Gillard enters volatile week of talk on whether to walk
Prime Minister Julia Gillard in parliament. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her fellow MPs will return to Canberra this week for the last parliamentary stint before a seven-week hiatus. Media reforms are set to dominate the policy debate, with the government setting a Thursday deadline to pass the legislation, despite a gaggle of cranky crossbenchers.
But with another Fairfax/Nielsen poll due on Monday and continuing restlessness about the Labor leadership, speculation about how long Gillard will stay in The Lodge is also expected.
While Gillard has a long history of survival and keeping her minority government in tact, several factors could threaten her grip on power this week.
Gillard has weathered worrying polls before (for example, a primary vote of 30 per cent in the Nielsen poll last month), but Monday's Fairfax/Nielsen poll has the potential to create added caucus anxiety as it is the last major poll before the autumn break.
There is no ''threshold'' figure for this, but one Labor MP suggested any primary vote starting with a two could be a trigger for a spill. Then again, there was much angst ahead of the Newspoll last Tuesday, which at 52 per cent to 48 per cent two-party preferred (the Coalition's way) was not as horrific as expected.
Threat factor: Moderate. Every week brings the September 14 deadline closer, but it's not as if there's never been a poll before.
Media reform bills
The media reforms introduced last week by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy have angered the crossbenchers who, among other things, are unhappy that the space for debate has been cut short and that the government is not prepared to ''barter''. But apart from upsetting Rob Oakeshott and company, it has brought the PM's judgment into question (again). Why start a fight? Why now? It has also raised the prospect that the government could lose its first vote on the floor of the House - provided the bills even make it to a vote.
Threat factor: Moderate. Not a threat in isolation but could be a last straw when seen in context of other recent Labor missteps, such as the mining tax and the timing of the cabinet reshuffle.
The shoulder tap
One way a 2013 spill could differ from June 2010 is that instead of ''faceless men'' tallying up who sides with whom, Gillard would be approached by a supporter (or supporters), who would ask her to stand down for the good of the party (hence the Canberra press gallery getting so excited last week when there was a rumour that a group of Labor MPs had visited her in her office).
However, one Labor MP said it was still not clear that Gillard had lost significant enough support within caucus for this to happen.
Threat factor: Substantial. It would be a hard and unpleasant job to do, but also hard to refuse on Gillard's part.
The former attorney-general and Rudd supporter is expected to be appointed as a NSW industrial relations commissioner within weeks.
If he takes up the post before the election, this may force a byelection in his Sydney seat of Barton. It may also be another trigger for instability within caucus. Although, if Labor were to lose Barton (which is possible with its 6.9 per cent margin), it would cling on to power.
McClelland has not said what he will do. But the question has to be asked: would he quit Parliament and lose the opportunity of giving his vote to Rudd in a caucus ballot?
Threat factor: Moderate. McClelland is a wildcard. There are genuine fears among some Labor MPs that he would go back to NSW early.
There is a theory that this sitting fortnight is Kevin Rudd's Last Chance Saloon. After Thursday, Labor caucus is not due to meet again until the budget week of May 14 - so the issue ''needs'' to be ''resolved'' this week. However, Rudd continues to stand by his pledge not to challenge the Gillard again.
Threat factor: Substantial. May play more in the minds of the broader caucus. It is understood the Rudd camp does not see this week as its last shot.