FORMER MP Maxine McKew has strongly backed Lindsay Tanner's attack on the coup against Kevin Rudd, saying it had been described to her as a "professional hit".
As Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her senior ministers closed ranks against the Tanner criticism, Ms McKew, who held the seat of Bennelong in 2007-10, said Mr Tanner had referred to Mr Rudd's removal as an "ambush".
She said that while researching her forthcoming book Tales from the Political Trenches, "one caucus member of long standing described it as a 'professional hit' on Rudd".
Former Labor minister Mr Tanner, in Politics with Purpose, released yesterday, argued that the coup was an extreme overreaction to deficiencies in the Rudd style that ministers then enormously exaggerated.
He also wrote that Labor could be entering a time of "unprecedented bleakness" and described the party as "an electoral machine largely devoid of wider purpose".
Ms McKew told The Age she welcomed Mr Tanner's comments. "A confident party shouldn't be fearful of these kinds of contributions."
Mr Tanner was right to lament the lack of a contest of ideas. "What we have is a contest of fears," she said. "I worry we are about to go into the election with my side of politics saying 'vote for us because Tony Abbott is a scary kind of guy'. It's not good enough."
Echoing recent comments by former Labor minister Barry Jones, she said her worry was that Labor was being run and owned by a few "who don't want to see reform of a 120-year-old party". This was shown by the failure to release the report by Senator John Faulkner and two Labor premiers, Bob Carr and Steve Bracks, on party reform. This contrasted with the role Gough Whitlam played in reforming the ALP in his day.
Ms Gillard, who is in New York, rejected Mr Tanner's claim that Labor had lost its purpose.
"I can be very clear about the government's purpose," she said. This included to keep the economy strong, and deliver better schools, dental care and a national disability scheme.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr said: "We went through a stage where every galah in a pet shop had an opinion about what was wrong with the Labor Party. I'm sick of that. I think the public's sick of it." If he had been in retirement, he said, "it would have been a pushover to have polished off another book, number 20, on what's wrong with the Labor Party."
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy accused Mr Tanner of commercial motives. "Lindsay's looking to sell a book and good luck to him," he said.
Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean who disagreed with the 2010 coup but opposed Mr Rudd's comeback attempt in February said he did not see the point of rehashing old events. "The party's moved on from that and so should Mr Tanner."
It was a common line: Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said: "The government has moved on since the time Mr Tanner was in the Parliament."
But Mr Tanner's criticisms of the party resonated with Labor backbencher Ed Husic. "As a new MP, I think more often than not we're conditioned not to speak on issues that we are concerned about," he said.
On the ABC last night, Mr Tanner opposed Labor's policy on Afghanistan. He said it was difficult to justify continuing to be there. There was a reason for going in but "we perhaps should have got out some time ago".