Gillard backers desert as poll chances slide
Prime Minister Julia Gillard's woes have deepened, with more of her backers withdrawing support in the face of shocking poll results and continuing political crises.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd's name is now firmly back in the mix of discussions as Labor powerbrokers and backbenchers alike explore all options for dragging the government back into contention before the next election.
While senior ministers keep talking up the government's standing and caucus's support for Ms Gillard, behind the scenes there is a desperate search for a plan to solve Labor's woes.
Senior Labor powerbroker Joel Fitzgibbon is reported to have withdrawn his support for Ms Gillard.
Mr Fitzgibbon has been one of Ms Gillard's strongest supporters but was said to be upset with the Prime Minister when she did not reward him with a ministry following her leadership win against Mr Rudd two months ago.
Some backbenchers who have also previously backed Ms Gillard are now saying they cannot guarantee their continued support.
Yesterday's Newspoll put support for the ALP just one point off its all-time low, while at the same time showing support for the Coalition to be climbing. On a two-party preferred basis, the Coalition leads Labor 59 per cent to 41.
Amid the renewed leadership speculation, the Prime Minister insists she will lead Labor to the election next year.
Community Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said that despite poor polling, the government remained focussed on its reform agenda and Ms Gillard should stay in charge of it.
''We have a Prime Minister standing up and making hard decisions that haven't been made before,'' Ms Macklin said
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who backed Mr Rudd in the recent leadership spill, said the party needed to move on from it.
''In the end, we've got to focus on our strengths - economic management.''
Mr Rudd is keeping a low profile during the latest round of leadership speculation, but some ALP members are again insisting he is their only hope for a chance at winning the next election - no matter how unpalatable he is to some in caucus.
Former Liberal prime minister John Howard entered the debate yesterday, predicting Mr Rudd will roll Ms Gillard before the election.
During an address to a business luncheon in Perth he said it was a ''bad political mistake'' for Labor to have dumped Mr Rudd during his first term in office.
''I think it is more likely than not they would bring back Kevin Rudd,'' Mr Howard said.
''I know they don't like Mr Rudd. I know they've said rude things about him, and I know a lot of people might have to leave the government if he came back.
''But in the end, the instinct for political survival is very, very strong.''
Meanwhile, Opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne has confirmed that he met with the former adviser who lodged legal claims against Speaker Peter Slipper.
Mr Slipper has stood aside from the chair until claims of sexual harassment and Cabcharge fraud against him are resolved.
But the adviser who lodged the claims, James Hunter Ashby, met Mr Pyne before he took the action. Mr Pyne has previously stated he first knew of the claims when he read about them in the media. But the Liberal Party headkicker conceded that he had had contact with Mr Ashby.
''I have had cause to meet Mr James Ashby three times,'' he said.
''On no occasion did he raise the matters canvassed in the Federal Court action that have subsequently come to light with me.''
Treasurer Wayne Swan demanded Mr Pyne release his phone records.