You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
Kevin Rudd has scoffed at reports he is within striking distance of toppling Julia Gillard for the federal Labor leadership.
"Give us a break, give us a break," he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday when asked whether his backers were counting the numbers.
Mr Rudd was responding to reports that support for the former prime minister could be as high as 45 votes out of 102 caucus members.
Ms Gillard's supporters say it is lower, Fairfax Media says.
Mr Rudd insisted his position was unchanged from 12 months ago, after he comprehensively lost a leadership ballot 31 votes to 71.
"I supported the prime minister ... that remains my position," he said.
"Everyone should take a long, cold shower."
Ms Gillard's reduced support, confirmed to Fairfax Media by multiple sources from both sides of the caucus, raises the possibility of a second leadership challenge by Mr Rudd, although his supporters say no move is imminent.
The estimate of 45 votes for Mr Rudd is regarded as "not unrealistic" by a key Gillard backer, who put it "closer to 40".
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Australians expected a strong and stable government.
"Sadly that's not the perception right now in Canberra," he told reporters.
"The government should sort its problems out and stop focussing on itself."
The public wanted the government to focus on itself rather than Labor's "internal shenanigans", Mr Abbott said.
Opposition frontbencher George Brandis said Ms Gillard was securing her leadership by the early announcement of the federal election.
"I suspect it has something to do with the fact Mr Rudd and those who would like to see him back in the prime minister's chair are a lot closer to her than is commonly appreciated," he told reporters.
"This was a defensive move by Julia Gillard, but time will tell."
Labor MP Yvette D'Ath dismissed the latest leadership rumblings as "just speculation", saying the caucus continued to support Ms Gillard.
"I actually sit in the caucus and I can assure you that the caucus endorsed Julia Gillard; it continues to support Julia Gillard. The leadership issue was dealt with last year," she told reporters.
"That matter is behind us now. All of the caucus members need to be out there working hard to ensure that the government message ... the government's policies ... are being explained to the community."