The Labor caucus is still thinking about leadership, but Christine Milne and the Greens have given up spectacularly on Labor and Julia Gillard.
In her shock tearing up of the Greens' alliance with the government, Milne said bluntly, "the Australian community is saying they will support an Abbott government.”
Milne is now totally focused on trying to retain the Greens' grip on the Senate balance of power, under threat if there is a strong vote for the conservatives at the election.
Like Labor, the Greens, in their own much smaller sphere, are under acute stress. There is a feeling they may have peaked, and that Milne will not have the same vote-pulling power as their former leader Bob Brown, the radical uncle of Australian politics.
The Greens won’t do anything to bring down the government – Milne affirmed they would guarantee supply and would not support a no-confidence motion. But they are competing hard with Labor for the voters on the left, with a stinging attack on the government’s alleged pandering to the miners.
"Labor, Liberal and Nationals have made their choice,” Milne declared. "It is for the big miners and the green light to environmental destruction.”
She reinforced recent attacks made by critics ranging from Kevin Rudd to the opposition on the 2010 Gillard-Swan deal with the big miners.
Fanning suspicions of dirty pool, she said:
"What is going on, when a prime minister and a treasurer get in the back room with three mining companies and stitch up a deal and … say that the elected representatives of that country can’t amend that deal, because it is a private deal in a back room … Even treasury have said they didn’t know what was stitched up in that back room."
What difference will the stand by Milne and the Greens make for Gillard?
It adds to the feeling of instability abroad in Labor, just when Gillard needs some order. The first statement from her office was minimal. "This is a matter for Christine Milne and the Greens", a spokesman said. "We will always be the party that puts jobs, growth and work first”.
Treasurer Wayne Swan said Labor and the Greens are "cut from a different cloth”.
"Labor doesn’t pander to special interests on our left or on our right,” he said.
This just undermined the original justification for the alliance in the first place.
The government has long worn the flak of being too close to the Greens. Some in Labor, including Kevin Rudd, believe the government should never have become formally entwined with the Greens.
But, as the relationship ends, Gillard is not the one in control. It’s Milne who ended the agreement, while squarely heaping the blame for the fracture on the government.
"What has become manifestly clear is that Labor by its actions has walked away from its agreement with the Greens and into the arms of the big miners,” she said.
"By choosing the big miners, the Labor government is making it clear to all that it no longer has the courage or the will to work with the Greens on a shared agenda in the national interest.”
Milne told the prime minister only shortly before publicly serving the divorce papers. Just to rub in the point, she declared "my door is open” to negotiations on pieces of legislation. The minor player was talking as though she was the dominant partner.
Any advantage that Gillard might reap from the new distance is countered by the fact that she is the dumped party. It’s another example of events running out of her control.
Michelle Grattan is a Professorial Fellow at the University of Canberra.
This story first appeared on The Conversation. Reproduced with permission.