Prime Minister Julia Gillard has defended Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh's proposed motion but other Labor MPs say it was one-sided and a step too far. Photo: Graham Tidy
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has defended Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh's behaviour in proposing a pro-Palestine motion to caucus that could have severely embarrassed her.
But other Labor MPs have not been so kind, with some saying the backbencher was politically naive in his approach to the matter.
The United Nations voted on Friday morning (Canberra time) to give Palestine observer status in the UN. Australia abstained from the vote but Ms Gillard had wanted her government to join the United States and Israel in opposing the change in status.
A backbench and ministerial revolt forced Ms Gillard to agree that Australia abstain.
It was a humiliating backflip for the Prime Minister, particularly since the revolt was leaked to the media, but it could have been much worse if Dr Leigh's proposal had been debated. ''His motion was so over the top and so one-sided and more than one step way too far,'' one Labor MP told The Canberra Times.
''Leigh sees himself as a real player but that move showed how much of a novice he is. His motion had very little to do with the PM having to change her position. That was the NSW Right and some wise heads in cabinet.''
Another government source said the wording of Dr Leigh's proposed motion was very strong but no one really saw it. ''It just disappeared. Some had it read to them over the phone earlier but I don't know anyone who saw it in writing,'' the contact said.
''It is safe to say Leigh's motion was squashed - or maybe more accurate to say Leigh was squashed.''
A number of Labor MPs said there was a level of anger towards Dr Leigh. ''Even among some who broadly agreed with the sentiment thought his motion was overreaching,'' one said. But another said: ''It served its purpose.''
Dr Leigh would not comment when contacted by The Canberra Times.
Ms Gillard denied she felt undermined by what had happened inside cabinet and caucus. And she said she was not annoyed by Dr Leigh's involvement.
''In the Middle East you can see on display the sharply held and different views on how to resolve the issue in the Middle East and seek peace,'' the Prime Minister said.
''It's no surprise that here in Australia, because we are talking about those issues, that there are sharply held and different views.
''He [Leigh] said in the caucus he wanted to move a motion. It's an entirely proper thing for a caucus member to do.
''I announced what the government's position would be and as soon as I announced it he came up to me and said, 'I will withdraw my motion in deference to you and what you have announced as leader'.
''That was a perfectly proper way for him to conduct himself.''