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Labor unity dealt another blow -

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Labor unity dealt another blow

Broadcast: 17/10/2011

Reporter: Chris Uhlmann

Recent cabinet leaks raise further questions of Labor's internal unity.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Federal cabinet's meeting in Canberra tonight as we go to air and high on
the agenda is a discussion of the need for discipline and solidarity. You wouldn't think the Prime
Minister would need to tell her own cabinet not to leak, but on the weekend the Sydney Morning
Herald had a damaging blow-by-blow account of the internal cabinet debate over border protection.
It was a stunning breach of cabinet confidentiality and is being interpreted as a sign of Julia
Gillard's increasingly tenuous grip on her party's leadership.

Labor factions are blaming each other for the leak, but as political editor Chris Uhlmann reports,
wherever it's come from it's a very public sign of a government in trouble.

Political editor Chris Uhlmann.

ROBERT MCLELLAND, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Clearly it's not the first time that there have been leaks from
Cabinet.

JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER: Cabinet's confidential and it should be kept confidential.

ROBERT MCLELLAND: It's certainly a great pleasure to open the Australian Government's Crisis
Co-ordination Centre.

CHRIS UHLMANN, REPORTER: Alas, nothing here can solve the existential threat faced by the Gillard
Government.

JOURNALIST: Attorney-General, what should happen to people who leak Cabinet information? Should
they be expelled from Cabinet?

ROBERT MCLELLAND: Again, I'm not going to comment on that issue.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But the crisis was there for all to see. And the centre's TVs beamed in pictures of
a Senate hearing on immigration, the source of the Government's latest woes.

ANDREW METCALFE, IMMIGRATION DEPT. SECRETARY: It is not appropriate for me to canvass what that
contingency plan may be.

MICHAELIA CASH, SENATOR: Mr Metcalfe, my questions are now to the minister, not to you. Minister,
was the contingency plan always ...

ANDREW METCALFE: Well you were verballing - Senator, with respect ...

CHAIR: Senator Cash, let's just ...

ANDREW METCALFE: Senator Cash was verballing me and I refused to allow myself to be verballed.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The head of the Immigration Department isn't the only one feeling verballed. Cabinet
ministers are outraged by the leaking of a blow-by-blow report of a Cabinet crisis meeting held
last Thursday aimed at rebuilding the Government's shattered border protection policy. The
embattled Prime Minister is deeply unimpressed.

JULIA GILLARD: As Prime Minister I have worked to ensure that we have a proper system of cabinet
government. That comes with responsibilities and it comes with rights. It particularly comes with
the right to participate in what should be free and frank discussions; that comes with the
responsibility to keep those discussions confidential.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Chris Bowen and other right wing ministers
along with the left's Anthony Albanese were defeated in a push to send asylum seekers to Nauru. But
the nature of that conversation is in dispute. 7.30 has been told it took place after the decision
had been made to move to onshore processing and the intent was to force Tony Abbott to a position
where he would be seen to be rejecting his own solution. Whatever was said, the Cabinet leak has
damaged the Prime Minister and elevated her rival, the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. Cabinet meets
again tonight.

Would you like the Prime Minister to indeed read the riot act to Cabinet today to prevent this sort
of thing happening again?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, JUSTICE MINISTER: Well I don't think the Prime Minister needs to read any act. I
think all ministers know what cabinet solidarity means and ministerial responsibility means.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But ministers are now deeply suspicious of each other and none denies that damage
has been done.

CRAIG EMERSON, TRADE MINISTER: Cabinet leaks never benefit the government of the day. They always
benefit the Opposition.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The Opposition Leader agrees.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: There's plenty of work to do in this country. But while the Prime
Minister is watching her back, she's not getting on with government. The Government is paralysed
while the faceless men try to work out who should be the next prime minister.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Julia Gillard's praetorian guard is made all of the generals of the right, people
like Bill Shorten and David Feeney from Victoria, Mark Arbib from NSW and Don Farrell from South
Australia. It was they who combined to roll Kevin Rudd in June last year. They could do it because
together they controlled the majority in Labor's caucus. For them, a return to Kevin Rudd is the
nightmare scenario, so they're welded to the PM.

JULIA GILLARD: Clearly I believe that a proper cabinet system of government is best. That that
means that we work through our cabinet structures, our cabinet committees and our cabinet to make
the decisions that the nation needs. Cabinet should be kept confidential.

CHRIS UHLMANN: What's intriguing is that the right believes that the epicentre of the threat to the
Prime Minister comes from Victoria's left, Julia Gillard's own faction and state. Right wing
fingers are pointing at Industry Minister Kim Carr. The minister's office says the senator doesn't
comment on Cabinet.

KIM CARR, INDUSTRY MINISTER: A billion dollars over four years for an initiative that had possible
opportunity to succeed and was in the Government's view illegal.

MICHAELIA CASH: So I'll take it from that, Minister, that you've just confirmed that you were not
the source of the Cabinet leak that stated that Mr Bowen, actively during Cabinet, pursued the
Nauru option and that remains his preferred option.

CHAIR: Senator Cash, I'm gonna rule that question out of order.

KIM CARR: Don't be silly, Senator Cash. I don't discuss Cabinet proceedings.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Of course, right now, there is no challenge to the Prime Minister because those
pushing the Foreign Minister don't have the numbers. But the plan is to mount a campaign that chips
away at caucus. The war against Kevin Rudd was fought and won by generals. If this campaign
succeeds, it will likely end as a caucus revolt, with the troops' minds focused by the prospect of
losing their own seats. So this is a long game, but the Cabinet leak has lifted the tempo a notch.

MARK BUTLER, AGEING MINISTER: I think all of us are annoyed when Cabinet leaks. I'm not a member of
Cabinet, but good government relies on Cabinet solidarity and it relies on Cabinet confidentiality
and I'm sure all of us, all members of the Government would want Cabinet members to abide by those
principles.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Anything is possible in politics, including the Prime Minister reviving her
fortunes, but that will be hard as long as her poll numbers are stuck in the doldrums.

JULIA GILLARD: The commentators'll write a million words about a million opinion polls between now
and 2013. In 2013, I will be judged on what has been achieved for the Australian people and I'll be
happy to be judged on that.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The commentators will, and many of those words will now speculate on how long this
prime minister can last and whether it will be the people who decide Julia Gillard's fate or her
caucus.

LEIGH SALES: Political editor Chris Uhlmann.