Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Video stokes Australian PM tensions

COUNTER-COUP:Speculation has been rife that former PM Kevin Rudd, ousted in a party coup, is vying for his old job. He denies that, but blamed Gillard’s office for a leaked video

AFP, SYDNEY

Leadership tensions within Australia’s ruling Labor party erupted yesterday with the release of a video showing former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd on an -expletive-ridden rant about a Chinese interpreter.

The two-minute video, uploaded onto YouTube by a user calling themselves “HappyVegemiteKR,” shows an irate Rudd trying to record a message in Mandarin and railing against the “dickhead in the embassy” who wrote the text.

“This fucking language, he just complicates it so much. How can anyone do this?” Rudd, a former diplomat who speaks Mandarin, shouts as he slams his fist on the table in front of him.

Rudd was ousted as leader in a shock party coup in June 2010 by his deputy, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who scraped back into power in elections and is now badly lagging in the polls.

Speculation has intensified in recent weeks that Rudd, currently Australia’s foreign minister, is preparing to challenge for the top job.

He denied this, but said a suspicious person would question the “unusual” timing of the video’s -release, given that it was shot several years ago, when he was still prime minister.

Such out-takes footage is usually destroyed, but Rudd said the video in question had clearly been archived by the prime minister’s office or some other government department. Gillard’s office denied leaking the footage

Rudd also insisted that he was a changed man and had learned to be less controlling and to consult more broadly — two key criticisms that saw him lose office.

“As to whether [I have] changed in any fundamental way, that’s a judgement for others to make, but I’ve certainly reflected a lot in the past several years,” Rudd told Sky News.

He said he was “embarrassed” by the swearing and he had been frustrated with himself, not the interpreter.

Independent Australian Member of Parliament (MP) Andrew Wilkie fueled speculation of a challenge to Gillard, claiming that he and Rudd discussed the issue back in November and he “clearly wants the job back.”

“There will be a challenge and I suspect he may well be successful,” Wilkie said.

Gillard said that the leadership tensions were hurting her government at a bad time.

“This kind of focus over the last few weeks means it’s more difficult for me to be out there explaining to people what’s happening in our economy,” Gillard said.

She deflected questions about her leadership and said it was an “incredible privilege” to lead the country.

“I have the strong confidence of my colleagues, their strong support and my focus is on getting on with my job as prime minister,” Gillard told reporters.

However, there are now open divisions within the party, with one Labor MP calling yesterday for Gillard to stand down and another condemning Rudd as a “prima donna” who had been “comprehensively rejected” by his colleagues.

Australian Attorney General Nicola Roxon urged Rudd to focus on his portfolio, saying he had left Labor with “a lot of challenges” and Gillard was a better leader.

Political analyst Peter van Onselen said the impasse had now reached a critical phase and Gillard had to either fire Rudd for disloyalty or call a ballot to resolve the issue within the next few days.

“There’s just no way things can continue the way they are at the moment after what’s happened today, the stand-off is just utterly debilitating for the government,” van Onselen said.

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