Kevin Rudd has secured the backing of at least four ministers and has called on the public to lobby Labor MPs to support him as he prepares to face off against Julia Gillard for the prime ministership.
Less than 24 hours after Mr Rudd's dramatic move to reclaim his old job, his supporters were conceding that Ms Gillard had the numbers to hold on to the leadership when the Labor caucus votes on Monday.
But three cabinet ministers - Martin Ferguson, Chris Bowen and Robert McClelland - as well as Kim Carr, recently demoted by Ms Gillard to the outer ministry, have publicly declared their support for Mr Rudd, and are among about a third of caucus likely to vote to restore the ex-PM to his old job.
Mr Rudd, who arrives in Brisbane from the United States today, declared the future government of Australia was about ''people's power''. He urged voters across the country to ''pick up the phone, talk to MPs, talk to your media outlets, express your view''.
Ms Gillard and her ministerial supporters continued the ''shock and awe'' campaign to discredit Mr Rudd, portraying his previous running of the government as dysfunctional.
Ms Gillard opened up on the faults of the Rudd administration - about which she has previously been publicly circumspect - saying he had ''very difficult and very chaotic work patterns'' and contrasting this with his ''excellent'' campaigning skills.
Many of Ms Gillard's backers in the ministry - including Wayne Swan, Stephen Conroy, Jenny Macklin, Mark Arbib, Simon Crean, Craig Emerson, Nicola Roxon, Tanya Plibersek, Tony Burke and Brendan O'Connor - publicly confirmed their support.
But key Left minister and government leader in the House of Representatives, Anthony Albanese, had not commented by last night, raising speculation he might support Mr Rudd.
Mr Rudd told his news conference in Washington he had been ''shocked and disappointed by the tone and content of the personal attacks'' mounted on him overnight. These included Mr Swan accusing him of ''dysfunctional decision-making'' and a demeaning attitude to caucus colleagues.
''Whatever our differences in politics, I do not believe that these sorts of vicious personal attacks have a place in our national political life,'' Mr Rudd said. He told his own backers to steer away from such tactics.
Senator Conroy said Mr Rudd ''had contempt for the cabinet, contempt for the cabinet members, contempt for the Parliament. Ultimately what brought him down a year or two ago was the Australian public worked out that he had contempt for them as well.''
Countering Mr Rudd's claim that he was the only one who could beat Tony Abbott, Ms Roxon said: ''We need to get out of this idea that Kevin is a messiah who will deliver an election back to us.''
But Mr Ferguson warned: ''The last thing we need is for us to reflect on one another, to actually make character assassinations of our strengths and weaknesses. All we are doing is creating the fodder for the Liberal Party advertisements for the next election … People should pull back.''
Ms Gillard admitted she had made mistakes and, reacting against Mr Rudd's preoccupation with media cycles, had underestimated the need to get out and sell her big reforms. But she said government was about more than electioneering - it was about having the courage to make big reforms, and about having the discipline and method to get through the work. She named her personal attributes as courage, discipline and strength.
Ms Gillard, afraid that Mr Rudd might have a two-stage strategy to get the leadership, said that if - against her expectations - she lost on Monday, she would renounce further leadership ambitions. She called on Mr Rudd to do the same.
Mr Rudd outlined his policy agenda, attacking decisions made under Ms Gillard on industry policy - notably axing support for the green car fund - on health reform, where some hard decisions had been ''squibbed'', and on education, where a program he had introduced for maths and science students had been axed.
He also said the ALP needed to be reformed ''so that it is not governed by the faceless men''.
The Rudd camp yesterday claimed to have about 40 votes in the 103-member Labor caucus, with 15-20 undecided.
The Gillard camp said Mr Rudd had about 30, and the PM more than 60.
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