THE LABOR Party has deposed the second sitting Prime Minister from within its own ranks in little more than three years.
Dogged by internal rifts within the party for her entire term in the Prime Minister's office, Julia Gillard was voted out by a 12 vote margin during a leadership ballot she called on Wednesday.
The ballot has re-installed Kevin Rudd in the office, pending approval from Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
However, the removal of another sitting Prime Minister has created a virtual constitutional mess, which could alter not only the date, but the outcome of, the election.
Ms Gillard could be forced to leave politics altogether at the September poll under her own conditions set before the ballot.
After key Rudd supporters began circulating a petition calling for a special caucus meeting on Wednesday, Ms Gillard used a pre-emptive strike to call a ballot at 7pm.
However, when the vote occurred, Mr Rudd won a total of 57 votes, with Ms Gillard receiving 45 votes.
The vote is a comprehensive and decisive win for Mr Rudd with a significant number of MPs switching sides at the last minute.
Returning officer Chris Hayes said each vote was counted one by one.
"Any of these challenges, I think, are emotional," he said.
"I think they're all human beings."
Earlier, Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten announced his support for Mr Rudd.
Mr Shorten was a key player in the switch of leaders that saw Mr Rudd deposed and Ms Gillard become Prime Minister three years ago.
He said he had carefully considered his position, and knew he had friends who would not support his announcement.
"I have now come to the view that Labor stands the best chance to continue the legacy of this government, with Kevin Rudd as leader," he said.
Mr Shorten said he knew his stand "could come at a personal cost", and it was "not an easy decision".
The former union leader and Victorian is a factional leader controlling several other votes within caucus.
There is speculation tonight that the federal election will be brought forward to August.
Saffin says electorate wants Kevin Rudd to lead again
KEVIN Rudd supporter Janelle Saffin says the former Prime Minister would give Labor the best shot at the September election.
Ms Saffin said an "horrendous campaign" had been run within the party, and Mr Rudd presented the only chance at avoiding a "catastrophic defeat" at the polls.
"We in the Labor Party overwhelmingly said to him you have to do this, we want you back," she told ABC News before a leadership ballot on Wednesday night.
She said she would be casting her own ballot for Mr Rudd, who she said had promised "no recriminations" should he lose the challenge.
The ballot would be the third time the party caucus will have been asked to vote on a leadership, although Mr Rudd failed to contest the last challenge earlier this year.
Ms Saffin said she was sure the entire federal party could be "focussed" and be a "united team" under Mr Rudd's leadership.
For both Mr Rudd and current Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the challenge at 7pm will be an all or nothing vote.
Both have committed themselves not to contest the September election should they lose.
Pollster says Rudd would give Labor boost
A RESPECTED pollster says Kevin Rudd would almost certainly deliver an immediate boost to Labor's vote, but it's too early to say whether it would be enough to help it win the election.
JWS Research managing director John Scales said if Mr Rudd emerged from the caucus ballot as Prime Minister, Labor could expect an immediate two-party-preferred bounce of 2-3%.
He said this was enough of a reason for the Coalition to be worried about a possible Rudd return.
"Which is a considerable number of seats for them and gets them back into a place where they can be competitive and potentially close the gap further through the course of the campaign," Mr Scales said.
"It literally could make a difference of 10 to 15 seats."
A JWS poll of 47 Labor-held seats with a margin of 12% or less showed Labor faced the prospect of a 7.6% swing against it.
Conversely, if Ms Gillard were to stare down a third challenge on her leadership, Ms Scales said this would sink Labor's hopes.
And he warned it could get worse.
"I think if the Labor caucus decides to stay with Gillard the electorate will read that as being completely out of step with them and putting their own interest, petty or otherwise, and their own internal interest first," he said.
He said it would be interesting to see whether Mr Rudd would keep the September 14 election date set by Ms Gillard at the beginning of the year.
Sportsbet.com.au has Mr Rudd as a $1.20 chance to win the ballot and Ms Gillard $4.50.
Kevin Rudd confirms he will run against Gillard
KEVIN Rudd has confirmed he will be a candidate in tonight's Labor Party leadership ballot, saying the government is on course for a "catastrophic defeat" at the next election unless there is a change.
The former prime minister, who was deposed as leader by Julia Gillard three years ago this week, told reporters in Canberra the Coalition was on track to win the election by the "biggest landslide since Federation".
"For the nation's sake I think it is time for this matter to be resolved," Mr Rudd said.
Like Ms Gillard he vowed to resign from the Parliament if he loses the ballot.
