Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday did not deny a report that she has ordered Cabinet ministers not to talk to major newspaper editors in a bid to stamp out leadership speculation.
Gillard heads a fragile Labor coalition government after the party failed to win a majority in the August 2010 election and there is mounting speculation that predecessor Kevin Rudd, now foreign minister, could challenge her for the top job.
The prime minister removed Rudd in a brutal Labor Party room showdown in mid-2010 and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph said a gagging order was issued at a Cabinet meeting last week to try and hose down further leadership talk.
The newspaper said ministers must now seek permission from the prime minister’s office before any meeting or private talks with senior newspaper figures.
One minister cited by the paper said it appeared to be a deliberate attempt to “set up Rudd” by creating an excuse to sack him if he breached the Cabinet directive.
“As a government we are out and about every day explaining what we are doing for the Australian community and that is important,” Gillard said yesterday when asked about the report. “We coordinate the explanation of that message. We always have and we always will and there is nothing new in that.”
Rudd refused to be drawn into the leadership hype, saying any gagging order was a “matter for the prime minister.”
Asked if he wanted to be Labor leader again, he said: “I’m a very, very happy little Vegemite and a content Vegemite being foreign minister of Australia.”
Vegemite is a popular Australian spread made from yeast extract.
Australian Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese said he was “bemused” by the newspaper report.
“Today’s report is a report about nothing,” he said.
Last week, Gillard insisted she would lead Labor into the next election, due in 2013, even as a new poll showed she is less popular than Rudd.
Of the 1,400 voters surveyed in the Nielsen poll for Fairfax newspapers, 57 percent said they wanted Rudd as Labor leader against only 35 percent for Gillard.