Australian PM Gillard defiant under pressure

Last Updated: Sunday, February 19, 2012 - 09:36

Sydney: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard insisted on Sunday she was the right person to lead the country, dismissing as "gossip" talk of a possible leadership challenge from within her party after months of poor polls.

There have been repeated media reports Gillard may be challenged by the man she ousted as prime minister in an internal party coup in 2010, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

Rudd has denied such plans but Gillard backers this weekend closed ranks around the Prime Minister, publicly saying she was a better Prime Minister.

At the same time an embarrassing video showing Rudd losing his temper and swearing while prime minister was posted anonymously on YouTube.

The speculation follows months of poor polls predicting a convincing victory for the conservative opposition in an election due by late 2013. One government Member of Parliament has publicly called on Gillard to step down amid reports of a potential backbench revolt.

Gillard has spent the weekend meeting visiting East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, and visiting Darwin for commemorations there on Sunday of the 70th anniversary of the city`s bombing by the Japanese in World War Two.

In a television interview broadcast on Sunday before the Darwin commemorations, Gillard defended her record.

"I can go out in the Australian community and I can see the benefits of changes that I decided upon and that we`ve brought to the Australian community," Gillard told Channel 7.

Asked if Rudd could win a possible challenge, she said: "I`m not going to engage in hypothetical. I must admit over the last few weeks I`ve been focussed on our economy and how we`re going to build that for the future.”

"I`ll keep doing that because that`s the important thing about the job. Not the Canberra-based gossip but actually delivering things that have got a real chance of making a difference in the lives of families around the nation."

On Sunday, key independent Andrew Wilkie, whose recent withdrawal of support from the minority government has further weakened its hold on power, predicted a challenge by Rudd.

"Get on with the job"

However, before leaving for Mexico for a G20 meeting, Rudd denied any such plans. Commenting on the YouTube video, the timing of which he said was "unusual" Rudd said he was happy as foreign minister.

"There`s no challenge, to use your term, on," he told Sky News. "We have a prime minister. I`m the foreign minister. I`m trying to get on with the job of doing Australia`s foreign policy."

The last election in 2010, called by Gillard shortly after she ousted Rudd, resulted in a hung Parliament and her government survives only with the support of independents and one Green MP.

Attorney General Nicola Roxon said on Saturday that Gillard had "worked absolute miracles with the hand that she has been dealt" while Rudd as prime minister had "left us with a lot of challenges”.

"We made a very difficult decision in 2010, but that decision is made," Roxton said, referring to the ouster of Rudd.

"People now need to stick with it and get on with the job."

Rudd is considered popular with voters and has outpolled Gillard as preferred leader of the Labor party in recent polls, although Gillard continues to run close against opposition leader Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister.

The Foreign Minister is particularly popular in his home state of Queensland, which is facing an election in which the state`s ruling Labor government is predicted to lose office.

Bureau Report



First Published: Sunday, February 19, 2012 - 09:36

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