Mr Rudd said there not be ant blood-letting against Gillard supporters if he prevails.
The Member for Griffith said he was contesting the leadership for three key reasons
"The truth is many, many MPs have requested me for a long, long time to contest the leadership of the party because of the parlous circumstances we now face," he said.
"The second but more important reason for contesting the leadership is the tens of thousands of ordinary Australians … who have been asking for me to do this for a long time. And it's your voices … that have had a huge effect on me.
"If we're all being perfectly honest about it right now is that we're on course for a catastrophic defeat unless there is change.
"((Third) I believe that all Australians, whatever their politics, want a real choice at this election.
"At present … they don't feel as if they've got one and they are frustrated we are denying them one. They are angry we are leaving them with little choice at all but to vote for Mr Abbott."
If Ms Gillard wins the vote it will be the third challenge to her leadership she has seen off in the past 16 months.
Mr Rudd balked when he had the challenged by Ms Gillard to stand for the leadership in March, saying at the time there were "no circumstances" under which he would do so in the future.
He admitted he had changed his previous position but only after he had been urged to do so by tens of thousands of Australians, as well as his Labor colleagues.
Mr Rudd vowed that if he lost the ballot he would resign from Parliament as Ms Gillard had promised to do.
He said he didn't "fudge" the fact he had changed his position and he accepted full responsibility for his statements.
In March he said he would never be leader of the party.
Mr Rudd refused to take any questions, saying declaring he had to zip to continue his work before the ballot.
He said Mr Abbott posed a threat to the national economy, jobs, and the environment if a Coalition government was elected.
Mr Abbott would bring in a British-style government with massive cuts which would lead to a 'triple dip' recession, Mr Rudd claimed.
UPDATE 4:45pm: Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called a ballot for the Labor leadership at 7pm, vowing to resign from politics if she loses the vote.
Kevin Rudd is expected to confirm at 5pm whether he will contest the ballot.
Asked on Sky News if she was confident of winning the ballot, Ms Gillard said she would not be putting herself forward if she didn't have a "degree of confidence".
She also said the loser of the ballot should resign from the Parliament.
Ms Gillard said she had not seen the petition reportedly being circulated by Rudd backers to force a caucus showdown.
"So in these circumstances I do think it's in the best interests of the nation … and the Labor Party for this matter to be resolved," Ms Gillard said.
EARLIER: Opposition leader Tony Abbott has called for an early election, saying it was time that Australians got to elect their government and prime minister.
"I say we should have government of the people, by the people, for the people,'' Mr Abbott told Parliament a short time ago.
Mr Abbott said it no longer acceptable that the unions and Labor's faceless men ran the country.
"Why should we limp on for another 80 days of confusion and paralysis,'' he said.
Tony Abbott asked: "Will (the PM) bring forward the election date to August the 3rd and ask the people who should run our country?"
Mr Gillard responded by saying: "I can assure the Australian people I am getting on with the job. That is what the Government is doing.
"That's why I can come into Parliament today to say we have legislated a system to improve school funding," Ms Gillard said.
Mr Abbott narrowly lost his motion to suspend standing orders by 73 votes to 74.
The second to last question time before the election ended with MPs scrambling back to their offices to discuss the leadership.
Kevin Rudd's backers appear to have the numbers to force a leadership showdown on Thursday morning but the former PM is yet to confirm a challenge.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard took the attack to the Opposition over its failure to support the government's climate change reforms.
But the focus of the national media has been on Mr Rudd and the shifting of support behind him.
Just before 3pm, Tony Abbott called for an August 3 election, saying the Australian public were sick of the turmoil within the Labor party.
On social media, many Queenslanders are backing Mr Rudd to challenge Ms Gillard for the leadership, saying he should never have been ousted in the first place.
Rudd supporters start petition to call for leadership vote
KEVIN Rudd's supporters have started circulating a caucus petition to allow a challenge to Julia Gillard for the prime ministership.
Fairfax reports that Mr Rudd's forces have launched the process in the confident expectation that Mr Rudd is prepared to stand, and that he has a majority.
To convene a meeting where the vote can take place, one-third of the caucus members need to sign a petition requesting a special caucus meeting.
Parliament is due to rise on Thursday night so the meeting is likely to be on Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.
Bookies backing Rudd to win leadership ballot
Should a Labor leadership ballot be held in the next 24 hours, online bookmaker sportsbet.com.au will install Kevin Rudd as the $1.33 favourite to win.
Julia Gillard will be the $3.00 outsider, while 'Any Other' candidate has been included at $13.
