News24

Australian PM under fire

2012-01-28 10:57

Sydney - Prime Minister Julia Gillard has come under pressure on Saturday after it emerged one of her staffers triggered a fracas that led to the Australian leader being hustled to safety by security agents.

One of Gillard's press secretaries, named by media as Tony Hodges, resigned on Friday evening after he admitted passing on information that opposition leader Tony Abbott was at the same Canberra restaurant as the prime minister.

Protesters surrounded the venue on Thursday, pounding the windows chanting "shame" and "racist" after Abbott suggested a so-called Aboriginal tent embassy may have reached its sell-by date, comments he later denied making.

As tempers flared, Gillard and Abbott were bundled to waiting cars by security service agents with the prime minister dramatically stumbling and losing a shoe in ugly scenes that were beamed around the world.

Gillard's office announced the resignation in a statement that said the staffer made "an error of judgement".

"A member of the prime minister's media unit did call another individual and disclosed the presence of the opposition leader at the Lobby restaurant," the statement said.

"This information was subsequently passed onto a member of the Aboriginal tent embassy."

The statement said the staff member had not "in any way" suggested or encouraged violence or a demonstration.

"Nevertheless, given the circumstances of the function at the Lobby restaurant, this action was an error of judgement."

Abbott on Saturday called for Gillard to publicly explain the events that led to furious protesters breaching security around the political leaders, demanding to know if Hodges' actions were sanctioned by someone higher up.

"The prime minister can't spin her way out of this; she owes the nation a full explanation," he told Sky News.

"Exactly what did her staffer say, exactly to whom did her staffer say it and who instructed the staffer to say what he did.

"I'm sure there are decent people in the prime minister's office, but it looks like a pretty grubby business I've got to say, it really does."

The protesters had been attending so-called "Invasion Day" commemorations at the nearby Aboriginal tent embassy, a permanent camp of indigenous activists celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

On Friday, around 200 of them marched on Parliament House before burning an Australian flag on the building's forecourt.