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LABOR'S warring camps have called for unity even before today's leadership ballot at which Julia Gillard is expected to trounce Kevin Rudd.
With the realisation setting in that Labor has inflicted enormous damage on itself, Ms Gillard said yesterday that the ballot must end the infighting for good.
''The important thing is that tomorrow's ballot ends this, there is a result and following that result, everyone accepts it and unites and gets on with the job,'' she said.
''At the end of what has been a very difficult week, the things that unite us in the Labor Party are far, far stronger than anything else.''
Mr Rudd, who faces certain defeat, promised Ms Gillard his ''unequivocal support'' after the ballot and said he would not challenge again before the election.
But Rudd supporters agree that while the ballot should quell the matter, momentum will inevitably build for leadership change if the polls do not improve.
''Tomorrow will not sort out the government's problems because Kevin was not the government's problem,'' said one MP who will vote for Mr Rudd.
Another supporter said the main criticism of Mr Rudd was that he was a chaotic leader who did not adhere to proper processes whereas Ms Gillard's problem was unpopularity with the electorate. ''That can be fixed,'' the MP said of Mr Rudd's flaws. ''A loss of trust cannot.''
Last night, an estimated 69 members of the 103-strong caucus were backing Ms Gillard and 29 supported Mr Rudd. Five were either undecided or undeclared.
Among the Rudd supporters are five ministers: Anthony Albanese, Chris Bowen, Martin Ferguson, Robert McClelland and Kim Carr.
Mr Albanese will stay in the ministry after the ballot because Ms Gillard declined his resignation. The futures of the other four are uncertain but all said yesterday they would like to stay on if Ms Gillard would have them.
She will have to have a minor reshuffle to replace Mr Rudd in foreign affairs. The Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, and the Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, are the front runners.
Apart from damage caused by the insults traded by both camps, the government's plans to price carbon have also suffered self-inflicted damage.
To woo nervous backbenchers, Mr Rudd promised to review the policy with a view to shifting it from a fixed price of $23 a tonne of carbon, a carbon tax, to a floating price - an emissions trading scheme - well before the scheduled date of 2015. A floating price is now about $11, meaning the impact would be less.
Yesterday Mr Ferguson said: ''There is a lot of concern in industry at the moment about the price we have locked in, given where Europe is.'' This could be ''to our disadvantage as a nation''.
The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said the independent MPs propping up the minority government should withdraw that support and force an election.
Rudd supporters conceded the ballot was taking place much sooner than they had wanted. One said the plan had been for ''nature to take its course'' in that the backbenchers would increasingly realise they could not win under Ms Gillard.
''The only way for Rudd to become leader was if they came to him as a consensus,'' an MP said.
This could still happen if the polls do not improve during the next several months.
Consequently, Mr Rudd expressed fear that his colleagues would stage a continuing campaign against him.
He had already been blamed for the problems of the past 12 months and ''it was time people accepted responsibility for their own actions''.
He pointed to two of Ms Gillard's more prominent blunders - her speech to the ALP national conference in December and the poker machine promise to the independent Andrew Wilkie, on which she could never deliver.
Nonetheless, Mr Rudd said: ''If I get mown down by a bus'' at today's ballot, ''it's time for us to unite rather than divide''.
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