- Gillard prevails in leadership battle
- The Pulse: Live from Parliament House
- Poll: Can Labor recover from its messy divorce?
- Phillip Coorey: PM must reward thumping endorsement
- Peter Hartcher: Will of the people fails to sway caucus
- Michelle Grattan: Now the hard work starts
Gillard 71 | Rudd 31 | Ineligible 1
2.30pm: That's about if for our live coverage of the Labor leadership challenge. For more, read Judith Ireland and Jessica Wright's full wrap of events and for live coverage of Question Time, log on to The Pulse with Katharine Murphy.
Wayne Swan fronts the media
Q&A: Abuse of children in custody
Lindt cafe siege fly-through
Baby dies after given wrong gas
6 things you need to know about Kim Carr
Melbourne hit with another home invasion
Woolworths to axe 500 jobs
Gunman places suburb in lockdown
Wayne Swan fronts the media
Watch live as Treasurer Wayne Swan addresses the media in Canberra following Clive Palmer's challenge to his seat.
2.24pm: The Age National Affairs Editor Tony Wright has just posted this take on the new happy, helpful Kevin Rudd, who could offer the new slogan: "I'm Kevin and I'm here to help Julia":
Kevin Rudd took not a single question as he stood before the media to declare he accepted without rancour the Labor caucus's judgment of him, more than two-thirds of which rejected his wild hope of returning to the prime ministership.
How could he have answered a question? The first, surely, would be how his new promise to work tirelessly for Julia Gillard's victory over Tony Abbott at the next election squared with his declaration over recent days that she couldn't beat Abbott.
Still, the appearance before the press of the vanquished after every leadership challenge is a ritualised thing — a path down which every loser must walk (with the spectacular exception of Mark Latham after the election of 2004, who kicked a photographer, damned the world and wrote the most vitriolic diary in Australian political history).
Rudd stuck to the copy book.
2.05pm: For all those on Twitter not following the Prime Minister's press conference, she has sent out a message rallying the online forces:
Gillard: This political drama is over
RAW VISION: Prime Minister Julia Gillard pledges to unite Labor after successfully winning a leadership ballot Monday.
Only Labor has an agenda for Australia’s future – making it stronger and fairer. JG— Julia Gillard (@JuliaGillard) February 27, 2012
Meanwhile, The Age Political Editor Michelle Grattan has filed this analysis, saying now that Rudd has been vanquished, the hard work starts.
Julia Gillard and her troops have blown Kevin Rudd out of the water with a campaign that used all the political force her backers could muster.
The caucus overwhelmingly ignored the polls giving Rudd the advantage over both the PM and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. MPs were driven by a combination of loyalty, hatred of Rudd and the judgment that overthrowing a second PM in less than two years would get them into worse trouble than ever.
This political drama is over and you [the public] are back at centre stage where you should properly be.
But what now, amid all the talk of "unity"?
1.58pm: Anthony Albanese, who publicly showed the strains of the Labor leadership struggle with an emotional address declaring his support for Kevin Rudd on the weekend, has been graceful in defeat.
1.45pm: Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is on now, getting his word in before Question Time starts at 2pm. He has described today's events as a stay of execution for Julia Gillard, rather than a political victory.
"The challenge for this PM is to finally run a competent government. It's pretty clear based on what we have already seen that nothing will change.
"We are a great country, but we are a great country that is being let down by a bad government. Only the coalition can give Australia the stable and competent government that it needs.
"The clear answer from today is the only way we can get real clarity is from an election. I think the prime minister of this country should be chosen by the people and not by the faceless men. One thing is certain at the moment - the people of Australia do not own the government.
Mr Abbott raises eyebrows by claiming, against the constent "Dr No" allegations levelled against him by the government, that he is "a model of positivity" compared to the actions of the Labor party in the past week.
"I have no confidence in this prime minister. There are 72 Coalition members of the Parliament who have no confidence in the prime minister. There are now 31 members of the caucus who have no confidence in this prime minister.
"I am formally requesting the independents to state their positions, whether they have confidence in this PM."
Greens Leader Bob Brown is also holding a hastily convened press conference ahead of Question Time, where he mentions that he has already sent Julia Gillard a card congratulating her for her win today. Well isn't that sweet!
