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Poll boost for challenger Rudd

Australian prime minister Julia Gillard said she is "incredibly confident" of leading her Labour Party to victory in elections next year despite new polls showing party rival Kevin Rudd would be a more popular leader.

Ms Gillard has called a leadership ballot of Labour politicians in a bid to end a bitter power struggle with Mr Rudd, her former foreign minister.

Mr Rudd is the clear underdog in Monday's leadership vote, with Ms Gillard expected to have enough support to remain in power. But undecided politicians may be swayed by three reputable opinion polls published in newspapers that showed that the public preferred Mr Rudd as prime minister over Ms Gillard.

Ms Gillard used a Labour regional conference today to dismiss as "lazy talk" speculation of a Labour defeat in next year's elections.

"I am incredibly confident about our prospects of success when we present at the next election," Ms Gillard told the conference delegates. "I can be so confident of that because I'm so confident of our policies and plans."

She later told reporters that she remained confident, despite transport minister Anthony Albanese becoming the most senior government figure to announce his support for Mr Rudd.

During a tearful news conference, Mr Albanese said he made his decision because he believed the 2010 coup was a mistake. "Labour is the party of fairness. It was not fair, it was wrong," Mr Albanese said of the coup. "We cannot have a situation whereby a first-term elected prime minister be deposed without warning under the circumstances in which it was done," he said.

With Monday's ballot on her mind, Ms Gillard made an exception to her rule of not commenting on polls. "The ultimate measure of a government ... isn't opinion polls in newspapers," she said. "The ultimate measure of a government is whether it led this nation to a stronger and fairer future."

Labour strategist Bruce Hawker, a friend of Mr Rudd, said Ms Gillard should hand over power to Mr Rudd without a vote in the interests of the government's survival in the next elections. "I think Julia Gillard should withdraw her nomination for the leadership of the party and the government because she doesn't have the confidence of the Australian people - Kevin Rudd does," Mr Hawker told reporters outside Mr Rudd's home.

Asked about the latest newspaper polls, Mr Rudd said: "Everyone will look at the opinion polls today (and) draw their own conclusions."

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