The Australian people appear to have only partly heeded Kevin Rudd and Therese Rein’s demands that they rise up to demonstrate “people power” to Julia Gillard-supporting ALP backbenchers, an exclusive Crikey switchboard survey has revealed.
“If you have a strong view on the future prime ministership of the country, your power as the people is what will count,” Rudd said at Brisbane International Airport this morning after stepping off the world’s longest commercial flight from Dallas Fort Worth.
On the way to meet her husband at the airport, Rein said that she had heard “85%” of electorate office callers supported the former foreign minister.
Firing the opening shot in a grassroots movement threatening to spark an “Australian autumn”, a lone supporter was sighted inside the terminal in a faded “Kevin 07” t-shirt, while another was snapped outside Parliament House in Canberra in unauthorised “Kevin 11” get-up.
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In a totally unscientific poll conducted over several hours this morning, Crikey pestered the staffers of Gillard-leaning lower house backbenchers set to be targeted by Rudd and his speed dialling handmaiden Bruce Hawker. While some callers said they were about to exact ballot box revenge if their hero wasn’t re-installed in the Lodge, others supported the PM and others just wanted to check on the status of their visa applications.
Backbenchers will decide who leads the nation after a ballot of Labor’s 103-member caucus on Monday at 10am.
In Tasmania, Sid Sidebottom‘s office reported about 20 callers running at about 50-50 but wisely noted the statistical problems of reading too much into the barrage thanks to the “self selection bias” of respondents motivated to pick up the phone.
Julie Collins‘ Franklin office reported “more calls than usual” but that there was no bias towards Rudd.
Hindmarsh MP Steve Georganas’ representatives said the K-Rudd shout out had had the opposite effect with calls in running favour of Julia Gillard spiking following the former foreign minister’s intervention.
A source inside Amanda Rishworth‘s office said they had received “a few” calls this morning backing the Member for Griffith but that calls in support of his Lalor antagonist had also been bountiful.
On Sky News, previously-wavering Wakefield’s Nick Champion reported the discovery of a BP receipt with stuck with chewing gum on the window of his office demanding Rudd’s return to unfettered executive power.
At the opposite end of the country, lines into the downtown offices of Capricornia MP Kirsten Livermore were so clogged with desperate constituents that Crikey was unable to get through.
Bernie Ripoll‘s office reported some extra calls among his team of phone answerers, although a large proportion were running in favour of the PM. Email was also a popular medium, staffers said.
Shayne Neumann‘s office said they had received “about 20” calls this morning — some from outside the electorate — and that the increase had made it difficult to concentrate on actual office work.
Crikey was confronted with the following humorous voicemail message when we rang threatened parliamentary quitter Graham Perrett‘s office: “You have reached the office of Graham Perrett MP, federal member for Moreton. If you are calling Graham to pass on a comment regarding the current leadership issue, please leave your name, address and a brief comment so it can be conveyed to Graham before he goes to Canberra next week.”
Yvette D’Ath‘s staffer Jenny said simply she had “had calls” but declined to provide a breakdown.
In Victoria an unnamed phone answerer in Harry Jenkins‘ bunker said they hadn’t personally taken any calls, although they’d “just got in” so it was hard to tell.
In the nation’s capital, Gai Brodtmann‘s switchboard officer reported that the “people power” push had backfired, with calls favouring the PM outnumbering those in favour of the former foreign minister, while the desk of Andrew Leigh said he’d received “quite a few” calls.
In Victoria, Kelvin Thomson‘s office said it had been swamped by callers following Rudd’s advice but most had rung in to implore the Wills MP to vote for Julia: “They started yesterday afternoon after Kevin told them to start phoning. They say ‘we’ve never called an MP’s office before but we’re doing it because Kevin told us’. But then they say ‘don’t vote for him!'” The staffer said that she had received two physical approaches from constituents urging a Rudd barrelling.
McEwen’s Rob Mitchell said he had received “10% more calls” in favour of Julia Gillard and “a lot of emails coming in from all over the place”. He said when he rang back the numbers attached to pro-Rudd messages, some voters bizarrely claimed they had “voted for Kevin Rudd at the last election”.
Meanwhile, the affable Tim from the office of Mark Dreyfus said “all EOs” had had “a lot” of calls from various constituents: “I love people giving us a bell, the last time we had calls like this was live exports … I think it’s good that people are engaging in the issue … although I think the average person is actually at work today earning money to support their families.”
The phone answerer at Bendigo MP Steve Gibbons‘ office declined to reveal if people had called, although the other line was ringing off the hook in the background.
Catherine King‘s office said the announcement had prompted a flood of calls but it was very difficult to gauge what they meant.
Laurie Ferguson‘s office reported an influx in calls that was running at about “50/50”. Emails were also prominent, they said.
North of the Murray, Craig Thomson‘s office said it had been swamped with calls following the pronouncement, with the MP’s voicemail filled to the brim. However, some confused callers seemed to think there was an “federal election” on when in reality there wasn’t even a contested ballot.
Daryl Melham‘s office confirmed that there had been “enough” calls and emails in favour of Rudd.
Chris Hayes‘ people said they had received “a few” calls supporting Kevin but had also been contacted by constituents seeking help with “immigration matters”.
Michelle Rowland‘s office confirmed the phones had been “running hot” with Rudd-related demands.
Sharon Grierson‘s office said only there’d been “a few” calls, while a spokesperson for Parramatta MP Julie Owens said they had been under siege all morning, a sentiment echoed by Wollongong backbencher Sharon Bird.
And in an unconfirmed exchange, a concerned Labor supporter reported they had called MP Nicola Roxon “to express my dismay and disappointment” at the former health minister’s account of the harried cabinet decisions on health reform: “While I was talking her receptionist cut in and told me that what I’m saying isn’t a concern to them and ended the phone call.”
The “people power” slogan has a storied history in Australian political discourse, having previously been adopted by Crikey founder Stephen Mayne in his unsuccessful but colourful bid for a parliamentary seat at the 2006 Victorian Election.