Cabinet claims Gillard has full support despite WA loss
Prime Minister Julia Gillard returns to Canberra this week facing a fresh run of speculation over the viability of her leadership after Labor's poor showing in the West Australian state election.
Supporters of Kevin Rudd are using the result to rally despairing MPs before the scheduled return to Parliament on Tuesday, pointing to what one MP described as a ''feral anti-Labor and anti-Gillard mood'' during the state campaign.
Liberal Premier Colin Barnett was returned to office for a second term with an emphatic swing.
The weekend election result comes as federal Labor MPs are preparing to return on Tuesday for the final fortnight of Parliament before the seven-week pre-budget break. Two newspaper opinion polls are due in the fortnight.
The atmosphere around the government is riven and strained, but cabinet sources on Sunday insisted support for the Prime Minister among leading figures had not shifted, and there had been no substantive shift in the caucus numbers despite Labor's messy start to the political year.
West Australian Labor senator Mark Bishop rounded on his party for failing to understand the modern fundamentals of his home state - and warned of significant consequences for the ALP federally if the party fails to heed the message.
Senator Bishop, one of Kevin Rudd's strongest public supporters in last year's leadership ballot, said changing leaders in Canberra ''in isolation'' would not address Labor's current structural weakness in WA, reflected in Mr Barnett's thumping victory.
He said Labor's failure to engage with WA's ''size, distance and wealth was a matter of more significance than who the leader is''.
But, he added, feedback from campaign workers and state MPs during the state election reflected the fact that ''a lot of ordinary people had strong, well articulated and colourful views about the Prime Minister''.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott pounced on the result. ''The election result is also a strong message to the Gillard Labor government that their carbon tax and mining tax are toxic to the Australian economy, toxic for local jobs and are adding to people's cost of living pressures,'' Mr Abbott said.
But former WA Labor planning minister Alannah McTiernan called for Julia Gillard to resign, saying the party faced an ''absolute massacre'' in the federal election.
Ms MacTiernan told ABC news on Monday that she believed the federal result could be worse in that state, such is the animosity she observed towards the Prime Minister.
''It's pretty simple and it's pretty brutal,'' Ms MacTiernan said. ''They're saying they don't like Julia Gillard, they don't believe her.
''The overwhelming reportage from the doorstop, from the shopping centres, was that people were saying, in Labor heartland, they were saying 'ok we'll vote for you guys but no way are we voting for federal Labor and Julia Gillard'.
''And if we do not take note of this there is going to be an absolute massacre in the federal election''.
But one senior WA Labor figure saw a silver lining in the result. Special Minister of State and WA federal MP Gary Gray told ABC news he felt ''particularly pleased'' that if one extrapolated from the weekend's poll, federal Labor would hold its three seats in September's election.
The lesson federal Labor should take from the WA defeat was that ''back-biting and undermining of governments from inside is fatal'', said Mr Gray, alluding to the push within Labor's caucus to oust Ms Gillard and install Mr Rudd.
Western Australians, he believed, rewarded Premier Barnett because he ''has been able to work in complete harmony with both his own parliamentarians and his Coalition colleagues''.