A DEFIANT Prime Minister Julia Gillard has stared down detractors from within her party for the second time in year to retain the Labor leadership, capping one of the more bizarre days in Australian political history.
In an extraordinary start to question time on Thursday, Ms Gillard declared there would be a vote on the Labor leadership at 4.30pm.
It came less than hour after Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean told reporters he no longer supported Ms Gillard and had urged her to call a spill.
Mr Crean called on Kevin Rudd to put himself forward to end the "stalemate", and also revealed he would nominate for the deputy leadership in the event of a caucus ballot.
A short time later it emerged he had been sacked from the ministry.
But after hours of frantic talks with his supporters, Mr Rudd declared he was not challenging.
"I have ... said that the only circumstances under which I would consider a return to the leadership would be if there was an overwhelming majority of the parliamentary party requesting such a return, drafting me to return and the position was vacant," he told reporters outside the party room.
"I'm here to inform you that those circumstances do not exist. Therefore, in the absence of any such draft, not withstanding what Simon Crean had to say this morning, I will be adhering to the commitment that I gave to the Australian people and to my parliamentary colleagues."
Ms Gillard and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan were the only nominees for the leadership positions, removing the need for a vote.
A short time later Ms Gillard, who has now prevailed in three leadership challenges, fronted a packed media conference with Mr Swan by her side.
Ms Gillard said the events of the day meant the question of the leadership was "completely at an end".
She thanked her colleagues for their support, adding she did so with a "sense of deep humility and a sense of resolve".
"I never sought office for its own sake; I have only ever sought office in the interests of the nation, and to assist our nation to prepare to meet the challenges of the future," Ms Gillard said.
"It is in that spirit that I intend to continue to govern. We've got a lot of work to do and we will continue to do it."
Mr Swan described Ms Gillard as a "tough leader" who was a "great champion for our country".
"Now I think today's result does end these matters once and for all, and what we will do is rededicate ourselves to working every minute to put in place a program which will lift our country up and maximise all of the opportunities which will flow in our region and to this country in the years ahead," Mr Swan said.
The failed attempt by Rudd backers to bring about leadership change came after a week of heightened leadership speculation, fuelled by media reports and nervous Labor MPs.
There were signs on Wednesday moves were afoot when Chief Government Whip Joel Fitzgibbon admitted publicly caucus members were talking about a possible change of leadership.
Mr Fitzgibbon spoke to the media after the caucus meeting and said he would use the next six weeks to consider his position as chief whip.
He said it was time for the party to begin "healing", saying he would be keeping quiet between now and the election on September 14.
Mr Rudd also called on his colleagues to switch focus.
"This is a difficult day for the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Government," he said.
"I suggest … we unite in ensuring that Tony Abbott does not simply walk into The Lodge as if it's his own personal property."
Late on Thursday Mr Abbott seized on the turmoil to appeal directly to Australian voters.
"It doesn't have to be this way. It doesn't have to be as bad as this," Mr Abbott said.
"We are a great people, we a great country. You deserve a government that is focused on you, not on itself."
Earlier Mr Abbott attempted to bring on a vote of no-confidence in the government, with his motion to suspend standing orders failing narrowly.
Labor's internal bickering had the effect of overshadowing Ms Gillard's apology to the victims of forced adoptions.
It also took the spotlight off the government's controversial media reform package.
The government discharged the remaining bills after they failed to attract the all-important support of the crossbench.
Julia Gillard returned unopposed after caucus room leadership spill
JULIA Gillard has been returned unopposed as leader of the Labor Party after one of the most dramatic days in Australia's political history.
A leadership spill was held at 4.30pm this afternoon with all positions declared vacant.
When nominations were called for the position of the leader, only Ms Gillard nominated.
When nominations were called for the position of the deputy, only Wayne Swan put his hand up.
Labor figures claim the decisions had put to rest Labor's leadership speculation.
It is the third time that Ms Gillard has returned as the leader of the Labor Party after a caucus meeting.
In other developments, Labor's chief whip Joel Fitzgibbon has signalled he is considering resigning from the position.
He said he would consider his position over the next six weeks.
Mr Fitzgibbon was among those who were urging Kevin Rudd to 'have a crack' at the leadership.
This afternoon, Mr Fitzgibbon said he believed Labor could win the election, despite not changing leader.
"I think the government can win with Julia Gillard as Prime Minister,'' he said, adding that the Opposition had a very weak leader.
Kevin Rudd says he won't be challenging Prime Minister
Earlier Kevin Rudd said he would not challenge Julia Gillard for the leadership of the Labor Party, despite the backing of senior Labor figure Simon Crean.
