Oz PM calls leadership ballot as his popularity slumps
AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007 declaring climate change "the greatest moral and economic challenge of our age".
But his shelving of a carbon trading scheme in April proved so unpopular with voters that his deputy and closest ally, Julia Gillard, has taken the dramatic step of challenging him for the leadership.
With the Labour government scheduled to call an election this year, senior ministers have become alarmed by the party's drastic slide in the polls. The latest figures gave Labour the slimmest of leads over the opposition conservative coalition, indicating that Mr Rudd could become the first Australian prime minister since 1932 to be ousted after just one term.
In recent weeks, Welsh-born Ms Gillard had laughed off repeated suggestions that she might challenge Mr Rudd for the Labour leadership. Earlier this week, she had been convinced otherwise by senior party figures, who had reportedly been plotting behind the scenes.
On Tuesday, at a hastily convened press conference, the prime minister announced that a ballot would be held. Party sources suggested Ms Gillard had enough support to topple him and become Australia's first female prime minister.
The rapid unfolding of the political crisis took even some ministers by surprise. Informed about the ballot on a late-night television current affairs programme, the defence minister, John Faulkner, replied: "It's . . . news to me." Just months ago, Mr Rudd was one of Australia's most popular prime ministers, and his party had an unassailable lead in the polls.
His decision to postpone the intro- duction of the Emissions Trading Scheme started the rot.
(© Independent News Services)