1.29pm: "Any more questions?" the press gallery erupts and Julia Gillard exits stage left with a cheeky grin. Fighting Julia was definitely back in the house and keen to, as she said, get on with the job.
1.19pm: More from Ms Gillard. She has promised to announce a ministerial reshuffle in coming days to permanently fill the Foreign Affairs portfolio previously occupied by Kevin Rudd:
"We have come together before and we will do so now. At the end of the day as Labor people we are driven by a common purpose.
"I want to say to Kevin Rudd for the days that lie beyond, as a nation as a Labor party we must honour his achievements as PM.
"He's been an amazing advocate of Australia's interest on the world stage.
"As for now Dr [Craig] Emerson will act as minister for foreign affairs."
And a seemingly rushed and slightly testy Ms Gillard was keen to get the leadership issue behind her as soon as possible:
"I absolutely believe that united we can win the next election and I am determined that in the 2013 election we will do so.
"I feel impatient, I want to get on with the job of building this nation's future."
1.10pm: An unusually punctual Julia Gillard is up now.
"Australians have had a gutful of seeing us focus on ourselves. Today I want to say to Australians one and all, this issue, the leadership question is now determined.
"I have today received the overwhelming endorsement of my Labor colleagues.
"I can assure you that this political drama is over and you [the public] are back at centre stage where you should properly be."
1.01pm: Julia Gillard is up shortly now - about 1.10pm - and is expected to rally the troops to begin presenting a unified image, in stark contrast with the brutal bickering of the past week.
For a political party that has been super-sensitive to opinion polls in the past, it was a remarkable rejection of the public will.
The people consistently prefer Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard as Labor leader by a factor of about two to one. But Labor has gone the other way by a factor of more than two to one. For a party that is on a steady trajectory to electoral defeat, it was an extraordinary act of steely resolve. Or suicidal madness.
Sky News is reporting Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is also likely to hold a press conference before Question Time kicks off at 2pm. There is speculation he will move a motion of no confidence in the government.
12.56pm: Rudd takes no questions as he steps down, giving his wife Therese Rein a quick hug and kiss for the cameras.
His last words were a repeat of his pledge to throw "every effort" into securing the re-election of Julia Gillard.
"I dedicate myself to working fully for (Ms Gillard's) re-election as the prime minister of Australia. I will do so with my absolute ability dedicated to that task."
12.52pm: Rudd is now thanking all his staff. He gets a giggle out of the room when thanking the head of Australia's secretive overseas spy agency:
"I'd like to thank ASIS and its director Nick Warner ... and that's about all I can say about that."
12.48pm: I'm getting a strong sense of deja-vu as Rudd sets out all his and the government's achievements, each presaged by the phrase "I'm proud of the fact..." - the same phrase he wheeled out last time he was rolled.
12.43pm: Kevin Rudd is on now.
"I congratulate Julia on her strong win today. The caucus has spoken and I accept their verdict.
"To those who did not vote for me, can I thank them for their friendship and civility. To those who have been a little more willing in their character analysis of me, can I say the following: I bear no grudges.
"I bear no one any malice and if I've done wrong to anyone with what I've said and what I've done, I apologise.
"It's well past time that those wounds were healed. Our purpose is to serve the nation, not ourselves
Our purpose is to serve the people of Australia, not ourselves.
"To Julia I would say the following: I accept fully the verdict of the caucus and I dedicate myself fully to her re-election as prime minister of Australia."
12.39pm: Katharine Murphy in the Pulse blog writes that one of Kevin Rudd's most vocal backers, Doug Cameron, has said it's now time to "wash the walls down" and get back on with life.
This coming from the man who said Labor tried to assassinate Kevin Rudd twice. He's got such a charming way with words.
12.32pm: Brisbane Times Deputy Editor Danielle Cronin reports that Queensland Premier Anna Bligh appealed for Labor to heal the rift and come together as an organisation in the aftermath of today's challenge.
She also congratulated Prime Minister Julia Gillard after the "decisive outcome" in today's leadership ballot.
Campaigning on the Gold Coast, Ms Bligh said this has been a difficult and emotionally painful time for the caucus and Labor's supporters. She wanted the party to heal the rift and come together, saying she was confident Labor had the political maturity and will to recover.
