Australian PM grapples with leadership crisis

Tuesday 21 February 2012 11.24
Kevin Rudd's supporters have called on Julia Gillard to hold a leadership ballot
Kevin Rudd's supporters have called on Julia Gillard to hold a leadership ballot

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is resisting calls to sack her foreign minister to end a bitter leadership crisis that threatens her minority government.

Supporters of Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, who Ms Gillard replaced as leader in 2010, have called on the Prime Minister to hold a leadership ballot, believing only he can stem haemorrhaging voter support ahead of the next election in 2013.

However, a move back to Mr Rudd risks losing the backing of key independents who give the Labor government a one-seat majority.

Weeks of leadership instability, which became public at the weekend, now undermines Labor's chances of holding power in the state of Queensland at a 24 March poll. The resource-rich state is also crucial for the national government's re-election.

If Mr Rudd did again become prime minister, opinion polls suggest it would do little to save Labor, which would be thrown from office with a losing margin of up to 12 seats.

Former Labor party leader Simon Crean said Mr Rudd should either challenge, give up his leadership hopes, or leave the ministry.

"Clearly he's not playing as part of the team," Regional Affairs Minister Simon Crean told Australian radio.

"If he can't be part of the team, he should exit the team, or challenge."

Ms Gillard beat Mr Rudd in 2010 and went on to narrowly win an election and form a minority government.

Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott has said if he wins government he will abandon her major policies, such as a carbon price to combat climate change and a 30% profits-based tax on iron ore and coal-mining companies.

The resource tax, which is being watched closely by nations in South America and Africa, is a direct result of Julia Gillard's leadership.

She struck a deal with BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata in July 2010, after Mr Rudd earlier failed to get miners to agree to a higher tax. Mr Rudd also failed to get approval for a carbon price.

The leadership question erupted when Mr Rudd told a late-night television interview on Saturday he had learned from the mistakes of his time as prime minister, signalling he would consult and delegate more if he returned to the job.

During his time as prime minister between November 2007 and June 2010, Mr Rudd alienated members of his own party with his frantic work schedule and his refusal to delegate tasks or take advice from colleagues. He was also criticised by voters for failing to implement major policies.

A direct challenge from Mr Rudd would be unlikely to succeed as he has only a fraction of the support he needs within the centre-left Labor Party, said party sources.

Mr Rudd told reporters in Mexico, where he is attending a G20 foreign minister's meeting, that he was not contemplating a leadership challenge.

"That is not in prospect because we have a prime minister, I am the foreign minister," Mr Rudd said.