Prime Minister Julia Gillard was yesterday forced to break strict rules of Cabinet confidentiality to prevent her campaign for the August 21 election crashing off the rails.
Gillard was again ambushed by leaks from within her own Government alleging that she had opposed paid parental leave and higher aged pensions - both key social markers for Labor.
With her campaign momentum hurled off track, Gillard reversed an earlier refusal to comment on the grounds of Cabinet confidentiality, denied opposing the measures, and gave a strong defence of demanding sound economic arguments before voting for them.
"If people want a Prime Minister who has A$50 billion [$58.8 billion] spending put before them and sign it without question, I am not it," she said.
But Gillard's problems extend beyond the impact of the leak.
Already slipping in the polls, the Government has been put on the defensive by a resurgent Opposition that has gained traction since the leaders' debate on Sunday.
Yesterday the internet gaming agency Centrebet said that while still struggling in the southern and western fringes of Sydney, the Opposition now had odds favouring them in key seats in Queensland. Betting patterns have accurately predicted the outcomes of previous elections.
Gillard is now battling both the perception that the Government is on the back foot, and that it is crumbling from within.
Since the campaign began she has been hit by three damaging leaks from inside her own ranks: her alleged welshing on a deal with predecessor Kevin Rudd that led to his ousting; claims that Rudd had treated the Cabinet's vital national security committee with "disdain"; and the latest report alleging opposition to parental leave and higher pensions.
The two most important have come via Channel Nine political editor Laurie Oakes, a distinguished veteran of the Canberra press gallery legendary for breaking national scoops.
His ambush of Gillard over the alleged deal with Rudd during her National Press Club address just before the election was called dominated headlines, helping to strengthen distaste for the coup.
Oakes' latest report has deepened the impression of a Government riven by bitterness - with the possibility of more revelations to come - and handed a heavy cudgel to the Coalition.
Media speculation has focused on Rudd as the possible source of the leaks, a suggestion denied by the former Labor leader through his office: "Mr Rudd remains committed to the re-election of the Government."
Opposition leader Tony Abbott used the row to deflect a potentially damaging Government attack on his tax and parental leave policies, and to continue pumping his own campaign while keeping Gillard off balance.
"Obviously you have got to ask yourself about [Gillard's] fundamental political convictions, and I suppose you have got to ask yourself about the unity of the team when you have got this kind of information coming out," he said.
Shadow finance minister Andrew Robb was more brutal: "The Gillard Government is now racked by payback and vendetta ... here's a Government that has lost all discipline."
A clearly angry Gillard summoned a news conference over reports that she had tried to block higher pensions and paid parental leave, a sensitive issue for a Prime Minister who has already been sideswiped for deciding against having her own children.
Saying she wanted to be frank and not "shilly-shally around", Gillard said she had supported a pension increase and paid parental leave, but that she had looked at them from every angle, and examined every possibility.
"I asked every question because I wanted to satisfy myself that they were affordable - affordable today and affordable tomorrow.
"I'll always make the tough choice. I am not a soft option. I am the person who will bring - and has brought - rigour and discipline to decision-making."
Gillard has been supported by senior ministers, but the row deflected both her own campaign and her attack on Abbott's new policies, and obscured other good news for the Government.
As Gillard appeared in a sympathetic, high-impact 13-page spread featured on the cover of the Australian Women's Weekly, the latest inflation figures supported the Government's claims for economic management.
The rate of underlying inflation was well within the Reserve Bank's 2-3 per cent target band, and the figures showed that food prices had fallen.
More important for Gillard's campaign, economists agreed that another hike in interest rates is now unlikely to come from next week's Reserve Bank board meeting.
* Tony Abbott, on reports Julia Gillard secretly opposed paid parental leave: "That shows she is a very smooth talker, but you can never be sure whether she believes what she says."
* Kevin Rudd's spokesman, on allegations the ousted former Prime Minister leaked the embarrassing claims: "Mr Rudd has not made, nor will he make, comment on Cabinet processes or deliberations."
* Gillard, justifying her duty to look at the plan from every angle: "The question at the forefront of my mind, is are they affordable?"
* Woollahra, Sydney, Mayor Andrew Petrie on conditions surrounding Gillard's funding promises to help make a notorious suicide spot safer: "If she was genuine she'd just give us the money."