Gillard moves to heal Labor Party wounds

Feb. 28, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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CANBERRA, Australia, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Australia's Labor government has gone into healing mode after Prime Minister Julia Gillard defeated a leadership challenge from former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

After Gillard beat Rudd in a Parliamentary Labor Party ballot by a 71-31 vote this week, she attempted to draw a line under what The Age newspaper said was the "extraordinary bloodletting of the last week."

''We shook hands in the caucus room and spoke very briefly then," she said in response to journalists' questions.

''Australians have had a gutful of seeing us focus on ourselves," Gillard said.

"This political drama is over and now you (the public) are back at center stage, where you should properly be and you will be the focus of all our efforts."

The drama began last week when Gillard announced a leadership ballot after Rudd resigned as foreign minister, saying he wanted to regain the top Labor Party job.

In a televised broadcast, Rudd -- who was prime minister from December 2007 to June 2010 -- said party backers believed he was the Labor Party's best bet for winning the next general election in 2013.

In response Gillard -- who was Rudd's deputy prime minister -- said her snap decision for a leadership ballot, only hours after Rudd's resignation, was designed to end incessant Labor Party "squabbling" that is distracting the party from running of the country.

A decisive vote is in the interest of the party and Australia that the leadership is settled "once and for all," she said last week.

Now, even with the leadership issue settled, Gillard said she understood that many Australians would question Labor's ability to govern in a united way.

''I say this: We have come together before and we will do so now,'' Gillard said.

''For the days that lie beyond, as a nation, as a Labor Party, we must honor his (Rudd's) many achievements as prime minister.''

Rudd said he not only would retire to the back benches of the Labor Party -- meaning not seek ministerial appointments -- but also back Gillard should threats to her leadership come up in the future.

"I will not under any circumstances mount a challenge against your leadership. I go one step further," The Age newspaper reported Rudd as saying.

"If anyone turns on Julia in the 18 months ahead" to the next election, "Julia- - you will find me in your corner against them.''

Gillard, 50, is Australia's first female prime minister and likely will face Conservative Party leader Tony Abbott in the 2013 general election.

Abbott was quick to capitalize on Labor's split over party leadership and praised Rudd for being a "whistle blower," The Australian newspaper said.

"I think the public are far more likely to conclude that a bad government has been exposed by a whistle blower," Abbott said in Parliament after the result of Labor's vote was announced.

"The public will not quickly forget Kevin Rudd's critique that this was a government that was run by faceless men," Abbott said. "That this is a government which is actually damaging our country and that this is a government led by someone who has fundamentally forfeited the trust of the Australian people."

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