Ms Bligh described the unsuccessful challenger, Kevin Rudd, as a "friend of mine" and remarked it was "never easy to watch a friend go through something like this".
Mr Rudd and other federal Labor members would be welcome on the Queensland campaign trail. But Ms Bligh said the federal leadership showdown had damaged the state campaign because Queensland voters had not had the chance to look at state issues and scrutinise the major parties' leaders and policies.
She was yet to speak to long-time Labor strategist Bruce Hawker, who temporarily quit her campaign to help Mr Rudd mount his challenge for the federal leadership. She expected Mr Hawker would rejoin Queensland Labor's campaign soon.
12.23pm: Kevin Rudd is due to speak about 12.30pm according to the latest reports. We will bring the press conference to you live when it happens.
12.10pm: Julia Gillard's chief backers, acting Foreign Affairs Minister Craig Emerson and Treasurer Wayne Swan, stick close by as she emerges triumphant from the Labor caucus room.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Kevin Rudd still manages a smile in defeat, as do his supporters Janelle Saffin and Justine Elliot:
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
11.55am: Fingers still smouldering off the keyboard, Sydney Morning Herald Chief Political Correspondent Phillip Coorey has filed this breaking analysis of the thumping endorsement delivered to Julia Gillard:
Julia Gillard's caucus has backed her emphatically. Now she must return the favour.
Between now and the next election, Gillard's fortunes will rest on the opinion polls.
Despite Labor's best efforts to destroy itself, its support in the major polls - Nielsen, Newspoll and Galaxy - has been creeping upwards since the start of this year. Gillard needs to maintain this trend.
If not, many of those who have backed her this time may not be so loyal closer to an election and their own survival starts staring them in the face.
The onus is on both camps to lift Labor out of this mire.
11.52am: Anyone feel like a step back in time? Here's the results from Labor leadership challenges past, to see how today's ballot stacks up against the rest:
- July 16, 1982 - Bob Hawke challenged Bill Hayden unsuccessfully (Hayden 42; Hawke 37)
- February 3, 1983 - Hawke became leader without a ballot.
- June 3, 1991 - Paul Keating challenged Hawke unsuccessfully (Hawke 66; Keating 44)
- December 19, 1991 - Keating challenged Hawke and won (Keating 56; Hawke 51)
- March 19, 1996 - Kim Beazley became leader unopposed following Keating's resignation
- November 11, 2001 - Simon Crean became leader unopposed following Beazley's resignation
- June 16, 2003 - Beazley challenged Crean unsuccessfully (Crean 58; Beazley 34)
- December 2, 2003 - Mark Latham defeated Beazley in ballot following Crean's resignation (Latham 47; Beazley 45)
- January 28, 2005 - Beazley became leader unopposed following Latham's resignation.
- December 4, 2006 - Kevin Rudd challenged Beazley and won (Rudd 49; Beazley 39)
- June 24, 2010 - Julia Gillard challenged Rudd, but ballot did not occur.
- February 27, 2012 - Rudd challenges Gillard. (Gillard 71; Rudd 31)
11.50am: Canberra journalists are tweeting that Kevin Rudd will hold a press conference shortly before he zips off to the backbenches.
11.31am: Sydney Morning Herald Political Editor Peter Hartcher says the final tally is similar to the estimate of what Kevin Rudd was facing when he chose not to contest Julia Gillard for the Labor leadership in 2010.
"It tells us that one of the basic laws of leadership challenges has not worked for Kevin Rudd. There is usually momentum for the challenger, that has not happened today.
"[The Labor Party] have damaged themselves a lot. The main victim seems to be Julia Gillard's approval rating. Rudd's standing as preferred Prime Minister has not changed.
"It is essentially the same outcome that they would have got 20 months ago."
But Hartcher was doubtful there would be any repeat of the bloody saga that has dominated the past week of politics.
"If 20 months of dire polling and the loss of a majority government [won't shift sentiment towards Rudd], this tells you that something dramatic will have to shift for any future challenge [to succeed]. It's going to have to be a pretty serious shift of circumstances to change a 40-vote margin."
Former Sydney morning Herald and ABC reporter Paul Barry offers this insight:
Kevin says he will be "Right Behind Julia". With a knife?— Paul Barry (@TheRealPBarry) February 27, 2012
11.26am: The Age Political Editor Michelle Grattan says this result is an overwhelming endorsement of Julia Gillard by her party.
