PRIME Minister Julia Gillard used Labor's first Caucus meeting of the year to fire up the troops after the latest Newspoll showed a disturbing slide in support for the government.
The second Newspoll of the year, published in The Australian on Monday, was a particularly bad one for the Gillard government.
It showed Labor's primary vote sliding to 32% after it hit a respectable 38% just three weeks ago.
A lot happened in the ensuing three weeks which might account for the gloomy poll result, including Ms Gillard's controversial decision to parachute Nova Peris into the No.1 spot on Labor's Northern Territory Senate ticket; the naming of an election date more than seven months before the poll, Craig Thomson's arrest and the resignation of two Cabinet ministers.
Ms Gillard told her Caucus colleagues Labor would continue to focus on education and easing cost-of-living pressures between now and the election.
She also made reference to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, saying the party was "protecting people from life's risks".
The Prime Minister downplayed the significance of her decision to break with convention and reveal the election date so early.
She said the Federal Government was now in the same position as state governments, which have fixed election dates, and that the decision had been welcomed by the business community.
Ms Peris's surprise elevation was also raised directly with the Prime Minister, with the decision to dump incumbent Senator Trish Crossin described as "unfair".
The Prime Minister said she had been troubled by the absence of an indigenous MP in Labor's ranks and it was appropriate to nominate Ms Peris in the Territory.
Earlier, Tony Abbott told his shadow cabinet voters wanted to see a different approach from the Opposition.
"Now, the thing is that we have been talking, as you all know, as all of you have been doing for the last two years and people expected us for most of that time to hold the government to account and we certainly did that, but I think what people are now looking for is for a little bit more from us," the Opposition Leader said.
"They want us not so much to be an Opposition but to be an alternative government and I think you would have noticed from Julie (Bishop), from me, from Warren (Truss), from Joe (Hockey) that that is exactly what you've been getting over the last few weeks."
He said the Real Solutions Plan launched last week was the type of "positive plan" Australians were expecting from the Opposition.
In other Newspoll results, primary support for the Coalition jumped 4% to sit at 48%, with the Opposition now enjoying a massive 56-44% two-party-preferred lead.
A uniform swing of that magnitude on September 14 could see Labor lose as many as 25 seats around the country.
On the question of who would make the best prime minister Ms Gillard's lead over Mr Abbott narrowed considerably.
Three weeks ago the Prime Minister held a 45-33% over Mr Abbott in this category - on Monday it was 41-39.
Ms Gillard's still enjoys a better net satisfaction rating an her opponent, but Mr Abbott has also made up ground here as well.
Mr Abbott's net satisfaction rating - the difference between those satisfied and dissatisfied - improved six points from the -29 he recorded at the beginning of January.
The Prime Minister's rating was -16, a slide of five points since the last poll.
No doubt Ms Gillard will also be hoping her new look ministry can help turn things around for Labor.
Earlier on Monday the government's new ministers and parliamentary secretaries were sworn in by the Governor General Quentin Bryce at Government House.
Meanwhile, Senator Stephen Conroy was elected unopposed as the government's leader in the Senate, with Penny Wong to be his deputy.
THE CHANGES (IN):
- MARK DREYFUS: New Attorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management.
- MIKE KELLY: New Minister for Defence Materiel.
- YVETTE D'ATH: New Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.
- KELVIN THOMPSON: New Parliamentary Secretary for Trade.
- MELISSA PARKE: New Parliamentary Secretary for Homelessness.
- BRENDAN O'CONNOR: New Immigration Minister, replacing Chris Bowen.
- CHRIS BOWEN: New Minister for Tertiary Education, Training, Science and Research.
- MARK BUTLER: Takes on Housing and Homelessness portfolio.
THE CHANGES (OUT):
- Attorney-General Nicola Roxon (resigned)
- Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans (resigned)
- Parliamentary Secretary for Trade Justine Elliot (resigned).