ADVOCATES for replacing Julia Gillard with Kevin Rudd say they are unperturbed at threats by the country independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, to force an early election.
''They want an early election even less than we do,'' said one Labor MP who believes a leadership change is necessary for the government's survival.
Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott warned they would withdraw their support for the minority government if there were a change. But Rudd backers saw this as a bluff because the independents would lose their seats if there were an early poll.
Mr Windsor told the Herald that if the Rudd camp thought he was bluffing, ''let them put it to the test''.
Ms Gillard's supporters said the most enduring solution was for everyone to fall in behind government reforms rather than looking for a more popular leader when the polls dipped.
''Ultimately, it's ideas that win the day, not just popularity polls,'' the Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, said.
''It's always good to be popular but people want tough leadership for the times.''
The Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, said people should ''knuckle down'', back the government's reforms, and focus on the true opponent, Tony Abbott, who ''would bring Australia back to the dark ages''.
Ms Gillard's supporters feel she will struggle to lift Labor in the polls so long as Mr Rudd's supporters keep destabilising, thus ensuring the polls stay low.
Dr Emerson said the incessant practice of setting Ms Gillard deadlines by which to lift Labor's popularity must cease. "Prime Minister Gillard is doing a great job and I'm getting a little bit tired of [people] setting these tests and deadlines,'' he said.
Sources said the latest defector from Ms Gillard's camp was the Victorian frontbencher Richard Marles, who feared losing his seat of Corio.
Mr Marles is a member of the Victorian Right, the same faction as Mr Shorten.
Ms Gillard was given a reprieve when Labor beat the Greens in the Melbourne byelection on Saturday.
Although a state election, Ms Gillard's detractors were ready to blame her unpopularity had the Greens won.
Dr Emerson said those same people should now credit Ms Gillard with the victory.
''I notice the government's critics saying this was replete with federal factors. If it was replete with federal factors then the Prime Minister has done very well,'' he said.