"It has basically said we are going to stick with what we've got and this means it is unlikely Kevin Rudd is going to have any sort of resurrection later on.
"We will hear a lot of talk about unity and that will come from both camps. What's important is how Julia Gillard settles down the government."
11.18am: Returning officer Chris Hayes is accompanied by Dick Adams to deliver the result
THE FINAL RESULT IS 71 GILLARD 31 RUDD
So the final result is marginally better for Rudd than the early numbers that leaked out of the caucus room. Coorey immediately 'fesses up via Twitter:
Gillard wins 71 31 confirmed. Sorry got it wrong— Phillip Coorey (@PhillipCoorey) February 27, 2012
Contrary to reports there was no recount. So Rudd has made the magic number. And now we await the breakdown of who voted for whom?
A question fielded by a member of the press pack: "Do you think there will be a unified party heading forward?"
The answer from Mr Hayes: "Absolutely"
11.09am: Hello, David Speers on Sky News says he has just got a message saying they are still counting inside the caucus room. Could Rudd be demanding a recount? That's what Phillip Coorey has just tweeted:
Rumours now there is a recount— Phillip Coorey (@PhillipCoorey) February 27, 2012
We still have no official word on the numbers, but the same division was sent to Coorey, Fairfax online political reporter Jessica Wright and it is understood a reporter from the ABC was also sent similar information.
11.02am: We are still waiting for the returning officer to deliver the official result, so Sky are continuing to give Mark Latham free rein to deliver his form of analysis.
Latham says that this is a "dismal result" for Kevin Rudd, who should not have contested this ballot and should have waited for the party to come to him in desperation next year.
Meanwhile for Rudd, the condolences begin, this from the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine (could be be upset because his only reader didn't deserve such a fate...?):
Condolences to @KRuddMP— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) February 26, 2012
And the sympathy is hard to find in this Rudd spoof Twitter account:
Where's Malcolm because I need a shoulder right now :(— Kevin Rudd (@KevinRuddExPM) February 26, 2012
10.54am: The predictions were that Kevin Rudd would have to score a vote in the 30s to give him any hope of further leadership aspirations. A vote in the 20s would be considered a very disappointing outcome for the Rudd camp, according to The Age National Affairs Editor Michael Gordon.
But will it succeed in galvanising support behind Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
And more importantly, we had the early vote at 72-30 - who switched camps?
10.47am: Sydney Morning Herald Chief Political Correspondent Phillip Coorey reports an early text from inside the caucus room says GILLARD HAS WON 73 VOTES TO 29.
Coorey is calling it:
Gillard wins 73 29— Phillip Coorey (@PhillipCoorey) February 26, 2012
10.40am: It's long been wondered how long Sky News's David Speers and Kieran Gilbert can talk about politics when nothing is happening. Now we know - they have crossed to ex-Labor leader Mark Latham, surely a sign of the ultimate desperation.
And Latham is in his best snarky form. In speculating about the tone of the speeches being delivered to the faithful inside the caucus room, he chances himself to venture an idea on the tone of the challenger's pitch:
"The speech will be full and frank, in the best Rudd tradition."
Latham also says the "group therapy" that the party is currently undergoing in the caucus room will have a very liberating affect on Julia Gillard, finally freeing her of the Rudd legacy once her inevitable victory is announced.
10.24am: Chris Hayes, the Labor MP for Fowler, has the job of returning officer and will deliver the much-anticipated result to the hoards of media gathered in the corridors of Parliament House. The result shouldn't take long now - both candidates are only allowed to speak for five minutes before the vote is taken.
And here is the box in which the fateful ballots will be cast, being brought into the caucus room by the party whips:
Photo: Andrew Meares
10.16am: We have a LAST MINUTE DEFECTOR. Sydney Morning Herald chief political correspondent Phillip Coorey gets a text message from inside the caucus room confirming Queensland Senator Mark Furner has switched from Rudd to Gillard.
Rudd is poised on either 29 or 30. The big question now - will he get to the big 3-0?
