Monday, 27 February 2012

Fears Julia Gillard win won't end Labor warfare

JULIA Gillard is poised to win today's Labor leadership ballot but faces ongoing political turbulence, with her critics predicting MPs will seek to draft Kevin Rudd to the leadership later this year.

While the Prime Minister has demanded party unity after today's ballot, Mr Rudd has said he fears her supporters will continue a campaign of "character assassination," to make him the scapegoat for future Labor errors.

Mr Rudd hit out at Labor's "faceless men" yesterday as his supporters warned MPs that opinion polls showed Ms Gillard was so unpopular with voters that Labor could lose 30 seats at the next election and spend the next generation in the political wilderness. Arriving at Canberra airport last night, Mr Rudd said today's ballot would be a "very tough race". "I know I'm up against it in terms of the combined horsepower of the factions of the ALP," he said.

He reiterated that if he were unsuccessful in today's ballot, he would not challenge again.
Both camps said they expected Ms Gillard, who ousted Mr Rudd from the prime ministership in June 2010, to win today's 10am (AEDT) ballot in Canberra.

The latest estimates give Ms Gillard about 67 of the 103 caucus votes. Despite Mr Rudd pledging that if he lost, he would be loyal to Ms Gillard until the next election, his supporters predicted that if the Prime Minister failed to lift her party's fortunes in opinion polls, Mr Rudd could be drafted to the leadership in the future. "You can't rule out those options, I think," said political consultant and Rudd supporter Bruce Hawker.

ormer Queensland premier Peter Beattie agreed, arguing that few Labor people expected Mr Rudd to move quietly to the backbench."Most believe he will simply wait to be drafted for another challenge later in the year if the government doesn't improve in the opinion polls," Mr Beattie writes in The Australian today.

Labor has been gripped by open warfare since Mr Rudd quit as foreign minister on Wednesday, while on government business in the US, after a series of attacks over his loyalty from ministers.

He returned to Australia on Friday to declare his candidacy for the leadership, warning colleagues Ms Gillard could not win the next election because she did not have the trust of the Australian people.

Last night, despite a series of opinion polls indicating Mr Rudd was more popular than Ms Gillard, it appeared the majority of the caucus had accepted the Prime Minister's argument that Mr Rudd ran a dysfunctional government while she had been able to deliver policy outcomes.

The Gillard camp put Mr Rudd's level of support at about 30 votes, although Rudd backers insisted the number was higher.

As Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said Mr Rudd should abandon all leadership hopes if he failed to attract 40 votes, Ms Gillard appeared confident of victory, saying she had the strong support of colleagues. "I believe Labor, all of us, will unite after Monday's ballot," the Prime Minister said in Melbourne. "We will unite tomorrow, and we will get our shoulders to the wheel delivering Labor's program and plans.

"The important thing is that tomorrow's ballot ends this, there is a result and following that result everyone accepts it and unites and gets on with the job, and I am absolutely confident that will happen."

Ms Gillard's expected win will relegate Mr Rudd to the backbench, and the Prime Minister will need to fill his vacant foreign affairs post. She is likely to opt for a minimal cabinet reshuffle that could see Defence Minister Stephen Smith return to foreign affairs or Trade Minister Craig Emerson take on a broader role and assume the portfolio.

After refusing to accept the resignation of senior frontbencher Anthony Albanese, the Transport Minister and Leader of the House, Ms Gillard has signalled that she is likely to avoid bloodletting in the interests of unifying the party. The opposition, keen to capitalise on Labor's woes, will immediately step up its attack when the House of Representatives sits for question time this afternoon.

Tony Abbott will renew his call for the independents to force an early election by moving a vote of no confidence . As MPs began arriving in Canberra for today's ballot, the Opposition Leader demanded an election, calling on crossbench independent MPs supporting the government to move a no-confidence motion at today's resumption of parliament.

Mr Hawker, who has been advising Mr Rudd on his campaign, put pressure on marginal seat holders by predicting an electoral rout for Labor under Ms Gillard. "As somebody who has been a member of the Labor Party since 1988, I believe it is unconscionable for anybody in the caucus to do anything other than support Kevin Rudd when this ballot comes on tomorrow," he said.

Labor would be in massive trouble if its primary vote did not rise above the 29 per cent to 32 per cent level being delivered by Ms Gillard, Mr Hawker said before the release of today's Newspoll showing ALP support at a year-high 35 per cent. "If that happens we're not just going to lose a few seats," he said. "We're going to lose 30 seats. That means Labor could be out of government for the best part of a generation."

In his final pitch to colleagues, Mr Rudd said he had changed since his period as prime minister, adding that no minister had ever approached him about concerns over his administration. Mr Rudd told the Nine Network he had been subjected to an unprecedented onslaught from Wayne Swan and senior ministers Tony Burke, Stephen Conroy and Simon Crean.

Urging factional faceless men to "lay down the cudgels" after today's vote, Mr Rudd said he feared their "character assassination" would continue in future, and that he would be blamed if Labor lost the coming Queensland state election or continued to lose in opinion polls at the federal level. "I think it's time people actually accepted responsibility for their own actions," he said.

In comments aimed squarely at Ms Gillard, Mr Rudd said: "I didn't draft that speech to the (Labor) national conference. I didn't go out there and make a promise to (independent MP) Andrew Wilkie. I didn't do a whole lot of those things which were done by others, but I seem to be blamed for the consequence fairly consistently."

School Education Minister Peter Garrett, who as environment minister handled Mr Rudd's controversial home insulation scheme, said that if Mr Rudd won he would not be prepared to serve in a Rudd ministry. Ms Roxon, the former health minister, gave the same commitment last week.

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