Rudd denies planning Gillard heave

 

Australian prime minister Julia Gillard and her predecessor Kevin Rudd have failed to quash speculation they will face off in a party leadership contest, raising the prospect of a prolonged showdown.

Mr Rudd, whom Ms Gillard ousted in 2010, said "that is not in prospect" when asked at a press briefing whether he would participate if a leadership competition occurs.

Meanwhile, Ms Gillard told reporters in Canberra she has the "strong support" of her Labor Party, while declining to specify whether she'd call an internal vote. "I'm getting on with the job with the strong support of my caucus colleagues," she said. "I'm getting on with my job. Kevin Rudd's getting on with his."

Cabinet ministers rallied behind Ms Gillard today after senior Labor figure Darren Cheeseman broke ranks yesterday to openly call for the prime minister, the nation's first female leader, to quit and hand the job back to Mr Rudd.

Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd each flagged achievements under their tenures as prime minister in public appearances in recent days, amid calls from some party members for a vote when parliament opens February 28th.

"I am still focusing on doing the job I need to do to keep delivering the big reforms that matter for the future of our country," Ms Gillard (50), said at a news conference announcing results of a review of school funding yesterday in Canberra. She said her record includes "nation-changing reform" through carbon levy and mining-tax legislation.

Mr Rudd (54) highlighted in an interview with Australia's Sky News yesterday that during his tenure as prime minister from 2007 to 2010, Australia stayed out of recession during the global financial crisis and prevented "mass unemployment."

Lack of a clear resolution over speculation that Mr Rudd, who is Ms Gillard’s foreign minister, harbours comeback plans would hamper the prime minister’s strategy to build support based on a legislative record of success from climate change and mining-tax measures to a health insurance overhaul.

With parliament resuming session next week and a state election looming in Queensland, public focus on Labor infighting will also aid opposition leader Tony Abbott.

"If Labor's political stalemate stays in limbo public support for the government will continue to drop off," said Andrew Hughes, who conducts research in political marketing at the Australian National University in Canberra. "The longer they delay, the more airtime is given to the negatives of Labor. Abbott just has to sit back and wait."

Because the government is a minority, relying on Green Party and independent members for support, any leadership change could heighten the risk of an early election, before Ms Gillard's signature climate change and mining-tax initiatives are planned to take effect on July 1st. Companies including BHP Billiton Ltd. have warned the measures risk hurting investment and job growth.

Australia’s 5.1 per cent unemployment rate compares with the 7.9 per cent average for advanced economies last year.