Julia Gillard survives tough year, but polls defeat looms
Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard heads into an election year with her leadership bruised over a union scandal dating back 20 years and with her government struggling to gain voter support after a brutal political year that ended on Thursday.
Despite passing major reforms in 2012, Gillard's minority government trails in opinion polls after enduring a series of political scandals, a leadership fight with former prime minister Kevin Rudd, and regular suggestions that Gillard should be replaced.
However, senior government ministers rallied behind Gillard's leadership on the final day of parliament for the year on Thursday, shoring up her chances of leading the Labor Party into the next election, due around September 2013.
Senior government powerbroker Bill Shorten said the party strongly backed Gillard, while Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan laughed off suggestions that the union scandal made Gillard's leadership untenable.
"Those sorts of statements are absolutely ridiculous," Swan told reporters.
Gillard has been under a sustained attack over her role as a lawyer in 1992, when she advised her then boyfriend and union official Bruce Wilson over a union slush fund which is now at the centre of fraud claims.
Gillard has repeatedly said she did nothing wrong and had no knowledge of any fraud, but the opposition is now calling for her to resign and for a judicial inquiry, accusing Gillard of failing to fully explain her actions 20 years ago. "She has consistently given evasive, misleading and obfuscating answers, and that, frankly, is conduct unbecoming of a prime minister of this country," Abbott told parliament.
An angry Gillard attacked Abbott in parliament, challenging him to back up claims that she may have broken the law and accusing him of running a relentless smear campaign with no evidence of wrongdoing.
"The leader of the opposition does not look to facts, he just looks to sleaze and smear," Gillard told parliament. The union affair caps off a year when the minority government passed its landmark carbon tax and mining tax reforms, but when its achievements have been largely overshadowed by scandals and internal divisions.