Treasurer Wayne Swan has been forced to defend Julia Gillard’s leadership as speculation intensified after a poll indicated that more than half of Australian voters wanted an early election.
A Galaxy poll found 52% of voters supported an early election with one in five Labor supporters seeking an early federal poll.
Swan described Gillard as an outstanding leader ahead of a Monday caucus meeting after another poll showed Labor has only 30% of the primary vote, down four percentage points since Gillard defeated Kevin Rudd in a bitter leadership battle.
The prime minister tried to neutralise the latest damage to the government by instructing Craig Thomson to leave the Labor Party until claims that he misused Health Services Union funds are dealt with.
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Thomson suspended his party membership but stayed in parliament to support the government from the cross benches.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Gillard’s decision to dump Thomson while still relying on his tainted vote to cling to power showed that she has no integrity.
“The prime minister can’t disown Mr Thomson’s membership of the caucus without disowning his vote as well,” Abbott told the Seven Network.
Gillard told former coalition MP Peter Slipper not to return to the Speaker’s chair until all allegations against him are settled.
Amid renewed questions about her political judgment Gillard said she had acted to restore respect and confidence in the parliament.
“Australians are looking at this parliament and at the moment they see a dark cloud over it,” Gillard told reporters according to AAP.
Labor MPs told the Australian Financial Review there are no moves to bring the leadership to a vote but there is criticism of Gillard’s leadership in the party room.
Trade Minister Craig Emerson brushed aside leadership speculation, saying: “There’s always chatter about this sort of thing and you’ll never make everyone happy all the time.”
Finance Minister Penny Wong also backed Gillard, dismissing speculation that she may lose the leadership.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do and we know that,” Wong said.
Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie warned over the weekend that he would back a no confidence motion over the government’s response to the Slipper affair.
In an unscientific online poll of 40491 voters in The Age asking whether should Julia Gillard should quit 81% said yes and 19% said no.