As the Federal Government lurches through its winter of discontent it faces two leadership issues which it must confront before Parliament resumes early next month.
Does it stick with a leader who is loathed not just by the electorate but by a very big slice of the Labor Party or does it replace her with the man she deposed who is loved by much of the community even if he is universally loathed by the ALP?
If what the opinion polls are consistently reflecting comes to pass neither option can save the Government. What a switch back to Kevin Rudd just might do is soften the defeat by preserving some ALP marginal seats that would go in a devastating swing against a Julia Gillard led Government. It would be a matter of jumping from the fire into the frying pan.
The latest polling suggests that Labor would be wiped out in Queensland with Rudd losing his seat of Griffith. But that eventuality is predicated on a backlash against the current leadership.
As the mountain of flawed policy initiatives continues to rise Gillard just can’t seem to get anything right. This is not to say that Rudd, the great prevaricator and policy wonk, was any better. And this is the rub. This is why the caucus could not bring itself to replace Gillard with Rudd when he made his pitch to reclaim the top job earlier this year.
Apart from saying sorry to the stolen generation Rudd failed to deliver during his prime ministership. He is best remembered for the shambles that was the Copenhagen Conference on climate change and his failed push for an emissions trading scheme something that precipitated a rejuvenation in the coalition with the election of Tony Abbott as Opposition leader.
It may well be that Rudd’s positive rating in the opinion polls is a direct reflection of a choice between him and Gillard rather than an indication that the electorate wants him back as prime minister.
Whatever the case there are no signals that things will improve for Labor under the current leadership. The fallout from the issue of asylum seekers is going from bad to worse. Gillard is determined not to do anything that looks like conceding the Opposition’s policy on this could provide a solution.
As a result, the special committee she has set up under former armed forces chief Angus Houston to look into this issue cannot create a breakthrough in this policy deadlock. It is nothing more than a bid to buy time. If it comes down on the Opposition’s side the Government won’t accept it and the Opposition will not support Labor’s Malaysian solution.
It appears that this Government has learned nothing from the lessons of the 2001 election where the Howard administration’s tough stance on illegal immigration reversed an earlier decline in Coalition popularity giving it a resounding victory over Kim Beazley’s Labor Opposition which chose to fight this campaign on the impact of the goods and services tax.
Gillard’s future now rests on her fond hopes that the millions of dollars she is pouring into the community in over compensation for the impact of her carbon tax will camouflage her 2010 pre-election promise not to introduce this tax.
Her backflip may well have been brought on when she found herself in a minority government corner and sought a deal with the Greens and the independents but this excuse simply will not wash with the electorate.
In the run up to his February challenge against Gillard, Rudd filled the frame with claims of disloyalty and overseas press conferences declaring that he had had enough.
After being soundly beaten Rudd declared that he would quietly retire to the back bench. But all this means is that he will have to be drafted rather than challenge in his own right. No problem. While taking on the job as Labor leader has about as much appeal as volunteering to be a suicide bomber Rudd would see the sacrifice as serving the nation’s interest – something that was borne out in a recent media interview with his wife Therese Rein.
Should this happen a key player to watch will be Anthony Albanese the left-wing power broker, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and head of government business in the House, who tearfully announced during the last challenge that he had to support Rudd. Despite this Albanese lost none of his positions after his man was defeated.
The big question should Rudd replace Gillard is when will he call the election which has to be held by the second half of next year?
Will he decide to cash in on an electoral honeymoon and go as soon as possible or try to turn the good ship Labor around first?
Whatever the case, while Gillard is leader she will be in no hurry to go to the polls and neither will her independent minority government partners in the House of Representatives, most of whom will be swept away when that eventually comes around.