The leaking of a video showing the former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, thumping a table and swearing repeatedly appears to be the first shot in a dirty-tricks campaign aimed at thwarting his efforts to win back the top job.
Julia Gillard, who deposed Mr Rudd in mid-2010, denied yesterday that her office was responsible for uploading the video to YouTube. But the incident has brought simmering tensions to a head, with one of Ms Gillard's Labor MPs calling on her to resign and pundits predicting a leadership challenge by Mr Rudd as early as next week.
The video shows an irate Mr Rudd, supposedly a fluent Mandarin speaker, trying to record a New Year's message for a Chinese community group. The incident took place when he was still Prime Minister.
Railing against an embassy official who wrote the script, he says: "Mate, this is just impossible ... You can tell the dickheads in the embassy to just give me simple sentences ... This fucking language, he just complicates it so much ... Tell them to cancel this meeting at 6pm, I don't have the fucking patience to do it ... The fucking Chinese interpreter ... Just fucking hopeless."
Suspicion immediately fell on Ms Gillard, who has endured months of discontent and speculation about a counter-coup by Mr Rudd. The video seemed designed to remind Labor MPs that the latter's personality – he was said to be a workaholic and control freak who failed to consult ministers, made impossible demands of his staff and was prone to fits of rage – was one reason he was ousted.
In a television interview, Mr Rudd, now the Foreign Affairs Minister, said the recording would have been stored in the Prime Minister's department, and anyone would regard the timing of its release as "a little bit on the unusual side".
It is doubtful whether Australians will be shocked by the video, particularly as Mr Rudd is already known for his colourful language. But it is not clear whether he has enough backing among Labor MPs to supplant Ms Gillard, who insisted yesterday that "I have the strong confidence of my colleagues, their strong support".
In the first open declaration of opposition to Ms Gillard, one backbencher, Darren Cheeseman, said many MPs regarded her leadership as "terminal". However, another MP, Steve Gibbons, described Mr Rudd as "a psychopath with a giant ego". A Gillard supporter told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Mr Rudd would lose a challenge, after which "we will unleash bloody vengeance on all of those who brought this vampire back to life".