Member for Page Janelle Saffin with Minister for Regional Australia Simon Crean pictured in January 2011 walking along the levee wall together near Bacon Street at Grafton.
Member for Page Janelle Saffin with Minister for Regional Australia Simon Crean pictured in January 2011 walking along the levee wall together near Bacon Street at Grafton. Adam Hourigan

No plan to challenge: Saffin

IF you're still wondering exactly what it was that went on down in Canberra yesterday, you're not alone.

Page MP Janelle Saffin was in the thick of yesterday's leadership drama and was part of the first group to start urging Kevin Rudd to, as Joel Fitzgibbon put it, have a crack at the party leadership.

However, Ms Saffin said no-one outside the Press Gallery had been contemplating a spill before the (now former) Arts Minister Simon Crean nominated himself as Deputy Prime Minister and called on Julia Gillard to open the leadership to a vote.

In the end, just as Kevin Rudd chose not to challenge, Mr Crean didn't put his name forward for the deputy's job when he vote was called. In fact, he'd been stripped of his portfolio and returned to the backbench before the vote even came around.

"I think he was just trying to bring the matter to a head," Ms Saffin said this morning.

Was it some kind of brain snap? Was he trying to shoot down any potential future challenge?

"Simon's been around a long time," she said. "If there was something he was trying to do for some reason - he's now not there."

Ms Saffin said she, along with fellow whip Ed Husic and chief whip Joel Fitzgibbon approached Mr Rudd and urged him to challenge as soon Ms Gillard agreed to the spill.

"A group of us went to see him and said 'will you run?' ... we just decided to go and see him."

The numbers quickly grew. Before long, Richmond MP Justine Elliot was in the room too and by the time 4.30pm rolled around there were about 20 people urging Mr Rudd to put his hand up.

Ms Saffin said Mr Rudd rejected every plea, saying standing against the Prime Minister would have divided the party "down the middle".

"He wasn't prepared to do that," Ms Saffin said. "I think he was right."

Could he have won?

"The way I understand it, it was literally nearly half-and-half either way," she said.

"He made his decision based on his political judgement, based on the best interest of the people and the Federal Labor Party."

And now?

"The Prime Minister has the support of the Caucus and that's what we'll do," she said. "We'll kick in and do our best to make sure Tony Abbott's not Prime Minister (after this year's election)."

That said, Ms Saffin conceded that job was made harder by dramas such as yesterday's.

"It's not in anyone's interest," she said. "I'm glad it's over."

And Mr Crean was not the only one to lose a position in the spill that wasn't. Ms Saffin, Mr Husic, and Mr Fitzgibbon all resigned their jobs as whips and chief whip, respectively.

Ms Saffin said all three resigned simply because they felt it was the right thing to do after trying to convince Mr Rudd to challenge.

None of the three can be replaced until Parliament resumes and Caucus meets again in about six weeks' time.


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