Crean fires the gun on leadership: ‘I don’t want any more games’

Simon Crean has called for a spill of all leadership positions. AAP

Julia Gillard has called a ballot for the leadership at 4:30pm. Gillard announced the ballot at the start of question time. “In the meantime, give it your best shot,” she told the house.

Veteran Labor minister and former leader Simon Crean has called for Julia Gillard to declare the Labor leadership open and backed Kevin Rudd for Prime Minister.

Crean said if Gillard won’t call a spill, caucus members should petition for one.

It is reported the momentum was with Kevin Rudd. A petition immediately started to circulate around caucus.

He told a news conference all positions should be spilled and he would run for deputy leader.

Crean said Rudd – who has promised not to challenge Gillard - “has no option but to run”.

“I don’t want any more games.”

The dramatic intervention of Crean, who is Minister for Regional Australia, climaxed a week of fevered speculation and lobbying over the leadership.

Crean said he had spoken with the Prime Minister yesterday and today. The party was in stalemate and something needed to be done to resolve the situation.

He said he had told her that he’d “think about his position” if she refused to call a spill. She indicated she would not do so.

“I am urging Mr Rudd to put his name forward in the interests of breaking the deadlock,” he said, but “there is no ticket between me and Kevin”.

Declaring Labor had to become “an inclusive party”, he said its problems would not be stopped by a “revolving door of leadership”.

Crean said the question should not be cast as “a loss of confidence in the Prime Minister,” but the stalemate had to be broken and the “white noise” had to stop.

He said he would resign from the ministry if the party re-elected Gillard; he also said that he was not seeking the key job of treasurer if there was a Rudd prime ministership.

Crean’s dramatic action came with only hours of the current parliamentary sitting to go and as the government’s desperate effort to get a compromise on its controversial media bills collapsed, handing more ammunition to the Rudd forces.

As Labor pulled the bills to avoid defeat on the floor of the House, Rudd’s supporters intensified their frantic efforts to muster the numbers for the lunge at Gillard’s leadership, before parliament breaks for seven weeks.

Before Crean’s dramatic statement, some sources in the Rudd camp worried that they were several votes short, with the arm twisting continuing.

Crean’s 1pm news conference was his second for the day. Earlier he sent dual messages to a party that has seemed resolutely determined to descend further into self-destruction.

At that doorstop, he said the Rudd forces should back off. But he also made it clear that Gillard needed to step up to the plate and perform better.

Crean used to be a rusted on Gillard supporter.

In a clear criticism of Gillard’s performance at his first doorstop, Crean said Labor’s problem was not just about changing leaders or sticking with a leader, but was more fundamental. It needed to get back to what the party not just stood for but how it advanced the interests of the nation.

“We have got to understand that the strength of the Labor party in the past has been when it has been bold with its initiatives… and it has taken the nation forward,” he said.

In a backhander to both Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan, he said the Labor party had always operated most effectively when “it has been inclusive, when it has sought consensus. Not when it sought division. Not when it has gone after class warfare.”

Was he disappointed in Gillard’s leadership? “No,” he said but immediately added “I am of the view that there are certain decisions we could’ve handled better”.

As Labor figures kept adding fuel to their burning party Queensland backbencher Graham Perrett turned on chief government whip Joel Fitzgibbon, who is one of Rudd’s chief numbers men.

Fitzgibbon, always outspoken, has been particularly frank this week in acknowledging the leadership talks sweeping the party. He has also piled the pressure on colleagues by saying the idea of a leadership change between the budget and the September 14 election was “a silly concept”. In other words his message has been, get it done now.

Perrett said: “There can be no gap between the whip and the prime minister”.

“If [Fitzgibbon] can’t be 100% loyal to the prime minister, he can’t draw a wage as a whip, obviously. He needs to get on with the job of looking after the prime minister’s back. That’s what he’s paid for and if he’s not doing that after five o’clock today, well then obviously he needs to look at his situation,” he said.

“If he can’t be loyal to the boss, well he should resign.”