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Defiant Australian PM vows to stay in the job

04 september 2011, 14:18
0
A boat carrying 50 Malaysian asylum seekers after it arrived at Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island, Australia. ©Reuters
A boat carrying 50 Malaysian asylum seekers after it arrived at Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island, Australia. ©Reuters
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard dismissed mounting speculation Friday about her future, vowing to stay in the job despite a crushing court blow to the government's asylum-seeker policy, AFP reports.

The nation's highest court on Wednesday scuttled Canberra's proposal to send 800 boat people to Malaysia, in a huge embarrassment for Gillard and her fragile Labor government, sparking fevered talk that her days are numbered.

The Sydney Morning Herald said the Labor Party was alive with chatter about a possible replacement for the country's first female prime minister, whose credibility was already under pressure before the court setback.

Former leader Kevin Rudd, the man Gillard brutally ousted last year to take the top job, and Defence Minister Stephen Smith have been touted as potential successors.

Most newspapers ran similar stories, with the Sydney Daily Telegraph's front-page headline screaming "Gillard On Notice", citing senior government figures saying she had lost her authority.

"This is about authority and whether she can assert her authority because she hasn't got it now," one senior party figure was quoted as saying.

The minority coalition government's popularity is at record lows in opinion polls, with an unpopular tax on carbon pollution adding to its woes, but Gillard insisted she remained the best person for the job.

"I'm not going anywhere," she told ABC radio.

"I'm the best person to do this job, and I'll continue to do it. And what this job is about is leading the nation to a better future. I've got a clear vision of that future.

"I've been driven all of my political life by a series of goals about spreading opportunity and making sure that no one gets left behind, and we are delivering important policies and plans to do just that."

She also dismissed opposition calls for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to be sacked.

"No, I haven't considered replacing Chris Bowen. He has looked and thought creatively to what we could do to send a powerful message to people-smugglers," she said.

Gillard said her government had taken some "tough" and "bold" decisions and several cabinet colleagues quickly gave her their backing, including Trade Minister Craig Emerson who described her as "a strong leader".

"They (Australians) expect leaders to make tough decisions even if those decisions aren't always popular in the short term," he said.

Gillard led a backroom coup which removed Rudd in June 2010, and shortly afterwards called national elections which resulted in a hung parliament, losing Labor its clear majority.

The party narrowly scraped back into power after securing the support of several independents and a Greens MP, with another election not due until late 2013.

The government had trumpeted the Malaysia policy as a fresh strategy to deal with the politically divisive asylum-seeker issue and it is currently taking legal advice on what to do next.

The nation's top court found that under Australian law the government could not send asylum-seekers to be processed in a country not bound to adequately protect them. Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees.

The ruling could have broader ramifications for offshore processing, including Australia's plan to send asylum-seekers to Papua New Guinea and the possibility of re-opening a detention centre on the Pacific island of Nauru.

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