JULIA Gillard remains the best person to lead Labor to the 2013 federal election, says the senator charged with serving the Calare electorate.
NSW Senator Matt Thistlethwaite, Calare's “duty senator”, said it was time for the party to end ongoing leadership speculation and get on with the job of securing Australia's future.
Mr Thistlethwaite was among the Labor MPs who attended a planning session at The Lodge on Sunday ahead of Monday's start of the parliamentary year and said there was a good feeling among his colleagues.
The planning session and a barbecue that followed it were later described by Calare's Nationals MP John Cobb as a “desperate brainstorm for new tactics”, but Mr Thistlethwaite rejected that view.
“Early on there was a planning session from 2pm to 5pm with all MPs and basically, like any good organisation, we planned for what the year ahead could be like, what changes are ahead and how we will deal with those changes,” he said.
“After that there was a barbecue at which Bob Hawke spoke to get everybody feeling relaxed after the planning session.”
Former PM Kevin Rudd was among the 20 or so MPs absent from Sunday's gathering, again fuelling speculation that he does not get on Ms Gillard and is preparing for another tilt at the top job.
But Mr Thistlethwaite said commentators should not read too much into who was and wasn't there.
“People are routinely absent from these types of meetings because they have other commitments,” he said.
“The important thing is that this government has a big reform agenda and that this will be a big year of nation building policies.”
Mr Thistlethwaite backed the PM, saying she was still the best person for the job.
“I think Julia has done a very good job,” he said.
“This government has led reform in a number of important policy areas and Julia is the best person to lead the party to the next election.”
He nominated the introduction of the carbon tax on July 1, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the government's social reform agenda as key policy areas this year.
Mr Thistlethwaite said he could not say if a leadership challenge was on the cards, but said he was sick of reading the speculation in the papers.
“I went through this previously in NSW when you would open the papers in the morning and there would be unnamed sources having their say about the leadership,” he said.
“I don't know who they are but I do know this - this is a good government that has delivered an economy that is the envy of the western world.”
Mr Thistlethwaite also rejected the opposition's oft-repeated claims that the previous Howard Government should take the credit for the nation's strong economy.
“I really think that the foundations for our economy's record were laid by the Hawke and Keating government,” he said.
“It was that government that opened up our economy, floated the dollar and undertook real labour market reform.
“And the current government has invested in every school throughout Australia with new facilities under the BER - this was never done in the Howard years.
“Labor has always had a strong record of reform, and of managing the economy in the interests of working people.”