Australia govt seeks to douse leadership speculation

CANBERRA - Australia’s deeply unpopular government tried on Friday to douse speculation that former leader Kevin Rudd was preparing a challenge against Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who unseated him last year to trigger elections that she only just won.

By (Reuters)

Published: Fri 23 Sep 2011, 12:12 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 1:55 AM

Gillard dismissed newspaper reports that now Foreign Minister Rudd was canvassing votes, labelling the claims a distraction conjured up by conservative rivals. And Rudd told reporters in New York that he was focused only on his job.

“I just think it would be a good thing if everyone seriously had a cup of tea and a Bex (headache powder) and a long lie down. There are many other priorities before us,” Rudd said.

Gillard’s leadership has come under more pressure since a high court ruling last month left her immigration policy in disarray and added to growing public perceptions of government incompetence.

Parliament is now in a two-week break, easing immediate political pressure on Gillard, but polls show her Labor Party — which has a single seat majority in parliament with the help of independent MPs — would be swept from office if an election were held now, although one is not due for two more years.

The opposition has promised to dismantle key Gillard policies, including unwinding controversial carbon tax plans now before the parliament.

Gillard has staked her minority government’s future on passing the carbon tax laws, which would force about 500 big polluting companies to pay for carbon emissions through a A$23 ($23.75) per tonne carbon tax from July 2012, ahead of emissions trading from mid-2015.

Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott has threatened also to halt construction of a $35 billion state-backed super broadband network, and reverse a 30 percent profits-based mining tax that has upset resource companies and which is being eyed by other countries in Africa and South America.

Conservative lawmakers on Thursday said they had been told by Labor opponents that the high-profile Rudd was planning a comeback.

An Age/Nielsen poll this month showed Labor could win an election if it reinstalled Rudd as leader, although analysts believe another party coup would also cement voter perception of Labor as dysfunctional.

A former senior Labor powerbroker, Graham Richardson, said reports Rudd was close to unseating the embattled Gillard were wrong, but government bungling on major policies had triggered political instability and abysmal support levels in public opinion surveys.

“If there isn’t any panic in the Labor ranks, there should be,” Richardson, now a political analyst, told television.

“(But) I still don’t think it’s likely that they’ll give him the job, and it’s far more likely that Julia Gillard will remain in office and (lawmakers), like good little lemmings, will go over the cliff with her,” he said.

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