say whether Mr Bowen had offered her his resignation, while Mr Bowen said quitting would be "the easy option".

Several senior Labor figures said Ms Gillard had too many poor performers in her cabinet.
They proposed a ministerial reshuffle and the promotion of junior ministers.

Industrial Relations Minister and Labor Senate leader Chris Evans, who previously held the role of immigration minister, was the focus of the anger.

"Everything he touches turns to shit," one senior source said. "He left us with this problem on border security and he's not much better in IR."

Another source questioned Senator Evans's performance as leader in the upper house.
Yet another said Ms Gillard was being poorly advised and needed a shake-up in her office.

"I think it is communications that is really crippling this government," the source said.

"There are some bad people in her office. She has actually delivered results, but it seems like she is not being able to get any focus on the issues that play in her favour. Some Labor sources said Right faction figures Mr Smith and Mr Shorten were both "trailing their coats" for future leadership.

In recent interviews with The Australian, Mr Smith and Mr Shorten have both pledged loyalty to Ms Gillard.


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