Gillard’s Backers Want Rudd to Quit as Labor Slumps in Polls

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s backers are calling on former leader Kevin Rudd to quit politics after support for the ruling Labor Party fell to the lowest in 39 years.

Labor support fell 4 percentage points to 27 percent, a Herald/Nielsen poll published June 18 showed. Australia’s opposition Liberal-National coalition is calling for a plebiscite on a carbon tax that is sapping support for Gillard, and which also helped bring about Rudd’s downfall a year ago.

Backing for Gillard plunged after she reversed a pre- election pledge not to impose the tax, giving the Tony Abbott- led opposition a near 20 percentage point lead in the Herald poll. Gillard’s government, which lost its majority at the August 2010 election, also faces claims Rudd, now foreign minister, wants his old job back, sapping the government’s ability to sell its policies.

“The Labor government is in deep trouble,” said Nick Economou, a political analyst at Melbourne’s Monash University. “The Labor Party power brokers are stuck with Gillard, similar to the way in which the Titanic was stuck with its captain. They’re all just going to have to go down with the ship.”

Former Queensland state Premier Peter Beattie urged Rudd to leave politics in a column published in the Australian newspaper today.

“Forget about the tough issues such as the carbon tax,” Beattie wrote. “What is killing Labor, particularly in Queensland, is the continuing division over the leadership change.”

Comeback Rudd?

Rudd is being criticized for giving a series of media interviews in the lead-up to the anniversary of his axing as prime minister by Gillard on June 24. Gillard’s personal approval rating fell 6 percentage points to 37 percent, and 60 percent of voters want Rudd to return as party leader, the weekend’s Herald poll showed.

Still, changing leaders may not be an option if the minority Labor-led government wants to remain in power.

“We did sign the agreement with Julia Gillard, we would have to look at a new leader, at the circumstances of whether that agreement was to continue or not,” Greens leader Bob Brown told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio today. Support from the Greens, who helped Gillard form her minority government, is required to pass laws in both houses of parliament from July 1.

Rob Oakeshott, one of the independent lawmakers whose vote the Labor government relies on to pass laws, said a change in leadership would cause him to review his support agreement.

Gillard’s Plan

“Where my interest lies is in a stable parliament,” he said on Channel 10’s “Meet the Press” yesterday. “My handshake is with her” rather than the Labor party, he said.

Gillard and her supporters have dismissed suggestions Rudd could force his way back into the leadership

“I don’t judge by the opinion polls, I judge by how I am pursuing my plan for the nation,” Gillard told reporters in Brisbane on June 18. “This is about having a plan. I have a plan and am pursuing it with the support of my Labor colleagues.”

Paul Howes, national secretary of the Australian Workers Union and one of the people who pushed for Rudd’s ousting a year ago, said he expects Gillard will be leading Labor into the next general election scheduled for between August and November 2013.

“I am sure, I’d bet my house on it, that Julia Gillard will lead Labor to the next election and will have a platform and a record of implementation that will be important,” he told Sky News yesterday.

Rudd in other interviews in recent days has reflected on what he learned from last year’s dumping. The opposition says Rudd is mounting a campaign to get his old job back.

Coalition Lead

“The only thing Kevin Rudd hasn’t done is ride a unicycle into question time blowing a vuvuzela demanding the leadership back,” the opposition coalition’s Christopher Pyne said on Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s “Insiders” program yesterday. A vuvuzela is a South African horn instrument that shot to global prominence during last year’s soccer World Cup in the country.

The coalition widened its lead on a two-party-preferred basis -- which takes into account likely preference allocations -- with 59 percent of voters backing it compared with 41 percent for the Labor government, the poll showed June 18.

The survey was taken June 14-16, little more than a week before the one-year anniversary of Gillard taking over leadership of the party after ousting Rudd, whose own slump in opinion polls had threatened to make their Labor Party the nation’s first one-term government in 80 years.

Rudd stepped down rather than face a party vote. He was appointed foreign minister in September.

The plebiscite, which, unlike a referendum, isn’t binding on the government, will be debated in the upper house Senate tomorrow and lower house on July 4.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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