Senior Australian minister calls for leadership vote

The Australian government plunged into crisis Thursday with a senior cabinet minister openly calling for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to hold a leadership ballot.

Gillard lags badly in opinion polls just six months out from national elections and rampant leadership speculation has destabilised the Labor party further, with former leader Kevin Rudd waiting in the wings.

Senior frontbencher Simon Crean, a former Labor leader and party elder, said the "stalemate has to end" to prevent the party from imploding and sided with Rudd.

"Something needs to be done to break this deadlock, to resolve the issue once and for all," he told reporters in his second hastily-called press conference of the day in Canberra.

"I am asking her to call a spill (vote) of all leadership positions."

Crean, who warned the leadership speculation was "killing" the party, said he would back Rudd and stand for the deputy leader role, currently held by Wayne Swan.

"If the prime minister does not agree to it (a vote), which I expect she won't, then I urge members of caucus to petition in the appropriate way for the calling of such a meeting," he said.

"This is an issue that has to be resolved."

Crean met with Gillard on Wednesday evening and again Thursday to inform of his decision, and said her reaction was to say that she would not be calling for a vote.

"Now, I urged her in the circumstances to reconsider that," he said.

"I understand if she does not, but if it is the case and we are to end this, then the caucus has other options, but it has to do them, and it must do it if we are to resolve this position expeditiously."

Asked if Gillard could win the election, Crean said: "The Labor party can win the election."

Rudd, who was brutally ousted by Gillard in mid 2010, pledged not to make another attempt on the leadership following a 2012 challenge he lost 71-31.

But with his supporters campaigning behind the scenes, Crean said he must declare his intentions.

"He has got no option but to run," Crean said.

"I don't want any more games, I'm sick to death of it, it's about time he stood up and instead of having his camp leak things, actually have the courage of his conviction and his belief.

"The internals have to stop. We have to get on with the message and it has to become an inclusive party."

Gillard has been dogged by the speculation for weeks, with rumours fuelled by a government decision to try and introduce media reforms which the industry has united to fiercely oppose.

Some ministers have stressed their loyalty to her, but reports have said any leadership vote between the two would be tight.

Gillard became prime minister in mid 2010 when she ousted Rudd, who at the time had lost the support of powerful factional leaders.

She called an election which she failed to win outright from the surprised public, gaining power only after cobbling together a coalition with a Greens MP and several rural independents to form a majority in the lower house.