McClelland won't cause byelection, assure colleagues
Robert McClelland … retiring in September. Photo: Tamara Dean
LABOR figures close to Robert McClelland have dismissed reports that the former attorney-general will quit politics early, forcing Julia Gillard into a difficult byelection just months from a general election.
The renewed speculation is the latest distraction for Labor and caps off a messy parliamentary fortnight which saw the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, stumble badly over budget management and the mining tax.
Mr McClelland has refused to discuss his future employment options but colleagues say he is unlikely to cause a byelection despite his antipathy for the Prime Minister.
Mr Swan has been under fire since revealing eight days ago his signature mining tax would fail to raise anything like the $2 billion needed to fund government commitments.
Mr Swan stumbled on Thursday on morning radio, first refusing to rule out income tax rises, as a matter of principle, before doing just that in the hours afterwards.
That backflip came as he struggled to explain how billions in tax breaks will be met while also containing a ballooning deficit in May.
The deficit is a sore point for the Treasurer after he made so much of delivering a surplus in 2012-13 come-what-may.
The surplus pledge finally went by the wayside in December when it became unarguable, even to a defiant Mr Swan, that the books could be balanced this year with revenue collapsing.
Revenue figures for the final two calendar months of last year were released late on Friday and confirmed tax receipts were down more than $3 billion for the financial year to December 30.
A spokeswoman for the Finance Minister, Penny Wong, said company profits had been affected by ''ongoing weakness in global economic conditions and the high dollar'' which in turn hit government receipts.
Demoralised Labor MPs returned to their electorates on Friday with some muttering it was now the gaffe-prone leadership team that was Labor's main problem.
They said it was merely the fact that some Labor senators were not in the capital this past week that had stopped more serious manoeuvring from taking hold.
The former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull helpfully predicted Labor would move to reinstall Kevin Rudd in coming months.
A bemused Mr Rudd brushed off the suggestion even as he continued his high-profile charm offensive via popular breakfast and evening TV programs.
''Give us a break,'' he said, appearing with the shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, on Channel Seven.
''I said a week or so ago everyone should take a long cold shower - what I'd say to Malcolm … is it's time to jump in the ice bath.''
Newspaper reports claimed Mr McClelland, a former labour lawyer, is being considered for a $265,000-a-year job with the NSW government as an industrial relations commissioner.
Fuming over his demotion more than a year ago, Mr McClelland announced last month that he would not recontest his Sydney seat of Barton, which he retained in 2010 with a margin of almost 7 per cent.
He said he had made the decision to retire over the summer holidays.
Several MPs loyal to Mr Rudd held a farewell dinner for Mr McClelland in Canberra this week, stoking fears his departure from politics was imminent.
While Labor would not lose government if it lost the seat in Sydney's south-west, his departure would likely further destabilise Ms Gillard's leadership.