Rudd Rules Out Challenge Amid Speculation Gillard Days Numbered

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, facing poor polling and media speculation she may be toppled in the coming week, received a boost when her main rival again ruled out challenging for Australia’s top job.

“I don’t believe there are any circumstances under which that would occur,” Kevin Rudd, whom Gillard ousted in a June 2010 backroom party coup, told Channel 7 in an interview today. Australians have had a “gutful” of the leadership talk, he said.

Next week looks to be the last chance for Rudd supporters to try and remove Gillard, with parliament sitting in Canberra for the final time before the Sept. 14 election. Opinion polls indicate the Tony Abbott-led Liberal-National opposition is set to take government in a landslide win.

Even as polls show voters would give more support to a Rudd-helmed Labor, Australia’s first female leader has vowed she won’t resign. Should Gillard refuse to throw open her leadership, a challenge could only be held if more than a third of Labor’s caucus demands a party room vote, known as a spill.

“Rudd’s comments today echo those he’s made before -- he’s not ruling out becoming Labor leader, he’s just saying he won’t challenge,” said Andrew Hughes, who conducts political-marketing research at the Australian National University in Canberra. “He wants the party to come to him and ask him to save them. With the dire way the election looks under Gillard’s leadership, that still can’t be ruled out.”

Gillard beat Rudd in a February 2012 leadership ballot 71 votes to 31, prompting Rudd to rule out a future challenge. In March this year, he declined to contest the leadership when Gillard called a vote. She was re-elected unopposed by her Labor colleagues.

Union Backing

Speculation Labor would return Rudd to the leadership to revive the party’s prospects for re-election resurfaced after he started campaign appearances for colleagues in marginal seats this month.

The trade union movement is unanimous in its support of Labor and Gillard’s bid for re-election, the nation’s senior workers’ representative Paul Howes said yesterday. Gillard received another boost today, when Labor power-broker Bill Shorten backed her.

“I have always had and continue to have a strong working relationship with the prime minister,” Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Shorten said in an e-mailed statement. “I have a great deal of respect for the prime minister and continue to support her. Reports today are baseless and inaccurate.”

Shorten’s Support

Shorten, who helped engineer Gillard’s 2010 leadership move, responded after the Australian newspaper today said he had been excluded from Gillard’s strategic decision-making team as pressure mounts on him to resolve Labor’s leadership issues. The Australian Financial Review reported today that supporters of Rudd claim he has the numbers to hold a successful challenge next week. Both papers cited Labor sources they didn’t identify.

Treasurer Wayne Swan urged Australians to abandon reading “fictional reports which appear in newspapers.”

“When you pick up the papers and read the stories in the morning what you find is a lot of rubbish,” Swan told reporters in Brisbane today.

Replacing Gillard with Rudd would boost Labor’s chances at the ballot box, polls show. His return would lift Labor by 11 percentage points in the primary vote to 40 percent, compared with the coalition’s 42 percent, according to a Nielsen survey published in Fairfax newspapers June 17. It showed support for Labor under Gillard slid 3 points to 29 percent, versus the opposition’s 47 percent.

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