Julia Gillard’s collapse in authority
The claim this week by Labor MP Michael Danby that Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr undermined Prime Minister Julia Gillard's authority on a crucial United Nations vote has serious implications for the Government and its foreign policy.
The first and most obvious impact is on the authority of the Prime Minister.
During the final parliamentary sitting week for 2012 it was reported that Julia Gillard had sought to exercise her Prime Ministerial authority in Cabinet to ensure that Australia voted against a UN motion on the status of the Palestinian territories.
Those reports also claimed that a majority of her Cabinet colleagues did not support her stance because it would have a negative impact on support for the Labor Party among Muslim communities in western Sydney.
This is a hollow argument as Labor Ministers would be well aware of the Coalition's long-standing position of voting against that UN motion, and there would be no basis for assuming support would be transferred to the Coalition.
According to Michael Danby, Bob Carr ran an extraordinary lobbying campaign in opposition to the Prime Minister and was successful in garnering sufficient support to roll her in Cabinet.
While Ms Gillard sought to impose her authority on Cabinet, Bob Carr ran a guerrilla campaign among the backbench and got his way in the Caucus.
This represents a fateful moment in Julia Gillard's Prime Ministership and may well be the crucial turning point from which she cannot recover.
A Prime Minister without authority cannot function in that office for very long.
Bob Carr's actions have set a precedent for other Cabinet Ministers who will now be aware that they can gather the numbers against the Prime Minister with impunity.
The depth of the collapse in her authority is revealed by the fact that she has not even reprimanded let alone asked for Bob Carr's resignation or sacked him.
Another implication of Bob Carr's reckless campaign against the Prime Minister is that it throws a cloud of confusion over the lines of authority regarding foreign policy decisions.
On 1 January 2013 Australia's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations will take up Australia's temporary seat on the Security Council.
How can our Ambassador act with confidence on any instructions from the Prime Minister when crucial votes come before the Security Council?
To whom should our Ambassador defer in the event that he receives conflicting advice from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister?
The Ambassador cannot be guided by the public statements of the Prime Minister, nor can he be guided by her private comments, as Bob Carr has proven he can undermine even her most strident positions.
Our Ambassador cannot know whether Bob Carr will undertake further campaigns to override the Prime Minister's authority.
Should a decision be required urgently, he may not have the luxury of waiting for Cabinet and Caucus processes to play out.
This puts our Ambassador in an untenable position that could only be resolved by the removal of either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister or both.
There are also broader implications for the exercise of our diplomatic and trade policies across the globe.
Many serious matters can only be resolved with direct discussions between leaders, as officials and Ministers lack the stature to deal with certain highly sensitive matters.
These can range from consular cases to overcoming barriers in trade negotiations to dealing with territorial disputes.
Every world leader will now be aware that Prime Minister Gillard cannot guarantee passage of her commitments through her own Cabinet and Caucus.
They will be well aware that Bob Carr has effectively taken away the Prime Minister's discretion to impose her authority on critical issues.
While there may be no discernible change in the way they deal with the Prime Minister, her lame-duck status within her own party is now apparent to all.
One of the worst aspects of Bob Carr's behaviour is that he was wrong on this issue.
The vote to change the status of the Palestinian territories is more likely to prolong the conflict and will not lead to a resolution.
It will encourage the Palestinian side to seek redress through the international courts rather than through meaningful negotiations based on a recognition of Israel's right to exist.
The Coalition has been consistent in supporting the right of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to live peacefully and safely within internationally recognised borders.
The path to peace is not assisted by Labor's compromised decision to abstain on the vote.
By Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Julie Bishop MP