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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

Gillard’s leadership intact, but her wrecked party is not

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PM Julia Gillard and deputy Wayne Swan address the media after yesterday’s failed leadership coup. Photo AP /Rob Griffith


Comment by Bernard Keane

There are probably very few people left who still doubt Julia Gillard’s toughness. Yesterday, she was required to yet again demonstrate it, on a day in which she delivered a heartfelt and deeply moving apology for forced adoptions, faced a defection from one of her strongest supporters (and the man who first awarded her a shadow ministry), and walked into question time knowing her leadership would be on the line a couple of hours later.

But she has emerged unbloodied and certainly unbowed after her chief rival Kevin Rudd declined to bring it on. Time and again the media and her critics have thrown deadlines, challenges and demands at her and she has kept her head and her job as prime minister.

Labor’s problems, however, remain. Its vote remains at a level likely to see it wrecked at the forthcoming election. It remains divided between a hard core of Rudd supporters, a broader group of Gillard supporters and a group of undecideds deeply worried about their fate at the polls.

And most of all, the party now looks even more shambolic after Simon Crean sought to resolve the leadership dilemma by abandoning the prime minister, calling for a spill and urging Rudd to stand with himself as deputy leader. Rudd declined to do so. The result was a non-spill, and two former leaders now sitting on the backbench, and the impression of a party focused only on itself.

The adamantine Gillard may have survived more than comfortably, and declared that the leadership has now been resolved (again), but that is unlikely to quiet the leadership speculation from the press, which has relentlessly focused on the leadership and the party’s polling regardless of the fact that the Rudd camp has never had the numbers since Rudd so decisively lost the previous leadership ballot in February last year.

The ultimate beneficiaries, thus, are Tony Abbott and the media, who will continue to have a divided and weakened Labor to run against and speculate about. It is unlikely to prove the circuit breaker that Crean was desperate to create with his intervention.

MPs now take a long break between now and the budget in May, which is intended to shape Labor’s election strategy (in contrast to usual election year budgets) by identifying structural savings that will pay for the NDIS – which passed into law this week, if anyone was paying attention – and the Gonski school funding reforms. Likely, it will be again turned into a ‘crucial test for Gillard’ by the media and internal critics.

This commentary was first published in Crikey.

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