by Samuel Poon
CANBERRA, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- The public announcement of Australia's Green Party leader Senator Christine Milne to sever its alliance with the Australian Labor Party has certainly put new pressures on the ruling party at a time when the country is in the thick of an election campaign.
But while expressing anger over the Greens' departure at the weakest moment of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, many Labor members shared the view that the split is actually a blessing for the Labor party so that it can now focus on economic issues during the campaign.
Speaking at National Press Club, Milne accused the Labor Party of reneging on its commitment in an agreement with the minority party signed after the federal election in 2010.
Milne argued that Labor had broken in principle the September 2010 agreement to deliver a transparent and open government, to act in the national interest, and to work together to address climate change.
In a televised address, Milne said that Labor had not acted transparently to release mining tax revenue figures and was not acting in the national interest by refusing to increase the tax. She also attacked the government for supporting coal exports.
The 2010 election led to a hung parliament with no major parties securing a majority necessary to form a government. The ALP eventually forged a deal with the Greens and some independent Members of Parliament which enabled Prime Minister Gillard to stay in office.
The dramatic split by the Greens, backed by former party leader Bob Brown who signed the original deal with ALP, raised questions over Gillard's winnability in the upcoming election.
Some ALP caucus members saw the move as evidence of the Prime Minister's diminished authority, saying the Greens wanted to distance themselves from an unpopular leader.
Milne's announcement came at a time when the government is undergoing a leadership turmoil. The latest opinion poll showed that ALP's primary vote stood at just 30 percent, down five points since December last year, compared with the Opposition Coalition's 47 percent.
Tony Abbott, leader of the Opposition Coalition, for the first time overtook Gillard as better prime minister with a 49 percent to 45 percent lead.
The poll also found the gap between Gillard and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has grown, with Rudd favored by 61 percent of respondents to just 35 percent for Gillard.
The numbers put an end to the surge of ALP support since the second half of last year. Analysts said Labor's hard-won momentum last year is all but lost and in fact is sliding downwards.
Two weeks ago, there had been talks within ALP of bringing the ousted former prime minister back to the ALP core team to shore up the party's support among voters ahead of the federal election on September 14.
However, Gillard supporters are angry with Rudd over his high profile posturing in recent weeks and blaming him for constant leadership speculation. A senior minister has conceded that there is indeed a leadership crisis within Labor and that Kudd is to blame.
Paul Kelly, editor at large of The Australian newspaper, said that in tactical terms, Labor will feel the pressure. "It is under assault from the Opposition Leader on the right and an unencumbered Milne on the left," Kelly said.
Kelly said if Gillard's poll rating remains weak, she risks getting stranded in the middle, losing votes both ways.
Nonetheless, Labor felt the Greens' split would bolster its pre- election push for the blue collar vote, launched this week by Gillard with a manufacturing policy.
Gillard introduced on Sunday a 1 billion Australian dollars (1. 03 U.S. dollars) investment package to boost innovation, productivity and competitiveness.
The package, called "A Plan for Australian Jobs," is part of the Gillard government's blueprint to generate jobs.
In response to Milne's speech, a spokesman for Gillard released a one line statement saying "we will always be the party that puts jobs, growth and work first".
Kelly said the perception now is that Milne is exploiting Gillard's weakness. Gillard, of course, will not worry and indeed, should benefit from the greater political freedom she now has, according to Labor officials.
Labor strategists said there was always going to be a split with the Greens before the election and they were not surprised at Milne's declaration, saying it freed the government so that it can now set policies without consulting the former partner.
Caucus members welcomed the split as a chance to fight the election on economic growth and job creation without being beholden to the Greens on environmental issues.