Gillard's UN vote backdown to save her job
The Daily Telegraph
JULIA Gillard's leadership came close to collapse yesterday after cabinet refused to back her policy to vote against a UN resolution tomorrow to give greater recognition to a Palestinian state.
After initially snubbing the majority view of her cabinet colleagues on Monday night, the Prime Minister was only convinced yesterday morning to back down when faced with the threat of ministers voting against her in caucus.
It is believed to be the first time since Bob Hawke pushed ahead with uranium mining at Coronation Hill in 1991 that a PM had defied recommendations from cabinet.
Cabinet sources confirmed the PM was forced into a desperate backdown during caucus yesterday after reported threats that Foreign Minister Bob Carr would vote against her if it was put to a vote on the floor - a precedent which would have forced his resignation.
The PM only warded off a caucus bloodbath by announcing a compromise position for Australia to abstain from the UN vote. Her spokesman said yesterday she did not comment on caucus or cabinet matters.
And it came largely through pressure from NSW Right MPs who were more concerned a no vote at the UN would offend Middle East and Muslim communities in their fragile southwest Sydney seats ahead of the election.
It is believed up to 10 cabinet ministers, including Mr Carr, Anthony Albanese and Greg Combet, spoke against Ms Gillard's position to oppose a UN resolution giving the Palestinian territories non-member observer status. Ms Gillard also lost support from the Labor National Right, which also met on Monday and refused to be bound to a vote in support of the Prime Minister's position. Only two cabinet ministers, Victorian Right faction leaders Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy, are believed to have supported her.
Mr Gillard is believed to have argued that a UN resolution to upgrade the Palestinian status to non-member observer status could damage an already fragile peace process.
A ceasefire is now in force between Palestinian militants Hamas and Israel after a 10 days of conflict.
However, Mr Carr is believed to have spent an hour with Ms Gillard before Monday night's cabinet meeting explaining the electoral problems in Sydney if Australia did not at least abstain from the vote, if not vote yes.
Senior Labor sources said Ms Gillard's leadership had come "close to the brink".
"As it dawned on her that she would be in trouble numbers-wise, it quickly came a straight out defacto leadership issue," one senior Labor MP said. A senior minister said: "She came as close as she has ever come to losing her job. She could not have handled this more poorly. She had expected the Right to lock in on it.
"Her leadership would have crumbled around her."
But Mr Carr denied there had been threats or pressure brought to bear on Ms Gillard, claiming that it was common sense for Australia to adopt a middle-road approach to such a polarising issue.
He said she had "shaped the decision and showed smart leadership".
"Australia strongly supports a negotiated two-state solution that allows a secure Israel to live side-by-side with a secure and independent future Palestinian state," Mr Carr said.
Pro-Israel Labor MP Michael Danby, who chairs a parliamentary foreign affairs committee, was reportedly among those angry at the PM's backflip.