CABINET minister Bill Shorten has rejected suggestions he might run on a joint leadership ticket that would replace Julia Gillard with Kevin Rudd.
As Labor MPs reeled from yesterday's Newspoll that had the ALP on a 27 per cent primary vote with the Coalition on 51 per cent a spokesman for Mr Shorten, who is overseas, said a joint ticket was ''a non-starter''.
''It's moving into fiction,'' the spokesman said, after a report that some MPs had canvassed trying to persuade Mr Shorten to back the idea of a joint ticket.
The Newspoll had the Coalition leading on the two party vote 59-41 per cent, which would be a wipeout for Labor. The Coalition primary vote is the highest since 2001, when John Howard campaigned on border security.
While there is an increasing feeling in Labor that something must be done, the party is stuck for a solution. Mr Rudd is still deeply unpopular with many MPs, and the alternatives, who include Mr Shorten, are not seen as having sufficient electoral pull.
Mr Shorten was among those who helped install Ms Gillard and how he positions himself will be important, especially as he can influence a number of caucus votes.
Asked what he thought should happen, former PM Bob Hawke, who has been close to Ms Gillard, trod carefully. "While Julia herself would be the first to admit she has made some mistakes, she has, in very many respects, shown strong leadership and she deserves acknowledgement of, and respect for this," he told The Age.
Pressed on whether this was support for Ms Gillard continuing as leader, Mr Hawke - who was recently at The Lodge to rev up the caucus - said he was "not going into public debate on this issue - my statement speaks for itself''.
He dismissed as "absolutely untrue" caucus rumours that he had been saying in private that Climate Change Minister Greg Combet should become leader.
Government whip Joel Fitzgibbon, via Twitter, strongly denied a report that he had told Ms Gillard he was withdrawing his support for her.
Mr Howard predicted that the Labor Party would replace Ms Gillard. ''I think it's more likely than not they will bring back Kevin Rudd,'' he said.
Caucus sources said Labor MPs were ''very nervous'' after yesterday's poll. But while there is a lot of talk, no real organisation for change was going on at the moment.
Families Minister Jenny Macklin said there was ''a whole range of issues feeding into the polls''. Asked if Ms Gillard should continue as PM, Ms Macklin said: ''She certainly should''.
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson - who supported Mr Rudd in the vote earlier this year - when asked whether the Rudd supporters had been vindicated by the fact the PM had not managed to improve in the polls said: ''That's ancient history. I'm focused on Tuesday of next week - the budget''.
He said Labor had thrown government away in WA and Victoria. ''We should never have lost those two states - whereas New South Wales, we knew it was coming.''
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