Former Rudd adviser Lachlan Harris is resorting to bribery to get the results everyone so desperately seeks:
Dear ALP cuacus members, good bottle of red if you text me results first.— Lachlan Harris (@LachlanFHarris) February 26, 2012
Therese Rein is standing by her husband to the death and gives one last shout out to the people:
To the thousands and thousands of people who have been expressing support & love & encouragement, thank you from the bottom of our hearts— Thérèse Rein (@Therese_Rein) February 26, 2012
10.04am: Julia Gillard strides down the corridors of Parliament House into the Labor caucus room in fighting red, surrounded by her closest supporters in a scene reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs.
Photo: Andrew Meares
Kevin Rudd has a similarly goon-like cohort around him as he makes his entrance - also sporting the fighting red of the Labor movement.
Photo: Andrew Meares
And the predictable barbs flow forth on Twitter:
Wong has an excellent corridors of power walk. I can see it in slow motion w accompanying sountrack.— jon (@ibbers) February 26, 2012
OMG SHE'S WALKING SHE'S WALKING— Tobby (@tobiasziegler) February 26, 2012
9.56am: There is a steady stream of Labor MPs filtering into the caucus room now. They may want to pay heed to the thoughts of NSW Labor elder statesman and former premier Bob Carr, who posted this entry on his personal blog this morning.
"If after Julia Gillard's expected victory today there is a revival of white-anting against her, the whole Party will explode with anger. Especially as this challenge has done so much profound harm; part of which will be reflected in the Queensland result on March 24, 2012. The public reaction against Labor if after today leadership speculation is resumed will be catastrophic."
9.42am: Fairfax columnist Michael Duffy has hit on one of the most perplexing things about this whole leadership contest - How do you explain Rudd's persistent public popularity?
Why are voters so fond of Kevin Rudd, the man who as prime minister turned Canberra into a First World Pyongyang minus the smooth running?
Without this popularity, today's vote would not be happening. Yet it has not been explained.
Some say the people like Rudd because they've never met him. This is true enough, but it fails to tell us why they like the unmet Rudd, the one they're familiar with from television. TV Rudd, I suggest, is a pretty unusual creature when compared with most other politicians we see on the screen. My theory is that, strange as it seems, it is this difference that many people are attracted by.
9.35am: Some more contributions from the political twittersphere. The serious:
Once the dust settles the next issue will be HOW we chose the ALP leader. Opening the process up to wider party involvement will be critical— Ed Husic (@edhusicMP) February 26, 2012
And the silly:
Must be feeding time... twitter.com/steveciobo/sta…— steveciobo (@steveciobo) February 26, 2012
9.23am: Canberra is abuzz this morning as Labor MPs prepare to decide who should be prime minister, but over the past few days a different poll has been taking place on Twitter.
The Age has been archiving tweets associated with the leadership spill since Thursday. An hour-by-hour analysis tracking the popularity of keywords "Rudd" and "Gillard" shows no contest - Gillard has out-tweeted Rudd only twice in that time - once when she called the leadership spill and again, very briefly, when Industry Minister Anthony Albanese declared support for Kevin Rudd.
There have been nearly twice as many tweets containing the word "Rudd" as there have been containing the word "Gillard" since Thursday.
9.13am: Confirmation from Labor Chief Whip Joel Fitzgibbon that the caucus will be down one body, to 102, with new mother Michelle Rowland absenting herself from the vote today:
I can confirm that Michelle Rowland won't be with us today but has made it clear that if she would be voting for the PM if she were.— Joel Fitzgibbon (@fitzhunter) February 26, 2012
9.04am: Tony Abbott has managed to compose himself long enough to give an interview to Channel Seven in which he reiterated his message that a full election was the only way to sort out the Labor mess.
"We need an election not because I like elections but because the people, and not the faceless men, should be choosing the prime minister.
"The problem with this ballot today is that nothing much will change: there will still be a poisonously divided government, we'll still have the carbon tax, the boats will keep coming, the faceless men will still be in charge.
"The one message that is coming loud and clear from the public is not so much Kevin or Julia, it is give us the power,let us make this choice."
8.58am: Echoes of the infamous Howard/Latham handshake in this awkward meeting between Gillard backer Stephen Smith and Rudd supporter Martin Ferguson.
Photo: Andrew Meares
8.51am: Here's some more from Kevin Rudd's first interview of the day, with Kochie and Mel on Seven's Sunrise:
"Think carefully about the survivability of this government at the next election. Today's the day that you simply ask yourself: how do we best ensure that Tony Abbott doesn't become prime minister."
