Too Late for Gillard to Save Herself

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After 28 minutes, when the Four Corners crew finished filming that interview in her office, Julia Gillard shook hands with her inquisitor, Andrew Fowler, told him her leg had "gone numb" and wished him good afternoon. That was it.

There was no protest from her about his line of questioning, no reprimand from her staff, no complaint, other than the numbness in her leg.

Six days later when it screened, and as you watched Fowler refusing to let her off the hook, you knew this modern Australian tragedy was drawing inexorably to its finale.

On Saturday night after the angry ant YouTube video was posted, one of Kevin Rudd's backers contacted Sky's David Speers, who was having dinner and offered up a midnight special, an interview with Rudd.

The tale of the two interviews is instructive.

Rudd seized on an apparently unexpected and unwelcome development to sell himself while Gillard managed to use a pre-planned, predictable one to kill herself.

Rudd was disciplined and contrite. His pitch, that he is not perfect, only a better person than he was, drove his enemies into hissy fits rivalling his own, but rang truer than Gillard's protestations of innocence and ignorance.

Sorry, (and I really do mean sorry, Julia) unless Rudd does something incredibly stupid, and he hasn't for a while, it's over.

Gillard is now so vulnerable, her position so fragile, there is almost nothing she can do to stop it, or fix it, or make it better. She has left it too long to save herself.

If she allows it to run, she risks becoming weaker while her enemies grow stronger. If she pulls it on now, even if she wins the first ballot, no margin will be big enough to end it or consolidate her position. Even if she sacked Rudd today, as Simon Crean and others are urging, it will not finish him or protect her. It is too late.

Proof she has run out of options was her stonewalling yesterday. She did not wilt and nor will she. Instead she is hoping if she can only convince people her support in caucus is overwhelming -- so strong she is prepared to live with Rudd's private machinations and public denials of undermining -- it will turn the pressure back on him, forcing him to back off and make it all go away. It won't.

Rudd's psychological warfare, waged hourly, daily about when and how or why he might move against her -- before or after the Queensland election, with one challenge then another, or after she next stumbles -- will not end until he achieves his objective to destroy and replace her.

It is a tragedy for Gillard, and the many people who believed in her, and it is sad when someone with so much promise fails.

However, it was obvious from the outset, and surely she must have known it anyway, given how long she has been around politics, that after being knifed Rudd was not going to disappear and bleed quietly to death.

After the election, weakened as she was, she should have left him to fester on the backbench, rather than bring him back in as Foreign Minister and provide him with a platform. As a much hated figure in the Labor Party, he would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to rebuild from the backbench then. He had nowhere else to go and no inclination to go.

He would not have quit because he would have convinced himself resurrection was possible and not beyond a person of his talents.

If he had misbehaved, he would have been seen by colleagues and public alike as a bitter former leader venting his spleen, rather than what he became -- a bitter former leader disguised as a happy little Vegemite, crusading foreign minister, everywhere, every hour of the day and night, talking and stalking. Sacking him now will not finish him or secure her because his power and popularity grows, and hers evaporates daily. He will mess even more with her head, intensify his charm offensive, wait for her to make another mistake, and she will, and he will pounce.

Agreeing to the Four Corners interview was not a mistake as such. What people were really saying in the aftermath was that she comprehensively botched the interview itself.

If she had said no to the interview she would have been conceding, to herself at least, that she wasn't up to it. Unfortunately she went on to show she wasn't.

Unlike her press conferences where she spins smartly with a tart response and turns to the next questioner cutting off the potential for hostile or tricky follow-ups, like she did yesterday, Fowler pinned her down. No wonder her leg went numb.

She gave lawyerly replies which might technically avoid a perjury charge in court. She failed the political test because she was judged not to be telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

She was crippled by what she said, what she didn't say, what she implied, what people construed from her performance, and how she responded to the fallout.

Then, after the deluge of criticism for agreeing to it, she tried to get out from under by saying she had been misled about the purpose of the interview -- fib upon fib upon fib -- feeding every suspicion about her honesty and aptitude.

Gillard's defence, that she gets things done, is not enough, one reason being some of those actions have made her abidingly unpopular, and even if she can do, she can't sell.

When the NSW Right retreats -- or decides as it has now, that it will not direct its members to vote for her -- then you know they have decided it's over and the fight to save her has been lost.

If Rudd is resurrected, they can argue it's righting a wrong, but there will be no end to the complications and animosity, especially if the new Rudd turns out to be exactly like the old Rudd.

He will have to decide first how and where to dispose of the casualties including Gillard and the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, Wayne Swan. Rudd has repeatedly and pointedly praised the work of the Ministry, implying retribution will be limited. However, Swan will be not be spared, regardless of budget preparations. Treasury already has its instructions: surplus or bust.

Then there is the carbon tax. Can Rudd walk away from it twice? Does he dump, delay or redesign, or does he have an election and seek a mandate? There will not be a new deal with the Greens, but he will need their support and that of the independents if he wants to try to settle in for a period of quiet governing. He will hope that Gillard will do what he didn't and die quietly and that the poison has not seeped so deep it will end up killing them all.

Good luck with that.

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