Mr Rudd held a short press conference, saying he had given his word he would challenge for the leadership unless circumstances had changed.
"When I say to my Parliamentary colleagues and to the people at large across Australia that I would not challenge for the Labor leadership - I believe in honouring my word.
"Others treat such commitments lightly. I do not.
I"'ve been very plain about that for a long period of time.
"Secondly, I said that the only circumstances under which I would consider a return to the leadership would be if there was an overwhelming majority of the Parliamentary Party requesting such a return - drafting me to return.
"And the position was vacant.
"I am here to inform you that those circumstances do not exist.
"And therefore in the absence of any such draft, notwithstanding what Simon Crean had to say this morning, I will be adhering absolutely to the commitments I gave to the Australian people and to my Parliamentary colleagues.
"This is a difficult day for the Australian Labor Party - a difficult day for the Australia Government but I take my word seriously. I've given that word, I gave it solemnly in that room after the last ballot and I will adhere to that word today.
"I therefore suggest to all and sundry across the Party and the Government that we unite in ensuring Tony Abbott does not simply treat the Lodge as if it's his own personal property.
"We're a Government with a proud record in health and education and the economy a record upon which we should robustly stand.
"But I am not prepared to dishonour my word which I gave solemnly. I will therefore adhere to that word as I have said before.
"And excuse me I am going to Caucus.
Political analysts said Mr Rudd did not have the numbers to take the leadership.
Earlier, Julia Gillard's right hand man Wayne Swan says he was confident she will survive a leadership ballot this afternoon, but the bookies aren't convinced.
"As I said yesterday, JuliaGillard is as tough as they make them- she'll win today & on 14 Sept because she's got the reforms for the future,'' the Treasurer tweeted a short time ago.
There are reports this afternoon of more than 20 MPs in Kevin Rudd's office, urging him to contest the leadership.
Queensland Labor Unity president Ray Marx of Bli Bli said today his assessment was that the vote was tightly split between Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd.
But he said Mr Rudd was the party's only chance of success in the federal election due in September.
Mr Marx said phones were running hot as numbers were marshalled ahead of today's vote.
"I think his leadership was taken prematurely,'' Mr Marx said of the decision to dump Mr Rudd midway through his first term.
"He didn't get the chance to do what he wanted to do. He would come back wiser. He would be a better leader. Experience is a mighty teacher."
Mr Marx was in Canberra last week as numbers started to be marshalled ahead of today's drama.
He said it was highly unlikely Ms Gillard would stand aside if she can only command a small majority this afternoon.
She would be feisty enough to keep going.''
Gillard narrowly avoids no confidence vote
In a drama-filled day in Australian politics, Ms Gillard narrowly avoided a vote of no confidence in her government during Question Time today.
Ms Gillard started Question Time by calling a leadership ballot within the Labor Party for 4.30pm AEDT (3.30pm Qld time) this afternoon.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott called a suspension of standing orders to allow a vote of no confidence, but the motion was defeated.
"This is a government in deadlock,'' Mr Abbott told Parliament a short time ago.
"This is a government in crisis,'' Mr Abbott said.
"A house divided against itself cannot stand.''
"This cannot go on.
"The people of Australia deserve a strong and stable government.''
"This is about the people of Australia. Their welfare and what they deserve.''
Ms Gillard slammed the move as a 'negative dummyspit' by Mr Abbott, who she said had offered no vision for the future of the country.
Despite support from several key independents for Mr Abbott's motion, the suspension of standing orders narrowly failed, with 73 voting against the motion, versus 71 for.
Ms Gillard immediately adjourned Question Time after the vote, on the basis the Opposition wanted to put no further questions to the government.
The unusually short Question Time followed Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean's call for an immediate ballot on the Labor leadership.
Crean sacked as Minister ahead of leadership showdown
APN Newsdesk can confirm senior Labor figure Simon Crean has been sacked form his ministerial role, after he agitated earlier today for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to call a leadership ballot this afternoon.
Mr Crean offered himself for a deputy leader role under a Kevin Rudd-led party, but Mr Rudd is yet to confirm he will actually stand in the ballot at 4.30pm.
Crean backs Kevin Rudd in leadership battle
SENIOR Labor Party figure Simon Crean has called a vote on the party's leadership, confirming he would back Kevin Rudd in the ballot.
Mr Crean informed Prime Minister Julia Gillard this morning he had made the "very difficult decision" to switch his allegiance to Mr Rudd, asking her to throw open all leadership positions in the hope of breaking the leadership "deadlock".
