Speculation growing that Australian leader Julia Gillard may be deposed

BRISBANE, Australia — Speculation is growing that Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard will be challenged soon for her party’s leadership as polls continue to show her government will suffer a crushing defeat in a September poll.

Recent days have seen a flood of stories in the Australian media suggesting that opposition to Gillard is growing within her own party, with at least two senior ministers said to have lost confidence in her.

While Gillard supporters were on Thursday insisting that she still had majority support within caucus, supporters of her predecessor Kevin Rudd said he was gaining support for a leadership challenge.

Rudd led Australia's Labor to victory at 2007 elections but was deposed by Gillard — at the time his deputy — in 2010 on the premise that he was unpopular with fellow Labor lawmakers.

Rudd challenged Gillard for the leadership last year, but a ballot of Labor lawmakers voted to retain Gillard as leader by 71 votes to 31.

However, with polls suggesting that Gillard is a far less popular choice as prime minister than Rudd — and also, crucially, her conservative challenger, Tony Abbott — lawmakers are again starting to hint at a leadership change.

According to the Fairfax media, Rudd's supporters were late Wednesday frantically trying to organize a challenge before the final sitting day of Parliament and the May 14 federal budget.

And members of her inner circle have told the Australian Financial Review that Rudd might now have the support of most of the party or could be as close as five votes away from a majority.

Meanwhile, two ministers — Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler — were forced to reject reports that they had lost confidence in Gillard.

Carr was even questioned about the crisis during a press conference in Washington with newly appointed US Secretary of State John Kerry.  

The Fairfax media published video of Carr's denials.

Bloomberg attributed the apparent public loss of support for Gillard to a series of policy back flips — including on a largely ineffectual tax on carbon emissions — and scandals involving senior party members. 

She has also struggled as Australia's first female Prime Minister and attempted to use perceptions of sexism to her advantage, describing the Australian culture as "blokey" and accusing Abbott of "repulsive double standards when it comes to misogyny and sexism."

Meanwhile, support for the Labor government is waning on the fringes of major cities where a weakening manufacturing sector is hitting working-class Australians — predominantly Labor voters — hard.