Sunday 4 September 2011

Abbott calls for election as PM digs in on leadership

Julia Gillard

Australia's Prime Ministership should be decided at an election and not by faceless men in the Labor party, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said, as Julia Gillard dug in over questions around her leadership.

The High Court's decision on Wednesday to rule the government's proposed refugee swap deal with Malaysia as unlawful delivered a fresh blow to the PM and the government, prompting Ms Gillard to tell Sky News she wasn’t “going anywhere”.

"I will be leading the Labor party to the next election," she told reporters in Canberra.

"Every day from now until then I will be fighting for the Labor values, for the things I believe in, for jobs, for education, for opportunities, that is what you will see me doing.”

Ms Gillard’s comments came as Treasurer Wayne Swan also dismissed speculation of the Labor Party switching leaders before the next election, in the latest support of the PM.

"Julia Gillard is tough as nails and she is going to lead the Labor party for a long period of time," Mr Swan said in Brisbane. "She's up to tackling the big challenges that this country faces - putting a price on carbon and delivering the national broadband network, fundamental health reform."

Recent polls have had the Labor Party's primary vote below 30 per cent for the first time.

Speaking to reporters at Birdsville, in Queensland's west, Mr Abbott said the only way for Australia to get policy right was to not just change the leader, but also the government.

"This is a government which has been untrustworthy and incompetent," he said.

"This is a government which has no right to ram through the parliament a carbon tax that it has no mandate for.

"The leadership of our country should be determined by the people at an election, not by the faceless men plotting behind the scenes."

Mr Abbott, just moments before being asked about in-fighting in his own party, said Labor was consumed with indecision and riven with factions.

Liberal MP Peter Slipper, who has been accused of parliamentary expenses rorts, HAD reportedly threatened to resign from the Queensland Liberal National Party.

Reports said Mr Slipper, who defied Mr Abbott by accepting the deputy speaker's role in the hung parliament, made the threat as a result of claims former Howard Government Minister Mal Brough would challenge for chairman of Mr Slipper's Federal Division Council.

Mr Slipper said the appointment of Mr Brough would create "a completely dysfunctional FDC that was unable to work with the federal member".

His resignation from the party would have given Labor a two-seat buffer over the Coalition. However following Mr Brough's appointment to the FDC post last night, Mr Slipper said he was prepared to work with his former parliamentary colleague, and denied he had threatened to resign.
Mr Abbott had said earlier Mr Slipper and Mr Brough were both loyal members of the LNP and the issue should be sorted out at a local level. "Peter is a strong, loyal member of the Coalition down in Canberra and I would expect that to continue," he said.

Senior Labor figures this week moved to shore up support for Ms Gillard after the High Court’s ruling. Mr Swan today defended Ms Gillard's decision to single-out Chief Justice Robert French for criticism.

"The government's response has been totally appropriate," he told reporters.

"The high court struck out in a completely new direction and effectively changed the law.

"The prime minister was perfectly entitled to point that fact out ... it is entirely a responsible thing to do as the leader of government.

"She did it in a responsible and measured way."

Mr Swan called the media conference in Brisbane to draw attention to Labor's "good budget management" on the back of "disappointing jobs data out of the United States" which showed the economy created no jobs in August.

"Unemployment in Australia is at 5.1 per cent; in the US it's 9.1 per cent with 14 million Americans unemployed," he said.

"And there's a very clear reason for that difference. Australia got the big economic calls right during the global financial crisis and the global recession and the consequence of that is that the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

Just 14 months since being toppled, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been named as a possible contender for the Labor leadership in the wake of the High Court’s decision. Cabinet ministers Stephen Smith, Simon Crean, Greg Combet, assistant treasurer Bill Shorten and former Queensland premier Peter Beattie have also been named.

But Mr Swan would not be drawn on whether he was disappointed his name hadn't been put forward as potential leader.

"This sort of media talk and gossip is nothing more than that and it should be treated with distain," he said.

He said Mr Abbott was playing politics by offering to work with the government on immigration detention issues while knowing that the High Court's judgement cast grave doubt on plans to process asylum seekers offshore.

"It's just another demonstration of how unqualified he is for high office," Mr Swan said.

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