Shorten 'believes' Gillard will lead to poll
A key ally of the Prime Minister, Bill Shorten, has backed Julia Gillard saying he ''believes'' she will lead the Labor Party to the September 14 election.
Mr Shorten refused to be drawn on speculation that MPs have been lobbying him to take part in a delegation of Ms Gillard's supporters to tell her to step down for the good of the party.
Bill Shorten: backing Julia Gillard. Photo: Louise Kennerley
When questioned whether Ms Gillard would lead Labor to the election Mr Shorten said on Wednesday morning: ''I believe so.''
Leadership speculation has been swirling since late last week when former prime minister Kevin Rudd gave a highly publicised interview at the end of the parliamentary sitting week before throwing himself into a busy schedule of visits to Labor seats to campaign on behalf of government MPs.
Ms Gillard has been resolute this week in her determination to stay in the top job but has again faced questions about her political judgment after giving a speech on Tuesday in which she warned that a Coalition government would mean a return to a fight over abortion rights and a country run by a sea of ''men in blue ties''.
Minister for School Education Peter Garrett in Sydney on Wednesday... wearing a blue tie. Photo: Tamara Dean
Ms Gillard's comments on abortion caused unease among government MPs who have no desire to reignite a political debate on the issue.
Labor MP Ed Husic said on Wednesday morning that he would prefer to see other issues dominate the political agenda.
''I think there are other issues . . . [such as] health care or superannuation that legitimately have an impact on women that should be definitely discussed within the political arena,'' Mr Husic said.
But Labor frontbencher Peter Garrett defended the Prime Minister, saying there should be free and open debate on gender issues.
''We ought to be able to have a healthy discussion about these issues,'' he told ABC TV on Tuesday.
The blue tie comment drew the criticism of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott who pointed out that Mr Rudd was wearing a blue tie while visiting a Sydney electorate on Wednesday.
''Quite a few MPs have blue ties on today,'' Mr Abbott said.
Mr Rudd joked about his choice of a blue tie while campaigning in the federal seat of Barton to support the local Labor candidate and former mayor, Steve McMahon.
He said ''like most blokes'' he relied on his wife and daughter for fashion advice.
''If I had to get rid of all my blue ties I'd have to get rid of about a third of my collection,'' Mr Rudd said.
Mr Rudd was mobbed by adoring fans while walking through the shopping hub of Hurstville.
''Our country needs this man,'' a woman cried from the scrum that followed Mr Rudd up and down Forest Road.
But Mr Rudd batted off questions about whether his appearance was designed to bolster his own ambitions to return to the prime ministership before the September 14 election.
Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton said on Wednesday the Coalition had no plans to change the existing arrangements in relation to abortion.
''The only ingredient that has changed in politics . . . is the prime minister's in a desperate situation and her leadership is on the brink,'' Mr Dutton said on ABC radio on Wednesday.
''When you're looking at the leadership skills of the prime minister, people are blind to gender.''
Mr Shorten defended Ms Gillard's comments on gender.
''Clearly there is a difference between our Prime Minister and their leader in terms of social conservatism and reproductive rights,'' Mr Shorten said.
''I know what the Prime Minister meant. She said there's a clear difference when it comes to the role of women in Australian workplaces.''