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JULIA Gillard’s senior colleagues have flooded the airwaves to defend the PM as the federal opposition ratchets up its attack on the embattled government.
While government MPs this morning digest a new poll showing Labor’s primary vote has plunged to 30 per cent and one in two Australians want an early election, Ms Gillard’s loyal lieutenants – Craig Emerson, Penny Wong, Nicola Roxon and Greg Combet – have staunchly defended their leader.
Finance Minister Penny Wong acknowledged the government had taken a hit in the latest Galaxy Poll, published in today’s Daily Telegraph.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do and we know that,” she told Channel Ten.
Trade Minister Craig Emerson said none of his colleagues had spoken to him about replacing Ms Gillard as leader, but admitted there was “always chatter about this sort of thing”.
“Her job is safe because she is a leader with gutsy determination,” Dr Emerson told ABC Radio.
The government is clinging to power by a thread following yesterday’s dramatic developments that under siege MP Craig Thomson had resigned from the Labor Party and controversial Queensland independent Speaker Peter Slipper has stood aside from the chair indefinitely.
Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said both issues were “distractions” and that next week’s budget and the introduction of the carbon tax in less than nine weeks were “far more important”.
“To be frank I’m fed up with it,” he told ABC Radio.
“We’ve got a Budget to bring down a week or so and we’ve still got important legislation to deal with, important reforms including the introduction of the carbon price to implement, and at the end of the day they are far more important issues for the government to be able to concentrate on and also for the public to be able to concentrate on.”
But opposition attorney-general spokesman George Brandis said the government’s position was untenable.
“People you run into in the streets will say to you, `This can not go on’,” he told ABC Radio.
“This is a government in perpetual crisis and I think that gradually it is dawning on members of the Labor Party caucus that resurrecting Julia Gillard’s leadership at this point is about as feasible as refloating the Titanic. It’s not going to happen. This can not go on.”
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott called on key independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott to withdraw their support for the government, saying there was no point in the coalition moving a no confidence motion in the government until they did.
“The two people who are propping up this government, the two people on whom Julia Gillard utterly depends, are Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott,” Mr Abbott told Channel Seven.
“There won’t be a no-confidence motion until those two gentlemen wake up to themselves and listen to their electorates.”
The new crisis for the government came as an exclusive Galaxy Poll commissioned by The Daily Telegraph revealed a dramatic slump in support for the government, which has also warned of even greater budget pain next week with revelations of a new $10 billion budget black hole.
Labor’s primary vote has plummeted from 34 per cent before the leadership ballot between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd to just 30 per cent, according to the national poll.
In a dramatic attempt to maintain the government’s political survival, Ms Gillard yesterday announced Mr Thomson, the MP at the centre of the Health Services Union scandal, had been suspended from the Labor Party and would now sit on the crossbenches.
But Mr Thomson yesterday said that while he would support the government’s budget, he would not commit to passing all Labor legislation.
“I have guaranteed supply and the budget and no confidence motions but if I’m no longer part of the Labor caucus, I will have to look at all pieces of legislation as they come up,” he said.
Ms Gillard also demanded that Speaker Peter Slipper, who is facing fraud allegations and claims of sexual harassment, continues to stand aside until all allegations have been resolved.
Critics inside the government said she had taken too long to act and now appeared desperate in her attempt to find a political solution.
Last week Ms Gillard appeared to back Mr Slipper by saying he could return to the Speaker’s chair if he was cleared of the fraud allegations.
The orchestrated move against Mr Thomson also comes just days ahead of the expected release of a damaging report into his conduct during his time as an HSU official.
“I understand that Mr Slipper and Mr Thomson have caused Australians to be concerned about standards in public life today,” Ms Gillard said. “I feel keenly that Australians are looking at this parliament and at the moment they see a dark cloud over it.
“The views of the Australian public matter.
“I have made a judgment call that I believe is right because I want Australians to look at the parliament and respect the parliament and I believe a line had been crossed in relation to the respect Australians had in the parliament.”
In an ominous sign that the government may be teetering on the brink of collapse, key NSW independent MP Tony Windsor said he would not be surprised if an early election was forced because of the scandals.
“There’s a lot of focus on these Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper things … there may be an early election,” he said.
“I’ve been prepared for an early election since day one.”
Some senior ministers backed Ms Gillard’s move as decisive. Others claimed that the apparent backflip on her support for Mr Thomson and the reversal of her position on Mr Slipper had again showed a “crisis of political judgment”.
Until yesterday Ms Gillard had said Mr Slipper could return as Speaker if fraud allegations against him were proven false, even if the sexual harassment claims had not been resolved.
In a sign that Ms Gillard’s leadership is again becoming fragile, NSW party secretary Sam Dastyari told Mr Thomson that he would block any attempts by Ms Gillard to have him dumped unless he had agreed to do it voluntarily.
One senior MP said it had become clear even among Ms Gillard’s backers that her leadership was becoming untenable. “I was watching a dead prime minister walking yesterday,” one senior caucus member said.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott claimed Ms Gillard had made a hollow attempt to resolve the crisis in Parliament.
“While she has disowned Mr Thomson, she hasn’t disowned his vote,” Mr Abbott said.