In an extraordinary day in Australian politics, the prime minister, Julia Gillard has kept her job after a day of political wrangling that ended with a leadership contest where no one dared stand against her. Julia Gillard announced a "spill" – declaring her position open and inviting rivals to nominate for the job of Labor leader and, thereby, prime minister.
The dramatic move followed calls by a senior ministers in her government for her to be replaced in the top job by her predecessor, Kevin Rudd. But when the ballot took place two and a half hours later, Rudd refused to nominate. "I'm grateful to my colleagues for their continuing support for me as demonstrated in our meeting," Gillard told a press conference after she had been reconfirmed in her position as leader.
"Today the leadership of our political party, the Labor party, has been settled and settled in the most conclusive fashion possible. The whole business is completely at an end. It has ended now."
The conservative opposition leader, Tony Abbott, whom Gillard accused of sexism and misogyny in a fiery speech last year, said the only way to resolve the crisis of leadership in the government was to hold an early election, before the scheduled date of 14 September.
"The civil war [in the Labor party] goes on," he said. "The civil war will continue as long as Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are in parliament. The only way to give our country the good government that we so badly need right now is to have an election. We cannot wait for September 14."
The extraordinary day began when Simon Crean, one of the most senior figures in Gillard's minority Labor government, called on her to end speculation over her leadership by calling a ballot. It followed a chaotic week in parliament that saw her government fail to force through a controversial media bill that would have introduced 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 a totalitarian regime than a democracy.
Once Gillard had called for a leadership spill on Thursday all eyes then turned to Kevin Rudd, the man she had ousted as leader of the Labor party and prime minister in June 2010. Rudd's removal was the first time a first-term sitting Australian 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.
Rudd eventually challenged Gillard for the leadership in February 2012 but was resoundingly defeated by 71 votes to 31. He vowed not to challenge again and on Thursday left it until 10 minutes before the vote on the party's leadership on Thursday to declare he would not be nominating.
"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," Rudd said.
In the end there was no vote for Gillard's leadership position because no one else put their name forward in the party room.
Few doubt that the day's events have damaged the government's reputation. Two opinion polls in the past month indicated that Labor would lose September's election in a landslide.
Members of parliament from both sides of the house now return to their electorates for the six week autumn break.
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image: © Liam Mendes