Julia Gillard admits talks to lure Bob Carr
- From: The Australian
- March 02, 2012
Julia Gillard has confirmed she held talks with former NSW premier Bob Carr over drafting him to serve in her government, sparking fresh opposition attacks on her honesty and political judgment.The Prime Minister has backed away from her claim that a report in The Australian on Wednesday revealing her dealings with Mr Carr was "completely untrue", after being challenged by the opposition to repeat her claim in parliament.
The backdown came yesterday as Labor MPs continued to express concern about Ms Gillard's handling of a cabinet reshuffle sparked by the retirement of former foreign minister and beaten leadership candidate Kevin Rudd. The Prime Minister will announce the reshuffle today and is expected to hand Defence Minister Stephen Smith the foreign affairs portfolio and promote former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon back to the frontbench. Sydney MP David Bradbury is tipped for promotion to the ministry, while Housing Minister Robert McClelland is expected to be sacked.
Speculation last night centred on Mr Smith taking an amalgamated foreign affairs and trade portfolio, leaving current Trade Minister Craig Emerson clear to take Defence. On Wednesday, as supporters celebrated Ms Gillard's victory over Mr Rudd in Monday's leadership spill, The Australian revealed that Labor had attempted to draft Mr Carr to become foreign minister. The report said the offer to Mr Carr was withdrawn amid complaints from serving ministers - including Mr Smith, who saw himself as a candidate for the plum post. On Wednesday, when Ms Gillard was asked about The Australian's report, she declared it was "completely untrue" - despite the fact that Mr Carr had confirmed to The Australian in Sydney earlier that day that an offer of the foreign ministry had been made and withdrawn.
Mr Carr later released a statement clarifying his position by saying he had held talks with Labor officials but stating: "Prime Minister Gillard had definitely not made any offer about the Foreign Affairs Ministry nor had anyone on her behalf." But The Australian has confirmed with several senior ministers an offer was made to Mr Carr. Yesterday, as the opposition warned that misleading parliament was "a sackable offence", Ms Gillard was asked whether she stood by her attack on The Australian's reporting of the matter. The Prime Minister said: "Yes, I would repeat that statement, Mr Speaker, and I repeat the words that I said at the doorstop yesterday about this matter. I was asked about the matters in The Australian, I said they were untrue. If the Leader of the Opposition is so interested, yes, I did have a conversation with Bob Carr."
Later Ms Gillard said: "I am the only person who can make offers in relation to ministries."
The opposition seized on the admission to accuse Ms Gillard of dishonesty, noting that she had omitted the word "completely" from her claim that the report of the Carr affair was wrong. "The Prime Minister has turned denying the undeniable into an artform," said Liberal Party deputy leader Julie Bishop. There was a pattern of behaviour emerging that "borders on the pathological". Opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne joined the attack, declaring Ms Gillard had used "weasel words" rather than repeat her claims about The Australian in parliament.
There was growing anger last night among Labor MPs, including ministers, who asked how Ms Gillard could turn a brilliant victory over Mr Rudd into a "PR disaster" over her cabinet reshuffle. "She's put a lot of her colleagues in uncomfortable positions," one source said. "She has mishandled the media and made herself look shifty again." Another MP said it was clear Ms Gillard had angered colleagues, particularly Mr Smith. "If he gets the foreign ministry it will look like she was bullied into it." the MP said. "But if he doesn't it will look like he was passed over. This is a man who has supported her leadership despite the media writing he could be a third candidate for her job."
The comments came amid continuing speculation about the cabinet reshuffle. It is expected Mr Smith will take on foreign affairs, the portfolio he vacated after the 2010 election to make way for Mr Rudd. In expectation of Mr Smith's move, senior Defence officials have been pushing the Prime Minister to appoint Industry and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet to Mr Smith's current portfolio of defence. Mr Combet impressed Defence officials as minister for defence personnel, materiel and science in the Rudd government, and would bring that experience to the portfolio. But it would be difficult to move him, given the government's carbon tax package is due to take effect from July 1. Mr Fitzgibbon is expected to return to the ministry, but not in the portfolio he left in 2009, and his fellow NSW Right colleague, western Sydney MP David Bradbury, is tipped for promotion.
Sources last night suggested that acting against all five ministers who supported Kevin Rudd in the leadership ballot would be difficult for the Prime Minister. The mining industry has pleaded for Resources Minister Martin Ferguson to be retained, as has the car industry for Manufacturing Minister Kim Carr. While Mr McClelland's position looks extremely shaky, Chris Bowen has the strong support of the NSW Right, and the Prime Minister has already assured Infrastructure Minister and leader of government business Anthony Albanese of his job. Monday's resignation of NSW senator Mark Arbib has added to arguments to keep Senator Carr
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