Australia's PM Julia Gillard survives day of 'high farce'

THE Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has kept her job after an extraordinary day of political in-fighting triggered a leadership contest where no-one dared to stand against her.

The leadership ballot was held yesterday on the last sitting day of the Australian Parliament. It followed an "historic national apology" by Gillard to the thousands of unwed mothers who were forced by Australian government policies to give up their babies for adoption over several decades.

Unwed mothers were "pressured, deceived and threatened" into giving their babies to married couples until the early 1970s, because it was believed they would be better cared for, a report into the practice has said.

Gillard's moving apology received widespread praise. But it was followed by a chaotic leadership challenge that some commentators believe has almost guaranteed the Australian Labor Party's defeat at the 14 September general election.

The challenge was brought on by supporters of former PM Kevin Rudd, the man Gillard deposed in 2010. Their belief that he can lead the party to victory in September has caused months of factional conflict within the ALP.

The discontent finally came to a head yesterday when the ALP's leader, Simon Crean, called a leadership ballot. He backed Rudd as PM and put himself forward as deputy PM. Incredibly, Crean appears not to have checked whether Rudd had sufficient support within the party to secure the top job. He didn't. Rudd declined to mount a challenge and Gillard was re-elected unopposed. Gillard sacked Crean from her cabinet and Rudd has resigned as foreign minister.

The PM insisted the leadership issue was finally resolved. "Today the leadership of our political party, the Labor party, has been settled and settled in the most conclusive fashion possible," she said.

"The whole business is completely at an end. It has ended now."

But the farcical day in parliament surprised even hardened political commentators. The Sydney Morning Herald's Lenore Taylor wrote: "Labor's political dysfunction has reached levels unprecedented even for a party that has spent much of the last three years tearing itself asunder."

For Taylor the one "speck of silver lining" for Labor is that the long-running leadership tussle between Rudd and Gillard must "surely be over".

She wrote: "After this debacle, with an election just six months away, the Rudd camp must surely be folding their tents."

But The Australian's Dennis Shanahan disagreed. He argued that the challenge has "resolved nothing" and said the Labor leadership has been reduced to "high farce" just months before the election. · 

More on Australia's PM Julia Gillard survives day of 'high farce'