Government likened to the quickly-sinking Titanic as Parliament breaks ahead of election in September

The Australian Parliament rose this week for a break before its final two-week session ahead of the September 14 election, leaving Prime Minister Julia Gillard less than 100 days to perform a miracle.

Every day, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott counts down the time remaining - 98 days from today - to keep the bells tolling.

There are optimists in Labor, although their number is shrinking under the great cloud of gloom enveloping the Government as polls unrelentingly predict disaster for a great number of its MPs, senior ministers included.

The despair is pouring into Labor like seawater into the Titanic. As the leadership continues to proclaim hope ever more shrilly, MPs are packing up their offices, staffers are out sniffing for new jobs, and discipline is breaking down.

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This week in Parliament Gillard remained gamely defiant, but clearly on the defensive. The Opposition scored heavily with its pursuit of those responsible for allowing a convicted terrorist to remain as an asylum-seeker in a low-security detention centre, and against the Government's plans to tighten 457 visas for temporary skilled workers.

New polls added to the pall: a Newspoll extending Abbott's lead as preferred prime minister and predicting the loss of 35 Labor seats; another by Morgan in similar vein; and yet another in Melbourne forecasting the ousting of Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

And a Fairfax report of internal Labor polling, warning of a wipeout in Queensland that would leave only ousted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd standing, raised the inevitable frisson of leadership speculation.

Rudd stepped smartly on the prospect, but its mere mention added to perceptions of a government in steep and terminal decline.

Two Labor MPs, both former frontbenchers, began packing up their offices, telling the media that while they remained hopeful, they were also realists.

Alan Griffin, who held the veterans' affairs and defence personnel portfolios before falling victim to Rudd's ousting, said he was preparing to leave "just in case" of defeat.

Daryl Melham, who held a number of portfolios while Labor was in Opposition, was "working his guts out" for re-election but aware of reality.

Others likened the Government to the Titanic, one said Labor was in more trouble than action movie character Indiana Jones, and Gillard had to stomp on whispers that Foreign Minister Bob Carr had advised her to step down.

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Workplace Minister Bill Shorten told Fairfax radio: "There is no doubt in my mind that if the polls are correct Tony Abbott will win in a landslide."

There was more. Former Defence Minister and key Rudd backer Joel Fitzgibbon openly mocked Labor's media advisers and their instructions on responses to appalling opinion polls, while prominent left wing Senator Doug Cameron backed his right to speak out and told Gillard to dump her spin doctors.

Gillard supporter Laurie Ferguson also publicly broke ranks, warning the Prime Minister that unless she sold her policies on asylum seekers Labor would be massacred in western Sydney.

Labor staffers, including Gillard's communications director John McTernan, have reportedly been hunting for post-election jobs.

In the Melbourne Age, former Labor pollster Rod Cameron warned of a "total wipeout" for the Government. Maxine McKew, who won former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard's seat in 2007, said an "absolute tragedy" was now being played out.