"Could it be third time lucky for K-Rudd? The betting says so," sportsbet.com.au's Ben Hawes said.
The market will not be opened until it is official that a ballot will be held and contested by Rudd.
Abbott smiling over leadership woes
One person smiling but trying not to appear too smug is Tony Abbott, reports Michelle Grattan in a live blog on The Conversation.
He said it was "pretty clear that the turmoil inside the Government is only deepening".
"It seems that the Labor Party caucus has not just lost faith in the Prime Minister but is losing faith in the Labor Party itself."
Looking to the possibility that he might be facing Kevin Rudd, Abbott said "The Labor Party well may change its leader, but it doesn't matter who leads the Labor Party - it will still be much the same government with much the same policies".
The Australian Financial Review is reporting that powerbroker Bill Shorten is deserting Gillard - we have asked Shorten's office if this is true.
Earlier today Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Climate Minister Greg Combet were still sticking with Gillard. Combet said the leadership must be resolved, although he would not be signing a petition.
Shorten's position has been considered crucial.
Sources in the Rudd camp say they're confident he will run and declare that there is much more energy in the push than in March.
The candidate's body language is being noted; "he is walking very confidently across the Parliament in divisions," one source said.
The Rudd camp also says that Bob Katter's declaration that he would support Rudd in any motion on confidence was an important coup. Sources say this means he would be safe, regardless of the country independents.
Albanese claims it is business as usual
Anthony Albanese, the government's Leader of the House, told ABC's The World Today he is "focusing on his job".
"My job is to make sure that the legislation that if before the house at the moment … passes the House," Mr Albanese said.
He said the intense leadership speculation was being driven by the "media talking to the media".
Earlier, Queensland MP Bob Katter says he will support Kevin Rudd in a confidence motion in Parliament if he takes on the federal Labor leadership.
Mr Katter said he had no confidence in the Julia Gillard government, saying no-one was 'driving the bus'.
"The bus isn't under anyone's control,'' Mr Katter told reporters a short time ago.
Mr Katter said he would remain an independent, vowing he would not be supporting any party long-term.
"I get on very well with Tony Abbott but Kevin is a friend of mine,'' Mr Katter said.
"And we talk things over.''
Pressure is mounting on the leadership of Ms Gillard as two key independents announced they will not be contesting the next election.
Bob Katter's full statement
KAP Federal Leader and Member for Kennedy Bob Katter today announced his support for Kevin Rudd as preferred ALP Leader - but emphasised that did not assure his automatic vote of confidence in an ALP Government into the future.
Prior to today's media conference in Canberra, Mr Katter advised Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that he would support an Opposition-led 'no confidence' motion in the Gillard Government.
But Mr Katter emphasised that his statements today should not be interpreted as a guaranteed vote of confidence in either a Rudd Government or an Abbott Government - it was, rather, a clear statement of no confidence in the Gillard Government.
"It's a clear cut statement that, whilst not in the best interests of our party, we believe it's in the nation's interests that Mr Rudd is leader of the ALP - because the bus currently doesn't have a driver, and the country will avoid a landslide election, which is not in our nation's best interests.
The reaction on the Rudd news on Facebook
Angela Andrews: Go for it Kev never give up, especially when Julia did that to you...we never voted her in....
Michelle Champion: How about they just bring the election forward so we can get rid of these idiots once and for all
Shirley James-Sharry: We voted Kevin initially! He shouldn't have been ousted. Might be too late though
Karl Gallant: He is the idiot that started the rot....back to the same psyhco stuff he used to carry on with. The guy is a punce and he is hated by his party which is why they dumped himfor Dullard....they are just trying to protect their pensions!
Joanne McIntyre: Why bother! Even if they did win the election by putting Rudd in, they'll probably stick the knife into Rudd again and Julia Gillard will be back in charge. You cannot trust them..
Micheal Riseley: I don't care who is leader, as long as they can beat Tony Abbott, the last thing anyone who actually cares about this country would want, is him (TA) as PM
Hayley Elyse Longmuir: He should never have left in the first place! we never voted for julia so of course he should come back, however i think its a little late for it all - if the polls stay the way they are we have no chance of winning the election.
And this from Bernard Gaynor on Twitter
>> Related: 70% chance Kevin Rudd will lead Labor again
Tony Windsor announced he will not contest the federal election, citing health and family reasons. The news came just after Rob Oakeshott revealed he will not be standing either.
There is also mounting speculation that Kevin Rudd may mount a last bid leadership spill.
