What was predicted to be an “extremely robust” Caucus meeting this morning over mining jobs and EMAs has apparently turned into “furious agreement” among Labor MPs over a motion by Senator Doug Cameron to establish a Caucus sub-committee to oversee mining industry issues, in the wake of a spat within the broader labour movement over enabling 1700 foreign workers to be employed on a Gina Rinehart project.

The new subcommittee of Caucus’s economics committee, laboriously named the “Spreading the benefits for the resources boom subcommittee” will oversee a number of issues relating to the mining industry, including the operation of Enterprise Migration Agreements, the Jobs Board newly created in the wake of controversy over the announcement, industry participation plans, fly-in-fly-out workers, exploitation of foreign workers, skills and the impact on non-resource sectors. However, it will have no direct power other than to recommend action to Caucus on the issues it covers.

The result is a considerable climb down from earlier suggestions a Cabinet subcommittee might be required to second-guess Immigration Minister Chris Bowen’s handling of a policy agreed in the 2011 budget but the first project of which was not announced until last week.

There was a general feeling that the issue “could’ve been handled better”, a Caucus spokesman said. 17 speakers from across the party’s factions discussed the issue; there was “furious agreement”, a Caucus spokesman said, about the new internal Caucus process, including from Bowen and WA MP and former mining executive Gary Gray, who originally developed the concept in his 2010 report on the issue of skills in the mining industry.

WikiLeaks also featured in Caucus with a question to the Prime Minister, said to be from Newcastle MP Sharon Grierson, about the pending decision by the UK Supreme Court on the European Arrest Warrant for Julian Assange. Ms Gillard told Caucus that whatever the outcome, Assange would continue to receive the consular support any Australian was entitled to receive. The government has been repeatedly criticised for failing to provide support for Assange as he battles extradition to Sweden and possible extradition and rendition efforts by the Obama Administration.

Gillard acknowledged to Caucus that the last week in Parliament had been a difficult one and that this was the hardest period the government had faced, but she criticised Tony Abbott for his “vicious personal attacks” and feigned sympathy for besieged MP Craig Thomson. The ALP would also be ramping up its advertising, she said, with the party launching an education-focused advertising campaign focussing on the government’s education refund (termed “schoolkids’ bonus”) and MPs would be visiting schools in their electorates on 15 June.

The Prime Minister again spoke of it being 500 days until the election, urged “courage and conviction” and foreshadowed a major Caucus debate over the government’s overall economic and social policy direction before Parliament rose for the winter recess at the end of June.