A senior Australian cabinet minister on Thursday said disunity was "killing" Prime Minister Julia Gillard's ruling Labor party as speculation persisted that she could be toppled.
Gillard is badly lagging in opinion polls just six months out from national elections and rampant leadership talk this week has destabilised the party further, with former leader Kevin Rudd reportedly waiting in the wings.
Senior frontbencher Simon Crean, another former Labor leader, said the "stalemate has to end" to prevent the party from imploding.
He said the leadership speculation was "tearing at us from inside".
"This is a situation in which the party needs to get its act together," he told reporters in Canberra on the final sitting day of parliament before a seven-week break.
"That is the truth. The stalemate has to end. They have to unify because it is killing us, in my view, the disunity.
"We have to get the people who are destabilising to stop and the party has to focus on the future," he added.
But when asked if he was behind Gillard, Crean declined to confirm his support with the Sydney Daily Telegraph claiming he was in discussions with Rudd backers to serve as his deputy on a joint leadership ticket.
"Our problem is not just about changing leaders or sticking with a leader - our problem is more fundamental," said Crean.
"It's getting back to what the Labor party not just stands for but how it advances the interests of the nation."
Leadership speculation spiked on Wednesday when chief government whip Joel Fitzgibbon, a key Rudd backer, confirmed some MPs were actively discussing Gillard's position and her slumping support.
Gillard has been dogged by the speculation for weeks, with the rumours fuelled by a government decision to try and introduce media reforms which the industry has united to fiercely oppose.
Some ministers have stressed their loyalty to her, but reports have said any leadership vote between the two would be tight.
Gillard became prime minister in mid 2010 when she ousted Rudd, who at the time had lost the support of powerful factional leaders.
She called an election which she failed to win outright from the surprised public, gaining power only after cobbling together a coalition with a Greens MP and several rural independents to form a majority in the lower house.
Rudd challenged Gillard in February 2012 and lost 71-31 while the prime minister has vowed she will not readily vacate her position.