Mr Rudd also repeated his promise that he would get on with the job if, as predicted, he loses today's leadership ballot.
"I won't be initiating any challenge against Julia. As a backbencher there's plenty to do."
And there was time for one last shot at the outpouring of poison that has been spewed at Mr Rudd by many of his former cabinet colleagues.
"There's been a pretty large bucket of bile heading in the direction of yours truly. I've chosen not to respond to what various people have said.
"Obviously those things are never fully and finally healed but people get on with the business because it's more important than what happens in the Canberra beltway."
Photo: courtesy @tweeveetv
8.20am: Sydney Morning Herald online reporter Amy McNeilage is keeping her eyes on the money and the bookies are overwhelmingly backing a Gillard landslide today.
Online betting site Sportsbet has taken the biggest bet in Australian political history, with one punter placing $300,000 on Julia Gillard to win today's leadership ballot. The return, should she win, won't be huge, with odds yesterday of $1.08.
The margin has widened further this morning, with Sportsbet offering just $1.03 on Julia Gillard and $10 on Kevin Rudd. Rudd has interested the smaller backers, taking four times as many individual bets, but all the big money has been for Gillard.
After a weekend of solid backing Gillard's odds are almost completely flat across the board today. Centrebet is offering just $1.02 with Rudd blowing out to $12, while Tom Waterhouse has taken their market down after Gillard's odds got as low as $1.01 yesterday.
Sportsbet is capitalising on the interest, even opening novelty books for what colour tie Rudd will wear and the colour of Gillard's Jacket.
Julia Gillard- $1.03
Kevin Rudd- $10
Julia Gillard- $1.02
Kevin Rudd- $12
Julia Gillard- $1.02
Kevin Rudd- $11
8.16am: There seems to be a strange compulsion among some sectors of the media to convince a "psychic" crocodile to forecast Australia's political fortunes, whether it be "Harry" from the Northern Territory or Solly, who has been drafted in to install some sense into the Queensland election campaign:
Please turn off the auto-refresh at the top of the page before playing this video.
8.14am: Many voters may be frustrated they don't have a say in today's contest. But as a rather cheeky Malcolm Turnbull reminds us, there are alternatives:
8.10am: Sky News is now saying there are no more undeclared voters - Ms Gillard is set to win the leadership contest 73 votes to 29. But will it be enough?
Kevin Rudd has now arrived at Parliament House, all smiles and sunshine in the crisp Canberra morning.
Photo: Andrew Meares
He is now revisiting some tried and trusted territory, facing a "grilling" at the hands of Sunrise's Kochie and Mel on the front lawn of Parliament House.
"It's going to be tough but I'm absolutely confident this is the right course of action. It was the right thing to do to challenge."
7.45am: Just how will Labor cope with the ugly decision it is facing today? Online Political Editor Tim Lester interviews The Age Political Editor Michelle Grattan and Sydney Morning Herald Chief Political Correspondent Phillip Coorey about their predictions for the day's bloodletting.
Please turn off the auto-refresh at the top of the page before playing this video.
7.25am: Ms Gillard's backers have already taken to Twitter today to spruik their candidate's case:
And the leadership spat is a gift that keeps on giving for the wits of Twitter:
Julia Gillard is confident she has close to 100 votes. Unfortunately, that's with the general public, not in the party room.— Tony Martin (@mrtonymartin) February 24, 2012
Bit bored of Julia Gillard now. Might ask Dannii Minogue to form a new Government in Australia.— Elizabeth Windsor (@Queen_UK) February 20, 2012
Can Julia Gillard's response just be "Game on, mole"?— Adam Hills (@adamhillscomedy) February 24, 2012
Probably should have seen the signs a couple of days ago when Kevin Rudd gave up Julia Gillard for Lent...— Wil Anderson (@Wil_Anderson) February 22, 2012
Julia and Kevin quickly becoming Harry and Voldemort...While one lives the other cannot survive: latika.me/ydPUtE— Latika Bourke(@latikambourke) February 24, 2012
7.20am: With today's result almost a given, what next for Labor is the key question on the lips of the nation today.
