An Australian Labor MP has hinted former foreign minister Kevin Rudd quit before he was pushed out of the job.
Rudd quit as foreign minister in spectacular fashion yesterday, accusing Prime Minister Julia Gillard of deserting him in the face of continual attacks on his integrity by a "number of faceless men'' and frontbencher Simon Crean.
And the leadership stoush has propelled Paul Henry onto Australian television screens this morning - four days earlier than planned. Channel Ten decided the showdown was too good an opportunity to waste for the launch of its Breakfast show. Henry is one of the hosts.
In a day of political events not seen since his overthrow as prime minister in 2010, Mr Rudd launched his attack on Ms Gillard.
"I can only reluctantly conclude that she therefore shares these views,'' he told reporters called to a surprise press conference in Washington after 1am (US time) yesterday.
This morning Communications Minister and Julia Gillard backer Stephen Conroy says Labor MPs are relieved Mr Rudd quit.
"I think there's a great sigh of relief in the caucus that we're finally going to resolve all this,'' Mr Conroy said on the Nine Network.
"This sniping that's been going on behind the scenes, this constant undermining that's been going on by the Rudd camp over many months.''
Mr Conroy hinted that Mr Rudd may have narrowly avoided being sacked by the prime minister, saying it would have been "unAustralian'' to sack him while he was overseas.
Former Labor leader Rudd, who will return to his home city of Brisbane tomorrow, said he would consult his family and colleagues before making a final decision on his future.
But the odds are that he will challenge, given his remarks on the difficulties facing the minority government, which is languishing in the opinion polls.
"Ladies and gentlemen, there is one over-riding question for my caucus colleagues, and that is, who is best placed to defeat Tony Abbott at the next election,'' he said.
Caucus vote expected
Ms Gillard is expected today to announce a caucus vote on the leadership issue will be held with federal parliament resumes on Monday.
On current numbers, Mr Rudd, who did not discuss his decision to resign with Ms Gillard, is likely to lose the ballot and be banished to the backbench - where he could campaign unfettered.
His other option is to vacate his seat, which would bring Labor an unwelcome by-election in his Queensland seat of Griffith.
Ms Gillard, who took three hours to respond to Mr Rudd's resignation, said she was disappointed Mr Rudd had not raised his concerns with her.
She also praised Mr Rudd's time as foreign minister, saying he was "strong and effective''.
Paul Henry's show moves forward
Controversial former TVNZ host Paul Henry has made his debut on Australian television screens four days earlier than originally planned.
He's part of Channel Ten's new Breakfast lineup.
Ten Breakfast last night tweeted "That's right - the wait has been cut short, we're going live on-air tomorrow [today]."
The focus of the show's first episode was the Australian Labor Party's leadership battle.
"We will be all over Kevin Rudd and we will be all over Julia Gillard, just like they are all over each other," Henry said.
Asked by Mr Rochford whether he is "Team Julia or Team Kevin", Mr Henry replied: "If I had to be on that team, and I'm not, I would be Team Julia. Even though she has done such an appalling job managing Rudd."
Treasurer Wayne Swan: Rudd is 'prima donna'
There were no kind words from Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan who said Mr Rudd put his self-interest ahead of the party and the broader labour movement and was undermining the government at every turn.
"The party has given Kevin Rudd all the opportunities in the world and he wasted them with his dysfunctional decision making and his deeply demeaning attitude towards other people including our caucus colleagues,'' he said in a scathing statement on his fellow Queenslander.
"Colleagues are sick of Kevin Rudd driving the vote down by sabotaging policy announcements and undermining our substantial economic successes.''
Mr Crean earlier this week mounted the second of two recent attacks on Mr Rudd, amid speculation he was heading toward a challenge to Ms Gillard.
He has said Mr Rudd is not a team player, is a prima donna and will never be prime minister again.
Victorian MP Steve Gibbons on Sunday publicly branded Mr Rudd a 'psychopath'' after a video was released anonymously on YouTube showing the then-prime minister banging a table and swearing.
As of Wednesday evening it was understood Mr Rudd could bank on the support of between 30 and 35 caucus members in a ballot, while Ms Gillard had about two-thirds on her side.
A member of the Rudd camp told AAP it was warned about Mr Rudd's intention to resign, did not know what he would do next and agreed he was a long way from winning a vote.
Mr Rudd also took aim at Labor's factions and those who helped Ms Gillard into power in June 2010.
"I promise you this - there is no way, no way, that I will ever be part of a stealth attack on a sitting prime minister elected by the people,'' he said.
"We all know that what happened then was wrong, and it must never happen again.''
However, one frontbencher told AAP said it was "funny'' that Mr Rudd was talking about faceless men when he had his own, who had been talking him up over the past two months.
"If there is a ballot he will lose,'' this person said.
Labor senator Doug Cameron said the same "faceless men'' in Labor who helped dump Mr Rudd had now forced Mr Rudd's resignation and this was "unacceptable''.
'This must just stop within this party,'' Senator Cameron told ABC television.
Mr Rudd's daughter Jessica tweeted: "Effing proud of you, Dad xxxx''.
His wife Therese Rein responded: 'Me too, Kevin xxxx''.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the farce showed Labor was unworthy to hold office.
Sportsbet.com.au on Wednesday took a $6000 bet on Ms Gillard retaining the leadership at $1.33, with money for the prime minister coming in at $2 for every $1 for Mr Rudd.
- AAPBy Online staff, AP Herald