So it's the prime minister versus the ex-foreign minister -- again. It's almost 30 years since another prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, successfully fended off a challenge from Andrew Peacock, who had been his long-serving foreign minister before shifting to industrial relations after the 1980 election and then resigning in a fit of pique six months later.

The parallels with Julia Gillard verses Kevin Rudd are illuminating. Peacock did not challenge immediately; he stayed on the backbench for a year before contesting a leadership ballot. When he lost he plotted further moves, and the Fraser forces counter-plotted against his preselection, but instead of escalating the dispute was patched up: Peacock returned to the ministry in a new portfolio at the end of 1982.