Damaging TV claims hammer Gillard

By Greg Ansley

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has again been kneecapped just as she appeared to be making some small progress in clawing her way out of the political crater that has increasingly trapped her leadership.

Gillard's greatest vulnerability has been the mistrust and contempt in which she has been held by many voters for ousting predecessor Kevin Rudd in a brutal coup, compounded by policy backflips and blunders.

Now, after a week that saw her advance in the polls and swing much of the political focus towards the economy, Gillard has been pounded by revelations that her staff had been preparing a victory speech well in advance of the June 24, 2010 coup.

Gillard has always maintained that she decided to contest the leadership only on the day she confronted Rudd with her demand for a ballot, and her repeated protestations to ABC's Four Corners programme on Monday night - and to reporters since - have not been convincing.

Beyond the Four Corners allegations, her decision to appear on the programme has been questioned within the Labor Party, by the Opposition and in the media, raising doubts about her political judgment.

Undermining her leadership further, the allegations of a prior, planned campaign to unseat Rudd emerged as the latest Newspoll appeared in yesterday's Australian, extinguishing the small glow from last week's Nielsen poll by restoring Tony Abbott as the nation's preferred prime minister.

While Labor's primary vote increased marginally, the Coalition held a landslide 10-point lead in the two-party preferred vote that decides Australian elections.

Worse, at a time when Labor is counting heavily on continued resilience of the Australian economy, Newspoll respondents placed Abbott's economic management skills ahead of Gillard's.

Four Corners found few Labor heavy-hitters to appear on a programme setting out to trace the events leading to Gillard's coup. Rudd refused to take part and declined to comment on leadership aspirations, saying only he was a "very, very happy little vegemite".

Gillard said she agreed to be interviewed because it had been presented as a focus on the Government's progress and outlook, and "I'm not someone who runs away from questions".

The decision boomeranged disastrously. Gillard was faced with allegations that, despite repeated statements to the contrary, she and senior staff had prepared for a leadership challenge weeks before the event.

Four Corners said this had been supported by internal party polling indicating Gillard was more popular than Rudd, and that her senior staff had begun writing the first speech she delivered as Prime Minister at least two weeks before Rudd's ousting.

Former senator and Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson told the programme he knew a week in advance that a challenge was to be mounted.

Four Corners also said United States Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks showed the US State Department knew, even before some Labor MPs, of a challenge.

Gillard, both on Four Corners and to reporters since, has denied any preparation for a coup. But she has sidestepped detailed replies, pleaded memory lapses and has looked consistently uncomfortable.

Gillard has conceded that she did discuss a possible challenge with either her staff or party factional leaders in the days leading up to the coup, but made the decision only on the day she confronted Rudd about a ballot.

"I was canvassed in the short days before, very close in to me making that decision.

"No amount of speculation here or media interest will change that simple fact that I made up my mind on the day that I asked Kevin Rudd for a ballot."

Gillard described suggestions that she had been driven by polling as "wholly untrue", but admitted she might have known a speech was being written. "This was a tense few days for me and the Government, so I can't specifically say to you when I came to know about the speech," she told ABC radio yesterday.

But she said she did not commission the speech.

Abbott said: "This is a Prime Minister who is focused on saving her job, not on saving the jobs of the Australian people."

- NZ Herald

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