Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called for unity in Labor’s ranks after she discovered MPs were lining up to criticise the government.
At the first caucus meeting before parliament resumes on Tuesday, Ms Gillard defended her decision to call the election for September 14, arguing the move would give “shape and order” to the year.
But she said some MPs had anonymously provided negative comments to journalists about the government after the holidays, which could hurt Labor in marginal seats.
Ms Gillard made the case for unity and discipline, saying Labor would “protect people from life’s risks”.
She was also asked why she had “unfairly” allowed Northern Territory Senator Trish Crossin to be dumped from the top spot on the Labor NT Senate ticket in favour of Nova Peris, who’s likely to become the party’s first indigenous MP.
Ms Gillard said she was troubled by the fact Labor did not have an indigenous federal member and the decision was appropriate.
The NT Senate preselection intervention, the arrest of suspended Labor MP Craig Thomson and the resignations of senior ministers Chris Evans and Nicola Roxon had created an “unnecessarily terrible week” for the government, a Labor figure told AAP on Monday.
Some of the fallout was reflected in the latest polls. Newspoll had the coalition leading Labor by 56 per cent to 44 per cent in two-party terms, while the Galaxy poll had the coalition ahead 54-46.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told the first shadow cabinet meeting of the year that voters wanted the coalition to be less of an opposition and more of an “alternative government”.
“What people are now looking for is a little bit more from us,“ he said.
Meanwhile, two senior ministers are urging their party to make use of former leader Kevin Rudd’s popularity with voters ahead of the election.
Regional Australia minister Simon Crean believes Mr Rudd should be considered an asset.
“He is an asset and we should use him, but it has to be a disciplined asset,” he told ABC radio.
“If the combination of discipline plus the asset can be agreed upon, it would be a fantastic boost to our fortunes.”
Mr Rudd, who lost the leadership in June 2010, has maintained a high profile. He recently rejoined Seven’s Sunrise political panel and continually attends fundraising events for Labor candidates.
Labor minister Anthony Albanese agreed.
“We need to engage Kevin Rudd and use him wherever possible,” he said.
A coalition frontbencher said Mr Rudd’s supporters were “circling” Ms Gillard.
But political consultant and Rudd confidant Bruce Hawker said the former leader was behind Ms Gillard.
“He is backing her in,” Mr Hawker told AAP.
“It’s all hands to the pump. They need their most talented people to campaign rigorously.”
Mr Rudd did not attend caucus and was in Brisbane with his family.
New ministers Mark Dreyfus, who becomes attorney-general, and Mike Kelly, the new defence materiel minister, were sworn in at Government House in Canberra on Monday.
They fill the spots vacated by Nicola Roxon and Senator Chris Evans respectively.
Caucus elected Communications Minister Stephen Conroy as the government’s new leader in the Senate, replacing Senator Evans, and Finance Minister Penny Wong was elected deputy Senate leader.
The death of a 14-year-old indigenous boy has stoked racial tensions in the Goldfields.