Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Will Gillard survive the latest political play?

Home-state blues for Julia Gillard as Greens head for Victorian by-election victory

Internal ALP polling has revealed that Julia Gillard and federal Labor are toxic in the Prime Minister's home state of Victoria, and the party is on track for a disastrous loss to the Greens in a looming state by-election. 
Labor's Victorian campaign committee was told yesterday that federal factors were hampering the party's campaign to hold the once heartland seat of Melbourne from a Greens' onslaught. The warning came amid continued sniping between Labor and the Greens at the federal level, with Greens federal leader Christine Milne declaring that Labor powerbrokers were attacking her party to undermine Ms Gillard.

The Australian understands that the Victorian internal polling on the Melbourne by-election, caused by the resignation of former minister Bronwyn Pike, found that three times as many people cited the performance of the federal government rather than the performance of the state government as the reason they would not vote for Labor.

"We are getting flogged by the Greens," a Labor source told The Australian. At the 2010 state election, Ms Pike received 35.7 per cent of the primary vote to the Greens' 32 per cent. Labor won on Liberal Party preferences.

The Liberal Party's decision not to contest the July 21 by-election has made the contest a straight Labor-Greens fight, just as senior figures in Labor's NSW branch are examining taking the fight to the Greens and moving towards a new tough line on preferences.

The Greens' how-to-vote card for Melbourne shows the minor party has preferenced Labor's Jennifer Kanis ninth, behind self-proclaimed anarchist Joseph Toscano (sixth) and corporate activist Stephen Mayne (fifth). The party's second preferences will flow to former Victorian of the year Berhan Ahmed, the leader of the African think tank. Adrian Whitehead, a former Greens candidate, is fourth.

Should the Melbourne by-election deliver a loss to Labor, the result will increase pressure on Ms Gillard's leadership and increase despair in Labor ranks. A collapse in Labor's primary vote at the Penrith by-election in Sydney's west in 2010 was a precursor to Kevin Rudd's dumping and savage defeats in state elections in NSW and Queensland have deeply concerned MPs.

Some express doubts about Ms Gillard's ability to revive support in those states. "Victoria is supposed to be our best state," said one party source, adding that a loss in Melbourne would be "an eye-opener" for the party.

A source close to the by-election campaign said last night the party's job would be a lot easier "if Gillard wasn't there", arguing that the Prime Minister was having a demonstrable effect on driving down Labor's primary vote.

The source also backed NSW general secretary Sam Dastyari's weekend move to take a tougher line on Greens preferences, saying Labor was taking all the heat on issues such as gay marriage and the carbon tax while the Greens were claiming credit from progressive voters. On a contentious issue such as asylum-seekers the Greens had failed to back Labor.

"We have lost a significant portion of votes from our pile," the source said. "The majority have left because of federal issues." Another senior figure predicted the leadership issue would arise again. "It's a matter of who pulls the trigger and starts the war."

Relations between Labor and the Greens have been tense since Mr Dastyari and Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes savaged the party as extremist and questioned whether Labor should favour the Greens with its electoral preferences.

Yesterday, as Labor MPs continued to question the minor party's policies, ALP national secretary George Wright sent all members and supporters an online poll inviting them to have their say about the future of their party and to reflect on the principles for which it stood.

In a covering note, Mr Wright told respondents he wanted Labor to be "a vital, growing and engaged movement ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century". Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane sent party members an emailed message saying that, if Labor was serious about its criticism of the Greens, Ms Gillard should dump the deal under which the Greens supported her minority government.

Senator Milne hit back yesterday, accusing Labor powerbrokers of attacking her party to undermine Ms Gillard's leadership. The Greens leader declared that Labor was "in crisis" and at risk of handing power to the "extreme Right". Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young last night attacked Mr Howes for backing a Labor push to put the Greens last on how-to-vote cards. "What on earth are Labor Party voters going to think when they hear Labor unionist leaders like Paul Howes saying he'd prefer Tony Abbott and Work Choices over the progressive party, the Greens," Senator Hanson-Young told Sky News's Showdown.
"People are characterising this as an attack on the Greens, but this is an attack on their (Labor's) own voters, and progressive voters across Australia."

Mr Howes told Showdown he would back a motion at the weekend by Mr Dastyari to put the Greens last in preferences. "I think it will be overwhelmingly endorsed because it's a motion about standing up for the values of the Labor party and the Labor party's people," he said.

The Greens' attacks came as some Labor critics of Ms Gillard's leadership also rejected the government's anti-Greens push, questioning how Labor could seriously expect voters to accept its criticism of the minor party while the government continued to rely on its support to maintain government.

In Perth, Tony Abbott said sections of Labor were campaigning against Ms Gillard's  deal to govern with Greens support. "You can't pretend the Greens are your worst enemy in the electorate and your best friends in the parliament."

Additional reporting: Milanda Rout, Mitchell Nadin

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