KEVIN Rudd has accepted Julia Gillard’s challenge to stand for the Labor leadership:

KEVIN Rudd has accepted Julia Gillard’s challenge to stand for the Labor leadership, declaring he will retire from politics if he loses the ballot.

The former prime minister warned Labor faced a ”catastrophic defeat” if Ms Gillard remained leader.

The Prime Minister has called a leadership spill for 7pm in an attempt to finish off Kevin Rudd’s political career once and for all.

Mr Rudd said he had been convinced to stand by colleagues and at the urging of tens of thousands of Australians who were afraid of what an Abbott government would do, including reviving Work Choices under another name.

”People are afraid, they are very afraid, that they’re going to do it again,” he said.

Mr Rudd freely admitted he had changed his position, overturning previous guarantees not to stand against Ms
Gillard, and he would be judged on that.

Should he win the ballot, Mr Rudd said he would work with any current ministers who wished to serve in his government.

Mr Rudd said it was time for the leadership question to finally be resolved.

It was the voices of the Australian people that had influenced most influenced his decision, he said.

”It is those voices that have had a huge effect on m. — more so than most of the voices I happen to hear around the corridors of this building,” Mr Rudd said.

The Prime Minister has demanded the loser of the ballot must resign from parliament to resolve Labor’s leadership crisis once and for all.

”I believe anybody who enters the ballot tonight should do it on the following condition,” she told Sky News.

”If you win you are Labor leader. If you lose, you retire from politics.”

She said she would abide by the condition, leaving parliament at the election if she lost.

Ms Gillard said no leader should have to face ongoing internal destabilisation, ”so tonight, this is it”.

”I am asking my political party to endorse me as a leader and prime minister of purpose,” she said.

”People will make their decision. But, having made their decision, it is over.”

”Anyone who believes they should be Labor leader should put themselves forward for this ballot,” Ms Gillard said.

The move forces the Rudd camp to bring forward their preferred timetable for a challenge. They had hoped to engineer a special caucus meeting tomorrow and a challenge on Friday.

“I am asking my political party to endorse me as a leader and Prime Minister of purpose,” she said

“I accept responsibility for my own conduct. People need to accept responsibility for their conduct.

“I am aware how debilitating this nonsense is for my political party, for my parliamentary colleagues.”

The original plan was to circulate the petition tomorrow to call a special caucus meeting on Thursday evening, with the objective of a leadership ballot on Friday.

Reports that the petition was already circulating caused panic among Julia Gillard’s supporters as they realised the Rudd camp had the numbers not only to call a special caucus meeting but to defeat Ms Gillard.

Mr Rudd, who was torn down as prime minister three years ago, is under immense pressure to contest the ballot. However, his office maintains he still intends to board a flight to China on Thursday night.