The Regional Australia Minister said Ms Gillard had asked him to reconsider, and indicated she had no intention of bringing on a leadership spill.
Mr Crean, a former Labor leader, confirmed he would put himself forward as deputy leader in the result of a spill, but he stressed he would not run a joint leadership ticket with Mr Rudd.
"We can't win from the position we're in in the polls," Mr Crean told a packed media conference a short time ago.
But he stressed a simple leadership change alone would not reverse the government's fortunes.
Mr Crean was one of Mr Rudd's harshest critics during last year's leadership spill, which Ms Gillard won comfortably.
He said he had not spoken with Mr Rudd in the past two days.
Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles, who backed Ms Gillard in last year's spill, told Sky News he would back Mr Rudd in a spill.
He described Ms Gillard as a "wonderful person" and said the decision to withdraw his support had been difficult.
"(But) we are in a position of need right now," Mr Marles said.
"We need to be putting our ver6y best foot forward."
Mr Marles said it was an "important moment" for the ALP and the country.
4.30pm ballot to decide fate of our Prime Minister
Ms Gillard opened question time by informing the Parliament a leadership ballot would be held at 4.30pm.
She then urged the opposition to "take its best shot".
Queensland MP Graham Perrett said he would remain loyal to Ms Gillard.
But if there was to be a spill, he said caucus members needed to give a "blood oath" that leadership speculation would end.
Mr Perrett is on the record saying he regretted backing Ms Gillard in the 2010 coup against Mr Rudd.
Bookies have their money on Kevin Rudd to win leadership ballot
ONLINE bookmaker Sportsbet has already posted a market about this afternoon's Labor leadership ballot, installing Kevin Rudd as a raging $1.10 favourite to return to the top job.
Punters can get $6 about Prime Minister Julia Gillard winning the ballot.
Labor has firmed from $4.75 into $3.80 following Simon Crean's press conference earlier today, while the Coalition have drifted from $1.16 out to $1.25
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Simon Crean says Kevin Rudd has no alternative but to stand
"I am urging Mr Rudd to put his name forward in the interests of breaking the deadlock,'' Mr Crean told reporters a short time ago.
Mr Crean said he was not seeking the Treasury in the leadership battle.
But he said he believed it was time the leadership issue was resolved once and for all.
"I will not step aside pending the outcome of the ballot. If she [the PM] were to win of course I would step aside."
Mr Crean was asked if Mr Rudd had the numbers: "I wouldn't be doing this if I did not believe there was the mood and the need for change within the party."
He said he had not spoken to Mr Rudd on the leadership push in the past 48 hours.
"I'm urging Mr Rudd to put his name forward....I do not believe simply changing from Ms Gillard to Mr Rudd will solve anything. The internals must stop. We must be an inclusive party."
Mr Crean said he met with the PM last night and again today. He promised not to say anything until he had spoken to her again which was why he did not say anything at this morning's press conference.
The PM said she would not call a spill.
"I urge her to reconsider," Mr Crean says.
"We need to settle this and move forward. As for the position of positions being declared open - Kevin Rudd has no choice but to stand for the leadership. He can no longer say he will only be drafted. That's why I'm putting myself forward as part of the leadership group."
"This is not personal. This is about the party, its future and the future of the country. I believe we can win the next election."
Mr Crean refused to answer a question about 'rolling Australia's first female Prime Minister' in light of Labor's attack on Tony Abbott's position on women.
And he said he believed Labor needed to continue to work with independents.
"I certainly have no intention about tearing up that agreement.''
But he added: "There is no part of continuing on in a hung Parliament.''
In previous times, Mr Crean has been highly critical of Mr Rudd's style of leadership, including in this interview with the ABC in February last year. (See below)
Earlier, Mr Crean, the Regional Australia Minister, said disunity was killing the federal Labor Party.
Mr Crean was announcing $1.3 million in regional arts funding, including $320,000 available for new arts projects across New South Wales and Queensland.
But during a press conference after the announcement, Mr Crean did not receive a single question on the funding announcement, with all questions centred on the political machinations within his party.
The former Labor leader warned party members, including Kevin Rudd supporter and Chief Government Whip Joel Fitzgibbon, to get behind Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
"The party has to get its act together. The stalemate has to end," Mr Crean said.
"People need to pull back. It's in the party's interest to act in a more unified way."
But Mr Crean again conceded there had been problems in handling recent bills, alluding to the Prime Minister's intervention in Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's media reforms in a bid to get the reforms package support with key independents.
Mr Crean said the Labor Party always came into trouble when party members could not reach a consensus, calling for the caucus to remember the common ground in the party's philosophy.
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