Woes pile up for unpopular Gillard

By Greg Ansley

A week from the first parliamentary session of the year, political thunderstorms are raging around Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her beleaguered minority Government.

A new poll shows Gillard's predecessor Kevin Rudd is still by far the preferred Labor leader, the Australia Day riot has set the hounds on her, and the jilted independent whose vote is crucial to her survival is considering backing a debate into events at Canberra's Lobby restaurant.

Before the year is even under way, Gillard's hopes of reshaping the political landscape in her favour appear to be turning to dust.

Regardless of how the row over the Lobby siege plays out, the vast volumes of mud being hurled across the political divide and unfavourable polls potentially feeding renewed leadership speculation threaten to derail Labor.

The first Galaxy poll of the year, published in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, shows the scale of Gillard's problems.

The poll said twice as many voters backed Rudd - ousted by Gillard in a 2010 coup bitterly resented by voters - as the nation's preferred leader, by 52 per cent to 30 per cent.

And while Labor's primary vote has risen from 29 per cent to 34 per cent, the Coalition still leads by a huge 10 points in the two-party preferred vote that determines elections.

A new Morgan poll recorded a narrower two-party preferred Coalition lead of 52 per cent to 48 per cent following a slight rise for Labor, but still sufficient to hammer the Government in an election. Labor is now trying to drive home its economic credentials and Australia's success in so far avoiding the worst of the European crisis, while attacking Opposition leader Tony Abbott as an opportunistic, negative spoiler.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said the Opposition was trying to exploit the "appalling" behaviour that led to Gillard and Abbott being trapped in the Lobby restaurant for 20 minutes before being rushed away by bodyguards.

"Those people who engaged in that activity have done enormous damage to their cause and to our national standing, but for Abbott now to try and turn all of that on its head and to throw mud at Julia Gillard and the Government over it is yet another example of just how negative Tony Abbott is," Swan told ABC radio.

"Abbott, as usual, is seeking to divide the country over the issue, seeking to take political advantage of it by turning it into another smear campaign against the Prime Minister, and that's entirely typical of Tony Abbott."

But Gillard, who initially emerged from the indigenous protest with dignity and respect, has been flattened by the revelation that false claims of Abbott's advocating the end of the Tent Embassy and news of his presence at the nearby restaurant tracked back to her office.

Media adviser Tony Hodges - who has since resigned - told union leader Kim Sattler Abbott was at the Lobby. Sattler said others already knew, but she had told Tent Embassy protest organisers in case they wanted to comment to the media.

Gillard said she had not been aware of Hodges' actions, that he acted alone and without authorisation, and that even so he had not misrepresented Abbott's comments or suggested protests or violence.

But the Opposition is going for the throat, demanding an Australian Federal Police investigation despite a statement by the force that there was no evidence to suggest anyone committed a crime by informing protesters of Abbott's presence and that no inquiry would be launched.

"An offence may have been committed against the law of the [Australian Capital Territory] if Mr Hodges' words directly incited the violence that subsequently took place," shadow attorney-general George Brandis said yesterday.

Abbott accused Gillard of "grubby" politics.

"Unfortunately the Prime Minister's office chose to try to exploit what was happening down the road for their own political purposes and that's low and that's why we need a full investigation," he said.

But Gillard's worst problems may lie with Andrew Wilkie, the Tasmanian Independent who holds the single vote keeping the Government in office.

He dumped his guarantee of support for Labor after Gillard reneged on a deal to tighten betting controls on poker machines and yesterday said he was likely to support a parliamentary debate on a vote of no confidence relating to the Lobby siege and its aftermath.

Whether he would actually vote against the Government, however, remains in doubt.

"In regard to motions of no confidence, I continue to believe that, as a general rule, it's in the public interest for parliaments to be stable and go full term," Wilkie told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Consequently, I will only support motions of no confidence in the event of serious misconduct and not support politically opportunistic motions."

- NZ Herald

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