Australia’s foreign minister forced to play down leadership talk

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 2:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 4:08pm

Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr was on Tuesday forced to rebuff reports that he had lost confidence in embattled Prime Minister Julia Gillard, as speculation mounts that she could be ousted.

Gillard, the nation’s first woman leader, has for weeks been fending off the suggestion that she will be removed ahead of a September 14 national election, saying on Monday she would not “flinch” from her path.

The Sydney Morning Herald said on Tuesday Carr had lost confidence in the former industrial lawyer after a series of missteps, the latest being a decision to mount controversial media sector reforms in an election year.

Carr dismissed the front page report from Washington where he was meeting with United States Secretary of State John Kerry, saying he was loyal to the prime minister.

“The prime minister has my unqualified support,” he said.

“I think the media’s in a frenzy of speculation... speculation feeding on itself that generates these stories.”

The foreign minister also issued a statement, saying the views attributed to him in the article were incorrect, adding that no comment was sought from his office.

But the newspaper’s political editor Peter Hartcher stood by his story, with the Sydney Morning Herald website saying Carr’s colleagues had been “astonished today to hear him say that the prime minister enjoys his full support”.

Gillard became prime minister in mid 2010 when she ousted Labor colleague Kevin Rudd, less than three years after he won a landslide victory against the conservatives to bring Labor to power for the first time in a decade.

She later called an election to validate her power but the Australian public, who had been shocked by the surprise overnight dismissal of the man they had voted for in droves, voted in a hung parliament.

Gillard was successful in cobbling together a coalition which includes a Greens MP and several rural independents to give her the winning majority, but opinion polls have consistently found she would lose a subsequent vote.

The prime minister convincingly held off a challenge from Rudd in February last year but he remains popular with voters, which some polls suggesting he is the best hope to avoid a Labor annihilation in the September vote.