Speculation that Julia Gillard's days as Australian Prime Minister were numbered intensified this week, after a series of perceived gaffs and missteps that make the first-term leader about as popular as Barack Obama at a jobs fair.
The self-described ranga-in-chief (use of the term "ranga" for "redhead" is commonly used here, and derived uncontroversially from "orangutan," the red-haired great ape) says she will lead the Australian Labor Party to the next federal election in 2013.
That's despite mounting pressure, primarily over:
- the recent High Court ruling that a refugee swap with Malaysia was unlawful;
- a bitter fight with the opposition over its planned carbon tax;
- a police investigation into a lawmaker over allegedly using a union credit card to pay for prostitutes.
Gillard’s future was the subject of several recent front-page stories in Australia, where Labor rules with a majority of one seat.
Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper underlined Gillard's precarious position recently with the headline: "Tick, Tick Tick."
And The Australian newspaper reported this weekend that powerbrokers within the Labor party were pressing for a ministerial reshuffle.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported, meanwhile, that the Labor party was "alive with chatter" over who could replace the floundering prime minister.
The Herald Sun, in a more recent report, cited unnamed Labor figures as suggesting that former prime minister Kevin Rudd, himself ousted by Gillard in a political coup 14 months ago, could be invited back.
Meanwhile, the Australian public appears to have cooled on Gillard — opinion polls indicate she would easily lose office if an election were held now.
A defiant Gillard, meantime, has dismissed any suggestion that her time in office is up.
"I'm not going anywhere," a defiant Gillard told ABC radio. "I'm the best person to do this job and I'll continue to do it and what this job is about leading the nation to a better future."