Discipline disintegrates in face of poor polls

Resigned: Kevin Rudd and Joel Fitzgibbon discuss a point during Question Time. Photo: Alex EllinghausenDespair within Labor is threatening a total breakdown of internal discipline, as MPs lecture the leadership and key figures either give up or 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 Tony Abbott reminded his charges to maintain their discipline and to take nothing for granted, despondent Labor MPs met in Canberra for one of the last remaining caucus meetings this term, weighed down by a Newspoll putting them 16 points behind the Coalition on 42 per cent to 58 per cent.

Another poll 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 counter Tony Abbott’s effective ”stop the boats” slogan and expose it as undeliverable given the complexities of dealing with Indonesia, Malaysia, and the extent of the people-smuggling trade.

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

Mr Ferguson, who holds the seat of Werriwa by less than 7 per cent, is one of a slew of MPs – some of them seen as potential 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.

South Australian backbencher Nick Champion went the other way, calling for the 457 scheme to be initially capped and then scrapped. He said it left workers beholden to employers for fear of being left visa-less, and was therefore more akin to a ”guest-worker” program.

In other outbreaks of frankness:

NSW Senator Doug Cameron complained that a promised lift 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.

MPs resorted to humour to explain why they were now stuck with the leadership despite: ”If my aunt had testicles she’d be my uncle, wouldn’t she,” said Queensland MP Graham Perrett said.

Letters – Page 20

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