Sunday, 19 February 2012

Julia Gillard | Death by a thousand cuts!

Tackle Kevin Rudd now, Julia Gillard urged

Kevin Rudd

Kevin Rudd at the international airport in Brisbane. Picture: Annette Dew Source: The Courier-Mail

Julia Gillard is being urged to take on Kevin Rudd in a ballot as early as next week to prevent Labor's leadership wrangling smashing the party's chances in the March 24 Queensland election.

After weeks of playing down the push to restore the Foreign Minister to the Labor leadership, sections of Labor's Right faction moved to a war footing yesterday, urging the Prime Minister to call a caucus ballot they predicted she would win.

Accusing Mr Rudd of gross disloyalty and his supporters of lying about his level of support, a senior Right faction leader told The Australian last night: "This has to stop. She has to take him on."

The push came as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, on the first day of the formal campaign for the state election, demanded Canberra take the federal Labor leadership "wild card" out of her battle for re-election.

"I don't care how they resolve it, I just want it resolved," said Ms Bligh, refusing to back Mr Rudd or Ms Gillard. There are signs Julia Gillard's closest supporters have started to crab-walk away from her. Ms Bligh's clear frustration came as another senior Queensland Labor source claimed the party's chances would improve with Mr Rudd as prime minister, because Ms Gillard was unpopular in the northern state.

As Ms Gillard rejected leadership questions and declared she wanted to get on with her job, Tasmanian crossbencher Andrew Wilkie inflamed the tensions, revealing that he had discussed the Labor leadership with Mr Rudd in November.

Mr Wilkie's comments, denied by Mr Rudd, were seized on by Gillard supporters as evidence Mr Rudd had been destabilising the Prime Minister for months, despite his claims to the contrary. Ms Gillard ousted Mr Rudd to become the nation's first female prime minister in June 2010. A succession of poor opinion poll results and political misjudgments by the Prime Minister in recent months has worried Labor MPs, with Victorian Darren Cheeseman declaring on Saturday that Ms Gillard should resign for the good of the party.

Within hours, a video clip was posted on YouTube showing Mr Rudd when he was prime minister delivering a foul-mouthed rant about his inability to record a video message.  As his supporters accused the Gillard camp of posting the video to discredit the former leader, Mr Rudd gave Sky News a midnight interview to assure colleagues he had mellowed since critics of his prime ministership complained of his dictatorial style, foul mouth and bad temper. "I don't walk away from some of my own failings in the past," Mr Rudd told Sky.

"The bottom line is, I think you do learn, and what I've tried to learn from all that is do less in a given working day, rather than trying to do everything "I think it's also important to delegate more and be sort of happy and contented about that."

Later yesterday, as Mr Rudd left Australia for a meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Mexico, Ms Gillard denied any knowledge of the YouTube posting as she won strong support from ministers including Peter Garrett, Tanya Plibersek and Craig Emerson.

Former Victorian premier Steve Bracks, writing in The Australian today, urges Labor to stick with Ms Gillard, while Victorian backbencher Steve Gibbons attacked Mr Rudd's "chaotic and deeply offensive" leadership.

"Only a psychopath with a giant ego would line up again after being comprehensively rejected by the overwhelming majority of colleagues," Mr Gibbons wrote on social media site Twitter. The Prime Minister, visiting Darwin to commemorate the 70th anniversary of its World War II bombing by the Japanese, did not buy in to the speculation.

"I'm getting on with the job with the strong confidence of my colleagues," she said. "We are delivering for this nation the changes we need to have a prosperous economy for the future, so working Australians can be assured they'll have a place in that economy, and so will their children."

Several Right faction sources said claims Mr Rudd's support in the 103-member caucus was approaching 40 votes were wrong, and his backers were lying. "I think she has to take him on to end this," said one senior Labor figure. "And I think she has the numbers to win."
Another source agreed, saying Mr Wilkie's claim of a discussion with Mr Rudd in November about a leadership tilt "put the lie" to the Foreign Minister's claim he had not been undermining Ms Gillard. "It's proof of disloyalty," the MP said. "This can't just go on and on. They are circulating lists overstating Kevin's support, and I think the only way to end this is to test the numbers."

Another Right faction figure said he was in two minds about the wisdom of bringing on a spill. "I think if a few of us just get on with out job it might help. Kevin isn't passing any loyalty tests out there at the moment."

Caucus is due to meet on Tuesday of next week. The Prime Minister can declare the leadership vacant at any time and any other caucus member can seek an extraordinary caucus meeting with three days notice and with the backing of at least one third of Labor MPs. An early meeting is unlikely because Mr Rudd is not due to return to Australia from international meetings until next weekend.

As Ms Bligh resigned herself to her re-election campaign being overshadowed by the federal brawl, former Queensland premier Peter Beattie took to Twitter to appeal for a resolution of the tensions at the top. "Julia Gillard needs to call a caucus meeting and resolve the leadership question once and for all, or Anna Bligh may as well stay at home," Mr Beattie wrote.

Mr Wilkie, speaking to Sky News, said he held a 90-minute discussion with Mr Rudd in November about the Labor leadership. Mr Wilkie said he had no doubt Mr Rudd wanted to return to The Lodge, and said he would find the Queenslander easier to work with than Ms Gillard, who earlier this year reneged on a promise to introduce compulsory pre-commitment technology to the nation's poker machines.

Mr Wilkie forecast an imminent Labor leadership challenge, and his West Australian crossbench colleague Tony Crook said he had been sounded out by a Rudd supporter before the resumption of parliament.

Queensland crossbencher Bob Katter refused to comment on the Labor leadership, while Greens leader Bob Brown voiced concerns about whether a new leader would show the same commitment to delivering the outcomes in the power-sharing agreement signed with Ms Gillard.

A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd said the meeting with Mr Wilkie covered a range of foreign policy issues, including Mr Wilkie's call for an inquiry into Australia's role in the Iraq war.
"Mr Wilkie raised leadership late in the conversation," the spokeswoman said. "At no point did Mr Rudd indicate he was seeking the leadership, nor request support for it."

Additional reporting: Joe Kelly

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