The Age's editor-in-chief, Andrew Holden, has defended his newspaper's unusual decision to call for a sitting prime minister to stand down, in the wake of a strong reaction on social media.
The editorial, which ran on the paper's front page on Saturday, said the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, should allow Kevin Rudd to contest the next election as Labor leader for the good of the party, the nation and democracy.
Mr Holden said it was "understandable" some might disagree with the position or be disappointed, but it did have precedents.
"In fact, The Age has done it twice before – famously back in 1975 when Graham Perkin as editor called for Gough Whitlam to stand aside," he said.
"And then The Age also supported John Howard stepping down and handing over the prime ministership to Peter Costello."
Mr Holden said the paper had considered, but decided against, a similar call during parliament's last sitting - the "non-coup" in March when Mr Rudd refused to challenge.
What had changed, Mr Holden said, was the paper's recent Nielsen poll that revealed the Australian public was no longer listening to Ms Gillard.
"What concerns us the most is that given that truth, the election campaign has the danger of being an easy walk for Tony Abbott into the prime ministership and our preference is for a detailed and vigorous policy debate," he said.
"And on that we believe Kevin Rudd will provide a stronger campaign than Ms Gillard will."
In response to criticism that the editorial simply fed leadership speculation rather than encouraged policy-driven debate, Mr Holden said the paper had not created the tension within the Labor Party.
"We are one of, as indeed are our sister papers in Sydney, the rare papers that actually does have non-partisan policy coverage and debate within the pages of our papers around policy and we'll continue to do so," he said.
"What we're saying, though, is that if the electorate have stopped listening to the prime minister then that works against the sort of election campaign we believe the country needs."
Mr Holden said the editorial would have no bearing on how the paper's reporters would cover the election or the Prime Minister.
"We will be fair and we'll be accurate," he said.
"If Ms Gillard remains as prime minister up to the election campaign we'll give her the sort of coverage she's entitled to and we will continue to report the policy argument."