But neither Mr Oakeshott or Mr Windsor have indicated support for Mr Rudd if he takes over before the September 14 poll.
An emotional Mr Windsor, joined by his wife and daughter, said he was confident he could have beaten Barnaby Joyce in New England but "did not want to be here in three years".
Mr Windsor has been involved in state and federal politics since 1991 - 10 as the state member for Tamworth and 12 in New England.
He nominated his work in helping the current government take action on climate change as his proudest achievement.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard described Mr Windsor as "one of Australia's great parliamentarians".
Ms Gillard said she would be one of "millions" who would be sorry to see Mr Windsor leave the Parliament.
"Tony Windsor long ago earned the respect and affection of his community in New England," Ms Gillard said in statement.
"In the past three years he has earned the respect and affection of many Australians from all political persuasions."
Ms Gillard said the "water trigger" legislation for coal seam gas and coal developments, which passed last week, would be viewed by many as the "signature achievement" of Mr Windsor's final three years in politics.
"I have enjoyed working with Tony Windsor and I wish him and Lyn many happy years together in retirement," she said.
Rob Oakeshott also retiring after 17 years in state and federal politics
The news comes as fellow independent Rob Oakeshott, also announced he is retiring from politics after five years of representing the Port Macquarie based federal seat of Lyne.
"Now is the moment," he said. "I have done everything I said I was going to do - and done the best I can. Now it's up to others to try and do better,'' Mr Oakeshort is quoted as saying on the Port Macquarie News website.
"There is absolutely no fear whatsoever of the ballot box. It's not an issue of running and losing. If anything it's a respect for winning that makes me make a call now."
With the federal government purse strings opening to the tune of $30 million for two projects in the region just last week, the MP's office says that brings the total over five years to a whopping $1.2 billion for the electorate.
"There is still more work to be done for our region and the country, but for me, I think the timing's right after 17 years.
After 12 years as a state MP, Mr Oakeshott won Lyne in a by-election following the resignation of former Nationals leader Mark Vaile in 2008.
Rob Oakeshott's statement in full
Today I confirm I will not re-nominate to represent the electorate of Lyne in the 44th Parliament.
This decision follows 17 years in public life, six elections, five years in the federal parliament, and a lot of work on a lot of issues throughout that time.
The demands on an Independent MP in a regional seat are very high. It is for this reason that I cannot bring myself to commit to the coming three years.
It is out of respect for my community, for the role of Members of Parliament, and the commitment and time required to do the job, that I make today's announcement.
I am looking forward to new challenges in life outside of the parliament, both in work and with my young family.
Thank you to the many people on the Mid-North Coast who have supported me over the past 17 years, and to those from the Mid-North Coast and further afield who provided words of encouragement and support throughout the past three years. Your support has been important and has helped build a region and a nation that will be stronger for our collective efforts.
Sincere thanks also go to my staff, who have worked tremendously hard on behalf of our local communities, our region and our nation.
As a local MP, I will continue to serve the community of Lyne to the dissolution of the 43rd Parliament and confirm the Port Macquarie electorate office will remain open for business until a handover to a new Member of Parliament post September 14.
Three years ago, a supply and confidence agreement was reached to allow the commissioning of a Prime Minister and for a Parliament to start.
I am pleased we have reached the full three years, supply has been delivered, and confidence in the Parliament has also been delivered. The fact that we are now at the second last sitting day of a full three-year term is proof of this.
I am pleased $10 billion has been invested in Regional Australia and $1.2 billion has been invested in the Lyne electorate. This investment is much more than 'trinkets and baubles' and I would welcome the chance to introduce critics to the real people whose lives have improved because of this much-needed funding.
￼Finally, amongst the 585 pieces of legislation passed by this Parliament, 87 per cent of which was bipartisan, there were four major items agreed at the formation of this Parliament:
1. An Emissions Trading Scheme - delivered;
2. Deep Fibre Infrastructure for Australia via the National Broadband Network - being delivered;
3. Equity in Education (secondary and tertiary) - Tertiary (Bradley) - delivered; Secondary (Gonski) - being delivered;
4. Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition in the Constitution - part delivered. Bipartisan legislation has passed to deal with this issue in the next two years.
As well, eight Private Members Bills passed. The two I sponsored were:
1. The Auditor-General Amendment Bill 2011 ('follow the money trail' laws); and
2. Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 (passed House of Representatives and blocked in the Senate.)
I am obviously disappointed this Parliament could not resolve the politics of refugee policy that continues to dress itself as border security, but I did what I could to try to resolve it.
On this, and many other issues, it is over to others.