Analysis: Australian PM survives challenge with leadership in tattersBy Asian Correspondent Mar 21, 2013 7:30PM UTC
By Henry Belot, Melbourne
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard survived yet another leadership challenge today and is now set to lead the Australian Labor Party to the Federal Election in September. Her success, however, is unlikely to resolve internal party conflict or improve dire approval figures.
After months of leadership speculation exacerbated by the Australian media, Simon Crean, an ALP frontbencher and former ALP Opposition leader, urged Ms Gillard “to call a spill of all leadership positions in the party” and publicly declared support for former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Ms Gillard did not shy from the challenge and used today’s Parliamentary session to declare that the afternoon’s party caucus would be devoted to settling the leadership and deputy leadership of the party.
This is not the first time that Prime Minister Gillard has been forced to defend her leadership from Mr Rudd, from whom she seized leadership in an internal party revolt in June 2010. In February 2012 Kevin Rudd, the then Foreign Minister, failed to replace Ms Gillard as Prime Minister after losing a party ballot 31 votes to 71.
(READ MORE: Challenge to Australian prime minister collapses)
Following the debacle Mr Rudd declared that he would refrain from challenging Ms Gillard in the future unless publically drafted. Despite this, Rudd has become a ghost of the ALP routinely accused of destabilising support for the Prime Minster among party ranks and fuelling speculation of another challenge, or a restoration.
But today’s leadership ballot never came to be. It never needed to. The damage was inflicted before the party caucus even assembled. In the hallways of Parliament Mr Rudd kept his promise not to challenge Ms Gillard unless drafted by his colleagues. The more likely circumstance is that Rudd simply failed to garner enough support to challenge the Prime Minister.
“I take my word seriously. I’ve given that word. I gave it solemnly in that room after the last ballot and I will keep that word today,” said Rudd to a press pack shortly before attending caucus.
Speaking to the Australian media this evening, Mr Crean was evidently aware that his attempt to restore Kevin Rudd had backfired at the cost of his political career. After calling for the leadership spill Mr Crean was promptly sacked from the front bench by Gillard. His response was to blame the man he had thrown his support to only hours earlier, Kevin Rudd.
“He should’ve run; there’s no question about that because I think that itself could have been an important cleansing for the party”, said Simon Crean speaking to the ABC’s 7 30 Report this evening.
This latest leadership challenge in Australian politics comes after a week of intense media scrutiny directed at the Gillard government’s failed media reform package, which was loosely based on the media legislation passed in the United Kingdom earlier this week.
The haphazard package was abandoned as the media intensified their scrutiny on the government’s leadership credentials. Leadership speculation has become a go-to topic for the Australian media and a timely one given fierce opposition to media reform.
Last week, the front page of News Limited’s The Daily Telegraph compared Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who proposed the bill, to Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao, Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe.
On Tuesday, Fairfax Media’s The Age led with a speculative report that Foreign Minister Bob Carr had admitted to colleagues he had “lost confidence in Ms Gillard some time ago”, despite failing to contact the Minister for comment.
Having survived today’s leadership challenge, the Gillard government now has six months to rebuild the image of the ALP as a party that can be entrusted to lead Australia for another term. A tough ask given the government’s inability to sell its economic credentials and key policy messages due to internal divisions, media distractions, and the relentless negativity of an Opposition Leader.
Ms Gillard may have secured her office today but it unlikely that the events of the day will aid her chances of being re-elected in September. Should leadership speculation continue in the coming months the ALP will only pave a path for the Opposition to simply walk into office.