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Prime Minister Julia Gillard has decisively beaten a leadership challenge from Kevin Rudd, the man she had removed as prime minister in June 2010.

Rudd was foreign minister in Gillard’s government but resigned on 22 February, arguing that Gillard could not lead the Labor Party to victory in the 2013 election and that he would “restore business confidence”. A caucus meeting five days later supported Gillard 71-31 after Rudd was attacked for micro-managing his government and humiliating colleagues.

Rudd’s dramatic overnight removal in 2010 was not explained at the time and in the election two months later the ALP and the Tory coalition each won 72 seats, following a series of damaging leaks against Gillard. Gillard now leads a minority government, propped up by independent and Green MPs.

The public and bitter leadership battle doesn’t change the fact that Gillard and Rudd have no significant policy differences and are fervently pro-US and pro-Israel. However, the union movement backed Gillard in the light of Rudd’s attempt to create a US-style primary system and to minimise union influence in the ALP, a position that is supported by big business and the mass media.

Rudd came to power in 2007 on the back of a mass campaign of opposition to the draconian anti-union Workchoices laws of the Liberal (Tory) Howard government. This was so successful that to this day the Tories have had to rule out bringing in similar measures.

The Rudd and Gillard governments have squandered this legacy. They kept the reactionary Australian Building and Construction Commission, bought in by the Howard government to dramatically undermine building workers’ rights, for nearly five years. And they made one concession after another to big business, with Gillard watering down a proposed super profits mining tax after the mining companies launched a media campaign against the government.

Due largely to mineral exports to China the Australian economy was able to survive the worst aspects of the world economic slump. However, the Rudd and Gillard governments have presided over the increasing casualisation of the workforce so that 40 per cent of all workers are now paid casual rates or are on independent contracts.

Now the Gillard government has pledged to bring the budget back to surplus by 2013, a policy that can only be implemented by a series of savage cuts in the forthcoming May budget.

Gillard and Rudd share equal blame for opening the door to the reactionary Tories, who are climate change sceptics, anti-union, and whose approach to asylum seekers is to “turn the boats back”.

Nurses on Strike

Nurses in the state of Victoria are waging a determined campaign of four-hour rolling stoppages against a wage cap, reduction in nurse-to-patient ratios and other attacks on conditions proposed by the state Liberal (Tory) government of Ted Baillieu.

The battle has gone on for three months and nurses have defied an order to return to work by Fair Work Australia.

Nurses were forced into arbitration by the Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, former union bureaucrat.

The militancy of rank and file nurses is not matched by their leaders. Instead of linking up the struggles with public service workers in other states in a fight to defend rights they are trying to bridle it.

Victorian Health Minister, David Davis claimed in Parliament that, “It is guerrilla-type action designed to hurt patients, designed to harm people, designed to make vulnerable people suffer.”

Lisa Fitzpatrick, Victorian secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, responded by saying, “We are trying to contain this dispute, we are trying to stop it from being a statewide strike.”

Attacks on Unions in New South Wales

Unions in New South Wales will face fines of up to $220,000 under new laws proposed by another Liberal National Coalition (Tory) government led by Premier Barry O’Farrell.

The drastic changes will see fines up to $110,000 on day one of a strike in defiance of the Industrial Relations Commission.

This is an eleven fold increase on the existing $10,000. The new penalty for a repeat offence rises to $220,000.

The proposal was sneaked into Parliament at the height of the Federal Labor government leadership battle at the end of February.

O’Farrell told state Parliament, ‘’It is time to update them [penalties] so that unions will think twice before undertaking unauthorised industrial action.’’

‘’We’re not going to stand by and let unions call wildcat strikes in defiance of the industrial commission, and create havoc and turmoil for commuters, taxpayers and other people across this state.’’

The move comes on top of a 2.5 per cent wage freeze on public servants, slashing of jobs and privatisation. These attacks on workers were met last year with strikes and demonstrations by nurses, teachers and police.

The move has been supported by among others, the Australian Medical Association, which said it will free doctors-in-training from the monopoly of the Health Services Union.

The extreme rightwing Coalition was elected in March last year in a swing of almost 15 per cent by an electorate sickened by a Labor government that was equally rightwing, corrupt and incompetent.

* Journalist and Writer