SYDNEY – A former Australian minister behind last month’s failed coup against Prime Minister Julia Gillard accused her of being divisive and media-driven in an interview Saturday, reviving tensions within the ruling Labor Party.
Former Arts Minister Simon Crean, a veteran and former leader of the party, condemned Gillard as having a “real tin ear” on political strategy in a damning break with earlier vows of unity following the machinations in March.
Crean was instrumental in last month’s leadership challenge, demanding that Gillard put the prime ministership to a party vote and encouraging former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to stand against her.
Rudd — deposed by Gillard in a ruthless coup ahead of the 2010 general election — refused to run and the episode fizzled out, further damaging Labor’s already tarnished brand with voters just months ahead of a fresh national vote this September.
Crean fell in behind Gillard after the botched vote despite being sacked for disloyalty, but he broke with calls for unity Saturday in a scathing assessment of the prime minister.
“(Rudd) was just arrogant but she’s got a tin ear. She sits there and listens but it doesn’t translate,” Crean told Fairfax newspapers, “because somewhere along the way she gets the word that here’s the angle on how you get tomorrow’s headline.”
The conservative opposition condemned the remarks as further evidence of “anarchy” within center-left Labor’s ranks.
“The country cannot go on like this, it has to turn around,” said conservative Sen. Barnaby Joyce. “We must get the show back on the rails.”
Crean accused Gillard of “class warfare” in her policies on immigration and said she is deliberately divisive, including on gender issues.
“It’s easier to relate with one side against the other rather than get out there and try and cohere around a message that seeks to persuade in the national interest,” he said.
Gillard shot to global notoriety last year with a speech accusing opposition leader Tony Abbott of misogyny and sexism, video of which went viral online.
Trade Minister Craig Emerson, a Gillard ally, pointed out that Crean had voiced such views in the past and said “we’re talking about the future . . . and I’m quite sure that that’s what the Australian people want to discuss.”
“My interest and the interest of the government is in the future,” Emerson told reporters.
Gillard’s party will be chasing a third term when Australia goes to the polls Sept. 14. But opinion polls suggest victory is increasingly out of reach, with both the prime minister the Labor Party deeply unpopular.