Singleton meeting linked to Rudd leadership plot

HUNTER MP Joel Fitzgibbon’s extraordinary push for a Kevin Rudd challenge to Julia Gillard may have been sealed with a coffee at Singleton 10 days ago.

Mr Fitzgibbon’s open canvassing of a leadership change last week – reportedly telling MPs ‘‘the hung Parliament is killing us’’ – followed a ‘‘catch-up’’ between the two men at Singleton’s Coal Rock Coffee Bar on Friday, May 18.

Shortly after what Mr Rudd described as ‘‘a catch-up with ... a good friend’’, the first reports emerged of a plan to revive the Rudd-for-prime-minister campaign.

The plan involved Mr Fitzgibbon canvassing support for Mr Rudd, a challenge, and a possible snap election.

News yesterday of the Fitzgibbon push prompted criticism from Newcastle MP Sharon Grierson, and a call from Charlton MP and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet to Mr Fitzgibbon to explain his position.

‘‘I’ve seen the conjecture today so I think probably a few questions might be directed at Joel,’’ Mr Combet said.

Ms Grierson said if the allegations were true she was ‘‘extremely disappointed’’.

‘‘He’s [Mr Fitzgibbon] the government whip. The whip is the person who’s supposed to keep discipline. He’s supposed to be the one to keep morale high,’’ she said.

‘‘I’m losing my patience with people who are more about themselves than our ambitions for this country. I’m really tired of the manoeuvring which is tinged with so much self-interest.

‘‘What’s it about? Is it about the best interests of Australians and the party, or self-interest?

‘‘We had our vote in February [when Kevin Rudd challenged Julia Gillard] and we have to have the courage to see this through.’’

Mr Fitzgibbon did not respond to calls, but said on Twitter: ‘‘I thank my colleagues for the publicity but no one does more to support the PM and the government than me!’’

Mr Rudd’s media spokesman said Mr Rudd was passing through Singleton on his way to Sydney on May 18.

‘‘He had a quick coffee with Mr Fitzgibbon and posed for photos with locals.’’

Coal Rock Coffee Bar owner Gina Frazer said Mr Rudd’s star status was evident during the surprise one-hour visit. The two men arrived without staff.

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