Monday 17 October 2011

A year in a leaky boat | the feeling is not grand

Julia's control sinking amid cabinet leaks

Bill Leak
Illustration: Bill Leakl Source: The Australian

THE destabilisation of Julia Gillard's leadership has entered a new and more dangerous phase.

Just when the Prime Minister would be entitled to think things couldn't be any worse than the failure of her Malaysia option for dealing with asylum-seekers offshore - it did. Gillard now appears to be no longer in control of her cabinet. The cabinet represents the last bastion of Gillard's authority after failures in the House of Representatives and the Senate and open defiance in the caucus from some of her backbench colleagues.
Public calls for cabinet discipline and unity are the last phase of the loss of authority.
This cabinet leaking and undermining cannot be put down to Kevin Rudd's campaign to be become leader again. The leaks of cabinet differences on political and policy options for offshore processing show that a wide range of ministers are betraying the confidence of cabinet and they are doing so to protect themselves or damage rivals. Whatever the intention of leaks about right-wing and left-wing ministers taking positions in support of returning to the Howard-era Nauru solution - or a combination of Nauru and other options - the outcome has been to damage Gillard's leadership.

For ministers to attempt to either justify their position or damage colleagues by exposing cabinet tensions not only fuels the impression Gillard is losing control in every area but also suggests senior ministers believe her leadership is terminal. Part of the positioning over offshore processing policy is to sheet home responsibility to Gillard for the mess Labor is in. If Gillard "reads the riot act" and condemns her senior colleagues for ill-discipline, the reading of that act will leak immediately.

If she doesn't try to bring the ministers to heel, the process will only get worse. Frustrated at being unable to do anything about the parliamentary numbers and passage of bills, aware of the Foreign Minister's ambitions, being defied by MPs and now facing the exposure of cabinet differences, Gillard can do little else but hope for a rise in the polls.

Meanwhile, her most senior colleagues are positioning themselves with the view that Labor's future some time soon is not going to include her as leader. In the meantime, the man she deposed for his failure to deliver on policy and mishandling of the cabinet process is starting to send clear signals that he's prepared to forgive those who have spoken out against him in a sign that he wouldn't take universal and destructive retribution against those who helped remove him.

Rudd's friendly banter with his electoral neighbour, Graham Perret, in Brisbane over the weekend suggest Rudd is prepared even to work with those who have threatened to resign if he were to become leader. No doubt some of those at cabinet level will be watching for further signs that Rudd would not take a scythe to his colleagues should he be approached.

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