Daily Israel Report

Leadership Tensions In Australian Labor Party Damage Prospects

The ruling Australian party trailing in the polls is wracked by division at the top.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 2/21/2012, 6:25 AM

In 2010, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was deposed from his job by a vote in the Australian Labor Party parliamentary caucus and was succeeded by Julia Gillard, the current prime minister.

The reasons for Rudd's ouster were the party's standing in the polls - as a result of an unpopular tax that Rudd engineered - and his abrasive non-congenial personality. Now the shoe is on the other foot, with rumors of a leadership fight in the air.

Ms. Gillard, leader of an ALP minority government, is down in the polls by 15%, and her party is set to lose the state of Queensland. Kevin Rudd is heavily outscoring Gillard in the public opinion polls. A February poll by Nielsen showed that 57% of the voters surveyed preferred Rudd as compared with 35% who favored Gillard as ALP leader. Ms. Gillard is unpopular for the carbon tax that she rammed through parliament to honor a coalition agreement with the green partners who enabled her to form a government.

Rudd, who is serving as foreign minister, does not yet have enough votes in the party caucus to oust Gillard and claims that he has no intention of forcing a leadership fight. Prime Minister Gillard will not seek a vote of confidence in her leadership ''I've got the strong support of my colleagues and I'm getting on with the job of delivering the big changes and reforms the nation needs,'' she said. ''I'm getting on with my job. Kevin Rudd's getting on with his.''

If both leaders are holding their fire the same cannot be said about their supporters. MP Steve Gibbons laced into Kevin Rudd, tweeting: "only a psychopath with a giant ego would line up again after being comprehensively rejected by the overwhelming majority of his colleagues." A backbencher sympathetic to Rudd claimed that Gillard could not win the next election and the attempt to destroy Rudd would deprive the party of any alternative.

In addition to the voices calling for Prime Minister Gillard to smoke out the Foreign Minister, insist on his loyalty or sack him a YouTube video involving Rudd suddenly appeared. Rudd, who is fluent in Mandarin, was trying to record a speech in Chinese and was getting frustrated by the repeated takes. He began thumping the table and shouting expletives. This YouTube video was highly damaging to the Foreign Minister's protestations that he had changed.

Similarly, there have been press reports that Rudd had changed in one respect and for the worse. He would now hand out patronage plums to party members. The $200,000 a year position of Australian Consul in Chicago went to a party leader despite the fact that more highly qualified alternatives had been recommended.

Naturally, the opposition national Liberal party is making capital of the dissension in the Labor ranks. Opposition leader Tony Abbott has called for new elections claiming that his party was focused on preparing for government while Labor was engrossed in its leadership battles.

"What we need is a government that is getting on with the job, not a government that is cannibalising itself," Mr Abbott said.

"What we need are changes of policy, not just changes of leadership, and I think the Australian people are increasingly sick of this soap opera inside the Labor party."