ALP gloom brings cracks in discipline

Despair within Labor is threatening internal discipline, as MPs lecture the leadership and key figures express contempt for the lines they are instructed to use.

An emerging ”every man for himself” mindset appears to have taken hold in the federal caucus with most now resigned to a wipe-out on September 14.

As Opposition Leader Tony Abbott reminded his charges to maintain their discipline and to take nothing for granted, despondent Labor MPs met in Canberra, weighed down by a pervasive sense of doom as Newspoll put them 16 points behind the Coalition on 42 per cent to 58 per cent.

Another smaller poll also published on Tuesday showed Labor’s vote in the supposedly safe Melbourne seat of Isaacs, held by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, collapsing.

In caucus, Ms Gillard was told to do more to combat Tony Abbott’s famously effective ”stop the boats” slogan and expose it as undeliverable.

Laurie Ferguson, a western Sydney backbencher strongly aligned to the Prime Minister, said (twice) that Labor was ”dead” in the west unless it could better explain its position on asylum seekers, in a direct reflection on Ms Gillard’s approach to the debate so far.

He believes Ms Gillard should do more to explain the complexities of dealing with Indonesia, Malaysia, and the extent of the people-smuggling trade, arguing the issue is also causing alarm among voters in other areas of the country.

Mr Ferguson, who holds the seat of Werriwa by less than 7 per cent, is one of a slew of MPs – some of them future leaders – facing defeat based on current polling.

With the government preparing to toughen the 457 skilled temporary migration visa scheme in a bid to appease unions and appear tougher on foreign labour competition, outgoing former minister Martin Ferguson called for more evidence of alleged employer rorting. Kevin Rudd also sought more information.

Legislation installing stronger tests before granting employers access to foreign labour is being introduced to Parliament on Wednesday.

Another MP, SA backbencher Nick Champion told colleagues the scheme left workers beholden to employers for fear of being left visa-less.

In other outbreaks of frankness:

■ NSW Senator Doug Cameron complained that a promised uptick in the government’s standing with voters under Ms Gillard had not materialised.

■ Former minister and ex-chief whip Joel Fitzgibbon ridiculed the ”talking points” handed to MPs as he laughed on breakfast TV about the government’s fate.

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