- From: The Australian
- February 03, 2012
A challenge from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard as prime minister is now possible within the next eight weeks as despair grows within government ranks.As Labor MPs prepare to attend a prime ministerial "ideas session" at The Lodge in Canberra on Sunday night ahead of the resumption of parliament on Tuesday, there is a view there could be a challenge to the Prime Minister before the Queensland election on March 24.
Before last week's involvement of the Prime Minister's office in the Australia Day debacle near the Aboriginal tent embassy, there was an understanding among Labor MPs that the leadership would not come to a head until at least April or May. Labor MPs had said Mr Rudd's involvement in the election in his home state of Queensland meant there was an effective truce on the federal leadership to avoid causing problems for the state Labor campaign.
While Ms Gillard's supporters reject the possibility of a leadership challenge and believe the latest change in deadline is a tactic to frighten the Prime Minister, some Labor MPs say it is possible."The odds are there won't be anything until after March 24 but it is still possible something could happen before then to cause a leadership spill," one Labor MP told The Australian yesterday. "There are three scenarios: there could be an overwhelming movement next week when we all get back to parliament; the Prime Minister could call for a ballot; or the mood of hysteria could build (to) where another mistake could spark a challenge."
Speculation about the leadership has gone into overdrive within the ALP since former party leader Simon Crean attacked Mr Rudd this week for not being a "team player" and being a "prima donna" who could not become prime minister again.
Mr Rudd refused to criticise Mr Crean for his comments but the public division has led Labor MPs to the view there will be a leadership contest and it will be between only Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard. The Rudd camp has now increased the pressure on the Prime Minister by suggesting the possible timetable for a challenge has come forward from March 24 to any time during the resumption of parliament.
Yesterday, Tony Abbott continued his campaign against the government over allegations of the misuse of a credit card by NSW central coast MP and former union official Craig Thomson, and accused Fair Work Australia of delaying investigating the allegations. The Opposition Leader said the Coalition would pursue the government next week in parliament over the allegations and investigations into Mr Thomson's behaviour.
Earlier, Liberal Party Deputy Leader Julie Bishop told a meeting of the opposition frontbench the government was a dysfunctional rabble. "I expect there will be a challenge to Julia Gillard's leadership in the next few weeks," she said, adding it would be before the Queensland election on March 24. "Senior ministers are publicly attacking each other and Kevin Rudd is more likely to attend one of our meetings than Julia Gillard's."
Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan continued to back his leader yesterday, citing her determination to help rebuild Queensland after last year's natural disasters as evidence of her "guts and determination". "She's got strong support because she's a really strong leader," Mr Swan, a Queenslander, said in Tully in the north of the state. "She's demonstrated that time and time again. We've got a terrific team and we all work well together."
Mr Swan insisted Mr Rudd was doing a good job. But Industry Minister Greg Combet expressed frustration over the instability. "I must say I lose patience with people who are talking to journalists and there's no name attached to it and you wonder who on earth it was," he told ABC radio. "We've got a huge job to do, and I focus on my job and I think all of my colleagues do their best to focus on theirs."
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