Rudd's backers concede defeat
Julia Gillard is inching closer to becoming Prime Minister, as number crunchers on both sides agree she will win this morning's leadership ballot against Kevin Rudd.
As the numbers are being frantically counted ahead of the ballot at 9:00am AEST, the ABC understands Ms Gillard has secured more than 70 votes, while Mr Rudd has just 30.
Supporters for Mr Rudd dispute the size of the margin, but have acknowledged that Ms Gillard will take over as Prime Minister.
This morning Ms Gillard's supporters told the ABC there was a push to get Mr Rudd not to contest the vote.
One supporter of Mr Rudd said: "You can't have a show where you have got to look over your shoulder all the time. It's clear where you end up. You end up as New South Wales."
A win for Ms Gillard would install her as Australia's 27th prime minister and its first female leader. She is expected to have Treasurer Wayne Swan as her Deputy Prime Minister.
Senior West Australian MP Gary Gray says he has no trouble supporting Ms Gillard. "From my own personal position, I'll be supporting Julia," he said. "I think Julia will win today."
Frontbencher Craig Emerson says he will be voting for Mr Rudd. "I have a conservative view of these matters. I have always voted for the leader," he said.
Mr Rudd called a late night press conference to announce the spill after a long meeting with Ms Gillard and party elder statesman, John Faulkner, last night.
"It's important I believe, in the interests of the Party and the Government, for these matters to be resolved as a matter of urgency," Mr Rudd said.
The moves against Mr Rudd began several weeks ago when one of Mr Rudd's supporters, New South Wales right powerbroker Mark Arbib, approached his Victorian counterpart David Feeney to sound out the possibility of a leadership change.
That was prompted by a series of disastrous polls which showed the Prime Minister's approval plummeting and taking the party's primary vote with it.
Yesterday morning the two powerbrokers met with Ms Gillard. They returned at noon saying that they could guarantee the support of the majority of right wing Caucus members in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
They told the Deputy Prime Minister that the party would lose the election if Mr Rudd continued to lead it. They said they believe the party will win under Ms Gillard.
Party sources tell the ABC that Ms Gillard agreed that the party faced electoral annihilation with Mr Rudd at the helm.
As a series of secretive meetings were held around Parliament House the ABC became aware of the moves against the Prime Minister and broke the story on air and online at 7:00pm AEST.
That accelerated events as the conspirators were hoping to finalise their plans without the media catching on. As it played out it became clear that even senior ministers were unaware of the power play.
One Cabinet minister told the ABC: "I am sitting in my office watching all this unfold on TV. I have no part in this and no idea what's going on. This is madness."
Announcing the party room spill, Mr Rudd listed his achievements and unfinished plans.
"I was elected by the people of Australia as Prime Minister of Australia. I was elected to do a job," he said.
"I intend to continue doing that job. I intend to continue doing it to the absolute best of my ability. Part of that job has been to steer this country through the worst economic crisis the world has ever seen in 75 years. I believe the Government has acquitted itself well to that task.
"Part of the reason the Government was elected was to deliver fundamental reforms in the health and hospital system. I believe the Government has acquitted itself well to that task as well.
"Part of what the Government was elected to do was also to deliver fair outcomes for pensioners in Australia, and I believe we've done that well by increasing the pension to the extent that we have.
"These are important reforms; infrastructure, education, health, hospitals, closing the gap with Indigenous Australians, also the apology to the first Australians. As Prime Minister of the country I'm proud of each and every one of these achievements. There is much more to be done and we intend to get on with the job of doing it."
And after weeks of denying the internal disquiet at his leadership style he admitted that he knew some in his ranks were out to get him.
"It's become apparent to me in the course of the last period of time, the last several weeks, that a number of factional leaders within the Labor Party no longer support my leadership," he said.
"That is why it is imperative that this matter be resolved".
"I was elected by the people of Australia to do a job. I was not elected by the factional leaders of the Australian Labor Party to do a job, though they may be seeking to do a job on me, that's a separate matter."
Mr Rudd never enjoyed the popular support of his party and his autocratic style has further soured the relationship. His centralisation of decisions and the narrowness of the group of ministers he consulted is being blamed for many of the party's woes.
The feeling against him is visceral.
One powerbroker said: "This crypto-fascist made no effort to build a base in the party. Now that his only faction, Newspoll, has deserted him he is gone."
The collapse in the polls followed hard on the heels of the decision to suspend the Government's push to set up an emissions trading system.
Having declared climate change the greatest moral and ethical challenge of our time, the electorate reacted viciously and polling on both sides showed many voters lost faith in the Prime Minister.
Others in the party say it is the steady flow of asylum seekers that is killing the Government in marginal seats.
Last night Mr Rudd suggested he was not behind those decisions and suggested that, if he was removed, the party would lurch to the right chasing votes.
"I believe it is absolutely wrong for this country and absolutely wrong in terms of the values which we hold dear, to get engaged in some sort of race to the right in this country on the question of asylum seekers, I don't think that's the right thing to do," he said.
"That's the direction the Liberal Party would like to take us, under my leadership we will not be going in that direction.
"Furthermore, can I say this, on the question of emissions trading which you have raised and obviously is a matter of great controversy in the community.
"Let me be very clear. Action on climate change cannot be achieved in the absence of an emissions trading scheme. We need a price on carbon. And that price on carbon needs to be put on it within a reasonable timeframe. That would be the decision of the government, assuming I am re-elected as Prime Minister."
This Prime Minister usually doesn't sleep much. He won't have sleep at all last night.
This is unprecedented. These are historic times. And should he fall today, history will not be kind to Mr Rudd.
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