Tue, Feb 21, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Australia’s Rudd told ‘put up or shut up’

‘STARVED OF OXYGEN’:Sources said the leadership tensions were damaging Labor, and that with only 31 members supporting him, Kevin Rudd could not challenge Gillard

AFP, SYDNEY

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday she had strong support from her Labor colleagues as party critics told former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd to “put up or shut up,” with leadership tensions reaching fever pitch.

Amid speculation that a leadership ballot could come as early as next week, Gillard said she was focusing on the government’s reform agenda.

“I’m getting on with the job with the strong support of my caucus colleagues,” she told reporters. “I’m getting on with my job. Kevin Rudd’s getting on with his.”

Rudd, now foreign minister, was ousted in a shock party coup in June 2010 by Gillard, then his deputy, but she is now badly lagging in the polls and talk has intensified that he is preparing to challenge her for the top job.

Party insiders were cited by the media as saying a leadership ballot could come as early as Monday, when parliament sits again.

Rudd is currently in Mexico for the G20 meeting and former Labor leader Simon Crean launched a scathing attack on him yesterday, saying that Rudd had been -“internally disloyal.”

He said Rudd needed to be a “team player” and that he should “put up or shut up” to resolve the long-running speculation.

“If Kevin Rudd can’t be part of the team, let him exit the team,” he told ABC radio. “If he thinks he’s got the numbers, let him challenge. Kevin hasn’t got the numbers to challenge. He’s well short of anywhere near a majority. He can’t win.”

The Australian newspaper reported that in the 103-member Labor caucus, Gillard currently had the support of 51 members of parliament, while 31 were behind Rudd, with 21 undecided.

In a separate interview with Sky News, Crean said the dispute was “starving Labor of oxygen.”

“This has got to end,” he said.

Rudd told reporters in Mexico he was “disappointed” by Crean’s remarks and attempted to downplay the simmering tensions.

Asked whether he would challenge Gillard, he said: “That is not in prospect, because we have a prime minister and I am the foreign minister.”

Gillard herself was asked repeatedly during a press conference whether she would discipline or fire Rudd for disloyalty, but refused to give a direct answer.

She also dodged questions on whether she would call a -leadership ballot.

“My focus is on doing what I need to do today as prime minister, to set us up to be the nation we want to be in the future,” she said.

“As prime minister, I’ll continue to show my characteristic determination to get the job done.”

Rudd on Sunday denied he was preparing a challenge, but also insisted 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.

His comments followed the publication of a video on the Internet showing him in an expletive-ridden rant about a Chinese interpreter.

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

Gillard’s office denied leaking the footage.

Several of Gillard’s ministerial colleagues, meanwhile, threw their support behind her yesterday, including Australian Education Minister Peter Garrett, Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith and Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson.

“There is a campaign on here and it’s a campaign that is anti--Labor. It’s against the interests of the government of Australia and it’s against the national interest and it should stop,” Emerson said.

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