Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Australia Labor Party in turmoil

Julia Gillard set to take on Kevin Rudd in party room ballot and sack him if she wins
Rudd supporter Doug Cameron said calling a spill would be a “bizarre” course of action.“Why would you be sacking a Foreign Minister who has pledged support to the Prime Minister, who has said he is not challenging the Prime Minister?” he told Sky News. “How can you have a leadership ballot if there is no contenders?”

But while Mr Rudd has been attending the G20 foreign ministers' meeting in Mexico and travelling to Washington, Ms Gillard's supporters have rallied and prepared to counter Mr Rudd's push to become prime minister again. Cabinet sources told The Australian Online that Ms Gillard would now call Mr Rudd's bluff at the scheduled caucus meeting next Tuesday morning and declare her position vacant and invite a ballot. After furiously checking support levels, cabinet ministers have told Ms Gillard she will easily win.

It has been decided that it is untenable for the Labor government to continue to keep both Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd in cabinet and that Mr Rudd should be dumped to the backbench. “Just having him there has been destabilising,” one minister told The Australian Online. “It can't go on,” he said. The Prime Minister has the power to choose her own cabinet - a power Mr Rudd created for the prime minister when he became Labor leader - and can remove Mr Rudd without caucus approval. Cabinet ministers are already suggesting there will be changes on the frontbench and that the Prime Minister will take the opportunity to reduce the size of cabinet - back to 20 after recently expanding it to 21.

While Ms Gillard's supporters are confident of success, Mr Rudd's supporters maintain a change of leader is inevitable. Mr Rudd's supporters have also said that he would be prepared to go to the backbench if a first bid fails, and build support for another challenge in the future.

The Prime Minister's office said Ms Gillard's position had not changed. “She's been quite clear she intends to get on with her job,” her spokeswoman said. The fact that Mr Rudd is overseas representing Australia is understood to have influenced Ms Gillard's ability to respond more directly to questions on the leadership. Earlier, in Adelaide, Ms Gillard refused to respond to questions about a possible leadership spill next week. “I answered all your questions out the other side of town and there's not one word that would be different,” Ms Gillard.

An outraged Rudd supporter predicted that “shafting” Mr Rudd a second time would actually win him more support with the Australian public. “Knifing a prime minister and then knifing him again as Foreign Minister is too much,” the MP said. “This is an act of bastardry, thuggery and downright hijacking of the Labor Party for personal gain. They don't care about the ramifications for the party or the Australian public.”

The MP predicted caucus members would be “leaned on” by factional heavies to ensure Ms Gillard secured victory in a vote. The MP said Australia was in danger of becoming an international joke. Another key Rudd backer said there was no guarantee Mr Rudd would even stand if a leadership ballot was called. “This is a ploy. Why would he play into people's hands?” The source said the Prime Minister's move to assert her authority would backfire. “This will not put it down. We are on 32 per cent of the vote.” Sacking Mr Rudd from the ministry would also be counter productive, the MP said. “Then he's a free agent. Jesus Christ, that's really smart. He can say what he likes then.”

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said it was time the leadership issue was resolved once and for all. “Enough is enough,” Mr Combet said. “I believe the current leadership distraction is seriously hindering the government's ability to sell its message.” He said a “simple conversation” might be all it took to end the leadership brawl.

-With Rebecca Puddy, James Massola and Ben Packham

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