Julia Gillard remains Prime Minister after her Caucus colleagues decisively backed her against former PM Kevin Rudd. Gillard won the leadership ballot 71 votes to 31.
But Shadow Small Business Minister Bruce Billson says a “divided and dysfunctional Government is only adding to the unease which is being felt by small businesses” and Labor figures this morning continued to flag another challenge should the party’s polling not improve this year.
Despite Gillard and Rudd both promising they would go to the backbench if they lost the vote, Rudd supporter Doug Cameron told ABC Radio this morning that “the same people who installed Julia Gillard [in 2010] will be looking for a candidate” to replace her if the polls don’t improve in several months’ time.
But Gillard backer and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has pointed to an improvement in the polls over the past four months, and says the Government will be able to highlight its achievements, “so long as there wasn’t a destabilisation campaign.”
Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, says the PM should now focus on the following:
• Setting up a national small business commissioner;
• Reform contract law to even up the powers between small and large businesses;
• Requiring the Australian Taxation Office to administer the payment of superannuation to the super funds;
• Reforming the workplace relations so they focus on the needs of small business; and
• A focus on competition policy and urban planning.
“We’re having these discussions at the moment, but I’d hope they’d continue,” Strong says.
There are now questions about how Gillard will reshuffle the Ministry, with Stephen Smith tipped to take over as Foreign Minister.
There have been three small business ministers since Labor won the election; the latest, Mark Arbib, was appointed late last year after Nick Sherry stood down from the position.
Billson told SmartCompany this morning that “while Labor luminaries are getting a lot off their chest as part of this toxic leadership tussle, small business people just want to get Labor off their backs.”
“People right across the country, whether they own their business or not, look to Canberra and see no adult in charge.
“Kevin Rudd even acknowledged work needs to be done to help small business in his pitch to return the Labor leadership.”
In a speech last week, Rudd said that restoring business confidence would be a key priority if he won the leadership ballot, in particular encouraging small business to “invest in their businesses’ future and turn them into the big businesses of the future.”
“And that means changes to the way in which we deal with them on tax,” he said, without specifying what shape any small business policy would take.
Billson also drew attention to comments by Labor MP and Rudd backer Anthony Byrne, that many small businesses in his Victorian seat of Holt are “reporting recession-like conditions.”
He reiterated the Coalition’s calls for a fresh election.
“Labor is giving itself a ballot while denying Australians a vote. An election is what is needed and not another Labor backroom deal,” Billson said.
“Only the Coalition plans to repeal the carbon tax to restore hope and opportunity for small businesses and family enterprises across the country.”
But the Coalition’s calls for independent MPs to support a vote of no-confidence in Labor have been rejected by independent MP Rob Oakeshott, who had dinner with former Coalition leader Malcolm Turnbull last night.
Fellow independent MP Tony Windsor said Turnbull is a “far better individual than Tony Abbott, who is a right-wing operator prepared to do anything to get the [prime minister’s] job.”
A Newspoll today shows that Labor’s two-party preferred numbers lifted two points to a one-year high of 47%, despite the recent airing of dirty laundry prompted by Rudd’s resignation and announcement of a leadership challenge.
The poll, conducted between February 23 and 26, also showed that Labor’s primary vote edged up three points to 35%, versus 45% for the Coalition and 11% for the Greens.
Still, Gillard remained third in the preferred prime minister race, behind Rudd and Abbott.
Speaking on ABC Television’s Insiders yesterday, independent polling analyst Andrew Catsaras – comparing the result of the five major poll companies – said the two-party preferred vote stood at 54% for the Coalition versus 46% for Labor, and Gillard actually came out as preferred prime minister.
Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan said yesterday that “whatever the political events of the past few weeks, Australians have every reason to be proud of our nation’s long list of achievements.
“Prime Minster Gillard had the courage, conviction and determination to overcome the obstacles and see them through to completion.
“Despite the challenges of minority government, a total of 229 bills have passed through the Parliament, ranging from the legislation for the Clean Energy Future package to the one-year flood levy to help rebuild communities devastated by last summer’s disasters.”
Questions remain about Rudd’s next move. Although one of his backers, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, said this morning that Rudd would not challenge again, there are questions whether he will be able to renounce his leadership ambitions once and for all.
If Rudd resigns and triggers a by-election, there is speculation that Labor will recruit former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie for his seat.
Several ministers, such as Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, Environment Minister Tony Burke and Education Minister Peter Garrett, said they would not serve under a Rudd prime ministership.
Rudd’s supporters included Leader of the House Anthony Albanese, Kim Carr, and Nick Sherry.