Simon Crean called on Gillard to resign, and was subsequently sacked from Cabinet.
Despite the 2012 leadership election, at which Gillard easily defeated former Leader Kevin Rudd, tensions continued to be high within the Gillard Government. According to Peter Hartcher, "After more than two and a half years of consistently being in a losing position in the Nielsen poll, the great bulk of Labor MPs did not believe the government could win the election that Gillard had called for 14 September." Whenever challenged by interviewers, Rudd repeatedly said that he would not challenge Gillard for the leadership again. However, he and his supporters reportedly continued to campaign privately for his return to the leadership behind the scenes.
In March 2013, amid criticism of Gillard's handling of media law reform proposals—called "shambolic" by a key crossbencher—Chief Whip Joel Fitzgibbon confirmed that Labor Party members were "looking at the polls and expressing concerns". On 21 March, former Labor leader Simon Crean called for a spill of all leadership positions and announced that he would support Kevin Rudd for leader and would himself stand for the deputy leadership. In response, Gillard sacked Crean from Cabinet and called a leadership spill for 4.30pm that afternoon. Just 10 minutes prior to the scheduled ballot, Rudd announced that he would not stand in the ballot, saying:
I have said that the only circumstances under which I would consider a return to leadership would be if there was an overwhelming majority of the parliamentary party requesting such a return, drafting me to return and the position was vacant...I am here to inform you that those circumstances do not exist.
Of the 102 members of the ALP caucus, 100 were able to vote, with Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Tasmanian MPDick Adams unable to vote as they were overseas or heading overseas. Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan were the only nominators in the spill for the positions of Leader and Deputy Leader respectively; as a result, no vote was undertaken and they retained their positions unopposed. Aside from post-election meetings, this was the first time in the history of the Labor Party that an incumbent leader was elected unopposed at a leadership ballot.
Crean was sacked as Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts prior to the ballot. After the ballot, Chief Government Whip Joel Fitzgibbon resigned, as did two other government whips Ed Husic and Janelle Saffin, who had rallied in support of Kevin Rudd. Ministers Chris Bowen, Kim Carr, and Martin Ferguson resigned the following day. Crean criticised Rudd for not nominating.
Rudd subsequently issued a statement that he would never again return to the ALP leadership, but would in fact be returned to the ALP leadership later the same year in another leadership spill in June.