Julia Gillard's leadership hangs in balance ahead of Australia election

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 2:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 3:11pm

Speculation intensified on Wednesday that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard could be toppled by her party within days, with one report saying ex-leader Kevin Rudd was five votes from victory.

The Australian Financial Review said Gillard, the nation’s first woman leader, was lagging so badly in opinion polls that even her more strident supporters doubted she could win the September 14 national election.

It said three senior sources had confirmed momentum was moving towards Rudd, who was suddenly ousted in a party room coup in mid-2010, less than three years after he swept Labor to power over the conservatives.

The paper said one supporter, asked whether Gillard could maintain her position, replied: “It’s hard to see.”

Gillard has been dogged by speculation about her leadership for weeks, with the latest rumours fed by a government decision to try and introduce media reforms which the industry has united to fiercely oppose.

Former Labor leader Simon Crean admitted on Tuesday that the handling of the media legislation - which includes stronger self-regulation requirements for the print media - could have been done better.

“I hope it is another lesson to all of us about the right way to do things,” he said.

Some ministers, including Foreign Minister Bob Carr, have stressed their loyalty to Gillard, but reports said Rudd’s camp was actively canvassing for support and any leadership vote between the two would be tight.

Gillard became prime minister in mid 2010 when she ousted Rudd, who at the time had lost the support of powerful factional leaders.

She called an election which she failed to win outright from the surprised public, gaining power only after cobbling together a coalition with a Greens MP and several rural independents to form a majority in the lower house.

Questions as to what tipped caucus against Rudd were never answered at the time, and the popular Queenslander quit his post as foreign minister and challenged Gillard in February last year for the leadership. He lost 71-31.

Gillard, meanwhile, has vowed she will not readily vacate her position.

“The election will be on September 14 and let me be very clear, it will be a contest ... between a strong, feisty woman and a policy-weak man [opposition leader Tony Abbott] and I’ll win it,” she told parliament Tuesday.