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Gillard Rejects Step Down Call as Workers Union Vows Support

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June 15 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Julia Gillard dismissed a call from a member of her Labor party to step down before elections in three months as the Australian Workers Union pledged support for the country’s first female leader.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who Gillard ousted in a backroom party coup in June 2010, should lead Labor to the next election, the Australian newspaper reported on its website today, citing lawmaker John Murphy. Gillard is the right person to lead the party to September’s election, the Age newspaper said on its website, citing AWU national secretary Paul Howes.

“Mr. Murphy has had a continuing view for some time now,” Gillard told reporters in Adelaide today. “All the rumor and speculation, I just let that wash its way round.”

Parliament will sit for a final two weeks starting June 17, a danger zone for Gillard when her Labor colleagues will all be in Canberra, enabling a snap challenge. Gillard needs an unprecedented recovery in popularity to win the Sept. 14 elections with polls showing Labor faces a landslide defeat by Tony Abbott’s Liberal National coalition.

The Labor party may lose as many 40 seats in the September elections, the Australian newspaper reported this week, citing an internal survey by the party. Labor hasn’t led in opinion polls for more than 18 months and was 16 percentage points behind the opposition on a two-party preferred basis in a Newspoll published in the newspaper on June 4.

Rudd Popular

Consistently rated Labor’s most popular leader in polls, Rudd failed in a challenge to unseat Gillard in February 2012 and has said he stands by a commitment not to seek the leadership again. Labor fell 2 percentage points to 42 percent on a two-party preferred basis, while the opposition gained 2 points to 58 percent, according to the Newspoll.

Gillard’s backers are reluctant to reinstall Rudd because they blame him for leaks during the 2010 election campaign that damaged the government and triggered a slide in opinion polls, resulting in the closest ballot in 70 years.

“I’m here and delighted to be getting on with the job,” Gillard said today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Phoebe Sedgman in Melbourne at psedgman2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Adrian Kennedy at adkennedy@bloomberg.net