Australian Ministers Say They Back Gillard Amid Leadership Talk

Two ministers in Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government rejected reports they’ve lost confidence in her leadership, as opinion polls show her Labor party is on course to lose the September election.

“Those stories aren’t true,” Foreign Minister Bob Carr told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television in an interview broadcast from Washington today. “I’m loyal to Julia Gillard.” Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler said in a Twitter posting he remains a “proud member” of her team, after the Sydney Morning Herald said the lawmaker was reconsidering his support for the prime minister.

With parliament in its last sitting week before the May 14 federal budget, media speculation is mounting that Labor members will return the leadership to Kevin Rudd, who was ousted by Gillard in a June 2010 party coup. The minority government has trailed in opinion polls for almost two years, with surveys this month showing Gillard lags opposition leader Tony Abbott on the question of preferred prime minister.

Support for Australia’s first female prime minister has waned after a series of policy back flips -- including on a tax on carbon emissions -- and scandals involving senior party members. A weakening manufacturing sector in some key Labor seats on the fringes of major cities has also seen her support dissipate.

Labor rose 3 percentage points to 48 percent on a two-party preferred basis, with Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition falling 3 points to 52 percent, according to a Newspoll survey published in the Australian newspaper on March 12. The poll also showed Labor would win the election if Rudd replaced Gillard as Labor leader.

Rudd’s Popularity

A separate poll published yesterday in Fairfax newspapers showed Rudd is twice as popular with voters as Gillard. Asked who of the two was the preferred Labor leader, 62 percent of respondents said Rudd and 31 percent chose Gillard, according to the Nielsen survey.

Among reasons cited by Gillard and her supporters for Rudd’s ouster in 2010 were his erratic decision-making, lack of communication and his desire to concentrate power away from his own ministers. Rudd said early last year that he’d learned the lessons from his time as prime minister and would try to delegate and consult more widely.

Gillard told Fairfax newspapers in an interview published yesterday that she wouldn’t yield to leadership speculation: “If I haven’t flinched yet, why would I flinch now?” she was cited as saying.

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