Gillard Backed by ‘Vast Majority’ as Leadership Tensions With Rudd Simmer

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is backed by the “vast majority” of Australia’s government, one Cabinet member said, as Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said he intends to remain in his job.

“I support the prime minister, it is up to her how she deals with the matter of leadership speculation,” Bill Shorten, Workplace Relations minister, said in Melbourne. “She has the confidence of the vast majority of members of the government.”

Rudd was ousted as leader by Gillard in June 2010, and speculation has grown in the past week he plans to challenge her for the role. “We have a prime minister, I support the prime minister and I intend to remain as foreign minister,” he told reporters on a visit in Washington.

The comments follow a public spat among supporters of Gillard and Rudd as the government’s poll ratings decline in the wake of legislation on taxes on mining, which has propelled the nation’s economy. Gillard, 50, Australia’s first female leader, has sought to refocus attention on an agenda that includes enacting “nation-changing reform” to counter climate change.

“There’s no doubt that in a month or two months these two aren’t going to be in the same positions,” said Haydon Manning, an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University in Adelaide, referring to Gillard and Rudd. “Gillard’s supporters obviously hope the polls improve and she can survive for the next month or two to the budget.”

Vote Question

Local media broadcast conflicting reports on whether Gillard is planning a vote on her leadership to bring the episode to a close. Former Queensland state Labor Premier Peter Beattie said two days ago such a step would help the party settle the matter and limit damage in a state election in Queensland coming March 24.

The Australian reported that the prime minister is prepared to call an internal Labor ballot Feb. 28, after parliament resumes session, citing Cabinet sources it didn’t name. Cabinet members expect her to win, and remove Rudd as foreign minister, the newspaper reported. Sky News reported that Gillard has no intention of acting on the tensions, citing a senior source it didn’t name.

“It is certainly distracting to the party,” Shorten told reporters in Melbourne today. Attorney General Nicola Roxon said in an ABC news radio program today that “everybody needs to take a bit of a cold shower. It’s not in anyone’s interests, the country’s or the Labor party, for us to be spending our time talking about endless leadership speculation.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at mheath1@bloomberg.net

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

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