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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.
As Mr Rudd raised the spectre of a second round of "character assassination" against him following a loss today, the Prime Minister optimistically declared that "every one of us will unite" after the caucus vote.
"I do not want to see continued commentary on these kinds of matters after Monday," a confident Ms Gillard said.
Mr Rudd goes into the vote with the support of only about a third of the caucus, including just five ministers — Anthony Albanese, Martin Ferguson, Chris Bowen, Robert McClelland and Kim Carr.
The Gillard camp last night put his numbers at between 29 and 32, while the Rudd camp estimated his support at 30 to 35, probably 32 or 33, among the 102 caucus members.
The weekend declaration of the highly respected Mr Albanese, the Leader of the House, did not appear to change votes. Some days ago, the Rudd camp said it had 40 "commitments".
After her victory, Ms Gillard will have to decide how wide she will make the ministerial reshuffle that has to follow Mr Rudd's exit to the backbench.
Both sides had their ministerial supporters out campaigning yesterday. Peter Garrett became the third cabinet minister — after Nicola Roxon and Tony Burke — to say he would not serve in a Rudd ministry. Treasurer Wayne Swan would not state whether he would serve. None of the ministers supporting Mr Rudd has said he would not continue to work on Ms Gillard's front bench.
Mr Swan, saying he had no regrets about his strong denunciation of Mr Rudd, said the choice today was simple: "Who has the character, who has the temperament and who has the courage to be prime minister?"
Mr Ferguson said the issue was not Mr Rudd or Ms Gillard — "it's about our capacity as a party to maintain momentum and stay in government".
Mr Rudd hit out at ministers critical of him, saying Mr Swan and other cabinet members had never told him he was running a chaotic government. And Ms Roxon had said to him and his wife, Therese Rein, after the 2010 coup that she had never had difficulty working with him.
Mr Swan rejected Mr Rudd's claim, saying he and other senior ministers constantly talked with Mr Rudd "about the inability to progress the business of government". Ms Roxon also disputed Mr Rudd's version of events. She had had conversations with Ms Rein "but I did have to stand up to Kevin on many, many occasions".
Mr Rudd said on Channel Nine there should be unity after the ballot. "Whatever the outcome, I'd say to all my supporters, we unite . . . because our key objective is to prevent all that we've achieved being shredded by Mr Abbott." But he said that if he lost "what I already sense is the emergence of round two of . . . the process of character assassination of yours truly, which hopped into full gear straight after the coup of 2010 in order to retrospectively justify what occurred".
Ms Gillard said: "I've got great faith in my Labor colleagues, each and every one of them, that the things that drive us to be in government . . . will continue to drive us solidly."
Asked about weekend opinion polls showing her doing badly against Mr Rudd and Tony Abbott, Ms Gillard said: "You don't look at the opinion polls to work out what you believe in and what the nation needs."
Mr Rudd repeated the message that he had changed, admitting he had not been focused enough on the government's core challenges, had not delegated enough and had not got enough sleep. Mr Swan reacted sceptically. "I don't believe that he has changed."
Both Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard dodged questions about former Labor MP Maxine McKew's claim that Ms Gillard had made some sort of threat when pressing for deferral of the emissions trading scheme in 2010.
Mr Abbott tried to pressure crossbench MPs: "If the independents have any respect for good government in this country, they will ring down the curtain on this shambles. They got us into this mess. It's their responsibility to get us out of it," he said.
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