- Senator Carr denies withdrawing support for PM
- Key players and options for Labor
- Peter Hartcher's analysis
Senior ministers in the Gillard government are reconsidering their support for the Prime Minister, a sign of collapsing confidence at a critical moment.
A cabinet minister and a key figure in the Labor Left faction, Mark Butler, has told colleagues he is reconsidering his support for Julia Gillard.
And an important member of the Labor Right faction, Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr, has told colleagues he lost confidence in Ms Gillard some time ago.
Both were considered firm supporters of Ms Gillard against the former prime minister Kevin Rudd.
Their changing positions are a sign of a loss of confidence in Ms Gillard within the government, and evidence of a gathering momentum to restore Mr Rudd to the leadership.
Both are understood to have developed grave doubts about the Prime Minister's political judgment and her ability to campaign.
Mr Butler is the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing and also a member of the ALP national executive. He supported Ms Gillard for the leadership when Mr Rudd challenged last year.
He is considered to carry the votes of three or four other caucus members with him, in the factional and tribal way of the Labor Party. He is the leader of the South Australian Left.
It is understood Mr Butler doubts Ms Gillard's ability to lead the party to victory at the election she called for September 14 and fears the consequences of an Abbott government.
Labor, which failed to win a majority of seats at the 2010 election, has never been in a winning position in Fairfax's Nielsen poll at any point since that election. In the Nielsen poll published on Monday, Labor would lose an election held now, with a decisive swing against it of 6 per cent - enough to cost it more than 20 seats in the House.
Senator Carr, the elder statesman of the NSW Right, was handpicked by Ms Gillard to take a seat in the Senate and replace Mr Rudd in the foreign affairs portfolio.
He becomes the most senior member of the NSW Right to switch support from Ms Gillard to Mr Rudd.
Senator Carr was disenchanted and angered by the Prime Minister's handling of two policy decisions. One was Australia's vote on giving United Nations observer status to the Palestinians; the other was her decision not to give the cabinet notice that it was going to discuss media policy last week.
Asked on Monday to comment on his position, Mr Butler did not deny he was reconsidering his support for the Prime Minister.
VIDEO: Bob Carr confirms support for Gillard
He said: ''I have dealt with this question at least a dozen times in the past and I'm not engaging in yet another round of speculation about internal party matters.''
Senator Carr, who was travelling to the US, was unavailable for comment on Monday.
The loss of confidence of some of her cabinet ministers comes as worried Labor MPs gather in Canberra on Tuesday for the final scheduled caucus meeting for nearly two months.
Caucus meetings are the venue for leadership ballots. Though Ms Gillard's support in the caucus has not been canvassed seriously since the Rudd challenge 13 months ago, it is now doubtful that she enjoys the confidence of the majority.