Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, has thrown open her job to challenge by Kevin Rudd after senior figures of her Labor party called for the man she deposed to come back and replace her.
A combative Gillard said in parliamentary question time that a leadership ballot, known as a spill in Australian politics, would be held on Thursday afternoon. Gillard batted away taunts from the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, who called for a vote of no confidence in the House of Representatives. The prime minister opened question time by challenging the opposition to "take your best shot".
The extraordinary scenes began when Simon Crean, one of Australia's most senior government figures, to face a ballot for her leadership of the Labor party and thereby the government, just a few months before a federal election is due.
After a week of intense speculation about Gillard's leadership, Crean, the minister for the regions and the arts and one of the most respected figures in the government, called on the prime minister to hold a contest for the good of the party and the country. "I wouldn't be doing this if I did not think there was the mood and the need for change in the party," he said. Crean said Gillard had indicated to him that she would not agree to a spill of her leadership but soon afterwards she proved him wrong. Crean said he would back Kevin Rudd for role of prime minister. Gillard ousted Rudd for the top job three years ago. "It seems to me that the party is in a stalemate position," Crean said. "This is an issue that needs to be resolved There's too much at stake. Something needs to be done to break this deadlock and enable us to get on with the job we've been elected to do." Gillard, Australia's first female prime minister, has been dogged by leadership speculation almost ever since she ousted Kevin Rudd from the top job in June 2010. Rudd's removal was the first time a first term sitting prime minister had been ousted by his own party. Virtually ever since Rudd has led Gillard in opinion polls as preferred Labor leader, causing constant speculation about her tenure in the job in a hotly contested hung parliament. Two opinion polls in the past month have indicated that Labor would lose September's election in a landslide, adding to speculation about Gillard's leadership. Gillard's minority coalition relies on the support of three independents and a Greens member of parliament. On Thursday her government withdrew controversial media legislation, which would have seen the introduction of a statutory regulator for newspapers. Supporters and opponents of Gillard publicly attacked the process of the legislation, saying it was rushed to parliament, suggesting chaos within the government. Newspapers depicted Gillard's communications minister, Stephen Conroy, the man behind the media bills, as Joseph Stalin, implying the measures in the bills would sit better in totalitarian regime than a democracy. Kevin Rudd had said before Thursday that he will not challenge the prime minister but Crean said he would be left with "no choice" by a leadership spill.