The latest Nielsen Poll conducted exclusively for Fairfax Media last week shows Kevin Rudd continues to be the overwhelming public favourite for the top job, preferred by 58 per cent of voters compared with Julia Gillard's 34 per cent. This continues a long trend and there are still grave doubts about whether Gillard can reverse this position in time for the next election, due in 2013.
But a key finding was that public opinion was almost evenly divided about whether the party should actually change leaders, with 48 per cent saying Labor should make the swap, while 47 per cent said it should stay with Ms Gillard.
A Newspoll published in News Ltd newspapers also shows Mr Rudd holds a big lead over Ms Gillard in public popularity 53 per cent to 34. But despite many commentators predicting the vicious public infighting within the party would be damaging to its public profile, voting support is at its highest in 12 months with the party's primary vote rising three points to 35 per cent from two weeks ago, compared to the coalition which is steady at 45 per cent.
7.05am: Defence Minister Stephen Smith - one of a cohort of Labor frontbenchers who have publicly sworn to never again serve under Kevin Rudd - is striking a triumphal tone on Sky News this morning.
"I am confident that the PM will ghave a convincing win and she will get the strong support of caucus."
Mr Smith, often nominated as a third candidate for Labor leader, also dismissed suggestions he might be conscripted to the top job if voters remain dissatisfied with Ms Gillard.
"It's not going to happen."
He is also just one of many in the Gillard camp who already seems to be taking a win as a given, stressing that the important thing is the events beyond today and that the party gets on with the job of running the country, once it has finished spewing out bile from its rather painful and public exorcism.
In contrast, Housing and Emergency Services Minister and Rudd backer Robert McClelland was striking a very conciliatory note on ABC radio this morning, seemingly resigned to a Gillard win.
Labor backbencher and Rudd supporter Doug Cameron told ABC radio a resounding win for the Prime Minister in today's Labor leadership ballot might not be the end of the matter.
"If Julia Gillard wins today and we end up in the same position as we are now, in terms of the polls, in several months time, then my view is the same people who installed Julia Gillard will be looking for a candidate to replace Julia Gillard."
Communications Minister and Gillard backer Stephen Conroy has also done the rounds of TV and radio this morning and acknowledged the painful truth that Labor would not win an election if one was called now. But free of a "destabilisation campaign" of the likes that has been run by the Rudd camp, the government still had time to turn things around.
6.52am: Some biting analysis around from Fairfax writers this morning. Sydney Morning Herald Political Editor Peter Hartcher doesn't hold back, declaring that Labor will be the loser, regardless of who wins:
Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd have called for Labor unity after today's ballot, but it won't happen because it will not solve the central problem - that the party is locked in a death roll with itself.
Gillard's central problem is that she is widely considered illegitimate and all polling for a year suggests she's unelectable; Rudd's main problem is that most of the caucus would rather lose government than work under him.
The Prime Minister is unacceptable to the people; the alternative leader is unacceptable to the people who choose the prime minister. Or, as a party official put it yesterday: "She'll still be illegitimate and he'll still be a bastard."
Meanwhile The Age columnist and Pulse blogger Katharine Murphy writes that this is the dogfight we had to have:
So what now for Labor? What to do in the wreckage of all the fighting words?
Nuclear explosions are followed by a lengthy period of radioactivity.
Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd may have destroyed themselves, and each other, in this swinging, pitiless fight.
6.30am: It comes down to this - Prime Minister Julia Gillard and former leader and foreign affairs minister Kevin Rudd will put their fates down to their colleagues as the Labor Party leadership is put to a ballot at 10am.
Mr Rudd's backers seem resigned to the fate of their candidate, with the latest count showing he will struggle to attract a third of the 103-strong caucus vote.
The Sydney Morning Herald Chief Political Correspondent Phillip Coorey has set the stage for today's showdown, with a cover story of today's newspaper saying the Prime Minister is heading for a bitter-sweet victory. Coorey writes: "With the realisation setting in that Labor has inflicted enormous damage on itself, Ms Gillard said yesterday that the ballot must end the infighting for good."
The Age's Political Editor Michelle Grattan has looked forward to the murky future for the party. Grattan writes: "Julia Gillard faces the huge challenge of pulling together her deeply divided government after Kevin Rudd's certain defeat in this morning's Labor leadership ballot."