Update: Gillard defiant amid fresh leadership row

SYDNEY (AFP) - Embattled Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard insisted on Wednesday that she was focused on "getting on with the job" of governing as she confronted another reported move to depose her in favour of predecessor Kevin Rudd.

A petition was widely reported to be circulating among Labor lawmakers calling for a caucus meeting where a vote on the leadership would be held, amid unease in the party over an expected rout under Ms Gillard at national elections on Sept 14.

For her hold on Labor power to be tested, the petition would need to be signed by at least a third of the 102 caucus members.

Parliament was due to rise on Thursday night for the last time before the national polls, so any ballot would have to be held before the legislative body disbands.

It would bring to a head weeks of speculation about a new challenge by former leader Mr Rudd against Ms Gillard, who is staring at a crushing election defeat by the Tony Abbott-led conservatives, according to opinion polls.

Mr Abbott told parliament "the poison inside the Labor Party is paralysing the government" and demanded Ms Gillard bring forward the election to Aug 3.

He said parliament had been consumed by "the conversations taking place in the corridors", referring to the petition said to be circulating.

"Let's bring on the election and let's put the future of this country in the hands of the people rather than allowing it to continue to be traded by the faceless men in their ceaseless quest to come up with a less unpopular PM than the one we currently have," he added.

Ms Gillard ruthlessly dispatched Mr Rudd in a 2010 party room coup but he remains popular with the public and is seen by many as Labor's best hope, although he will reportedly only challenge her again if sure of winning convincingly.

Australia's first female leader told parliament she was focused only on doing her job, without specifically mentioning the petition.

"I can assure him (Abbott), and I can assure the Australian people, that, as PM, I am getting on with the job and that is what the government is doing," she said.

"The Australian people will make that choice and I certainly believe the Australian people will vote for a stronger, smarter and fairer future under a Labor government."

Ms Gillard has endured near-constant speculation about her leadership since taking power. She won only the narrowest of victories in the 2010 election, resulting in a hung parliament which forced her to cobble together a minority government with the support of independents.

In March, Labor elder statesman Simon Crean made a failed attempt to reinstall Mr Rudd who refused to put his hand up.

In the aftermath, several ministers who backed Rudd resigned from their positions while Mr Crean was sacked.

Mr Rudd himself launched an unsuccessful challenge to Ms Gillard in early 2012, issuing an ultimatum from Washington where he was on Australian government business as foreign minister.

The Mandarin-speaking former diplomat who ended a decade of conservative rule with a landslide 2007 win has since insisted the prime minister has his support.

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