AAP, with a staff reporter
Labor MPs admit they fear the worst as the latest round of opinion polls shows the Gillard government heading for a landslide defeat at the September election.
Labor senator Doug Cameron said the party's leadership team repeatedly had told MPs a J-curve would follow major policy announcements, with public sentiment dropping before growing to support the government.
"That J-curve hasn't come, so we have to be realistic," he said.
"There's been policies not sold as well as they should have been. There's policies that have not been defended as well as they should have."
The latest Newspoll, published in The Australian, has the coalition stretching its lead to 16 points.
If the 58-42 per cent poll result was repeated at the September election, Labor's representation in parliament would be nearly halved to 37 seats, ABC election analyst Antony Green predicts.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon said Labor's position was dire.
"These polls seem to be not so much within the margin of error as the margin of disaster," he said.
"The Labor MPs I speak to are pretty despondent at the moment, and I think they're just hoping it'll tighten before election day."
Backbencher Graham Perrett's seat of Moreton, in suburban Brisbane, would be one of the first Labor seats to go on election night.
"We're in more trouble than Indiana Jones," Mr Perrett told ABC radio on Tuesday.
Tony Abbott has pulled away from Julia Gillard as Australia's preferred prime minister, according to newspoll.
Mr Abbott has improved three points in the two weeks since the last poll to achieve a 43 per cent result amongst voters, while Ms Gillard has weakened four points to 35 per cent.
Independent MP Tony Windsor says Labor has taken a bit of a hit after last week's furore over electoral funding.
"The government was always going to take a bigger hit on that sort of thing," he said.
Senator Cameron said it was of great concern to hear colleagues talking as though the election had been lost already.
"We need to always go into the election with the view that we're going to win," he said.
A Herald Sun poll backs up Newspoll, saying Labor is looking over an abyss with even safe seats such as Isaac in Victoria, held by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus with a 10.4 per cent margin, likely to fall.
The paper's JWS Research poll, focusing on Victoria, shows Mr Dreyfus is facing a huge 15.4 per cent swing in what has been a Labor seat for 17 years.
The government has been torpedoed by the debacle over attempts to slip through public funding changes last week that would have handed $60 million to the political parties.
The Australian says the government has also been on the back foot in the past two weeks over fears of asbestos contamination in the NBN rollout and the continued arrival of boats carrying asylum seekers.
Based on preference flows at the last election, Labor would lose 35 seats and be swept away with a uniform eight per cent swing against it across Australia.
Fairfax Media has seen internal Labor polling that shows Treasurer Wayne Swan would be amongst those to lose their seats.
The Queensland polling is believed to show his primary vote has collapsed to just 28 per cent, compared to 41 per cent at the last election.
A "worst case" scenario indicates former prime minister Kevin Rudd could be Labor's last man standing in Queensland.
The poll will ring alarm bells for surrounding seats of Bruce and Holt, as well as McEwen and Bendigo, which party figures say are also at risk.
But significant personal support for Speaker Anna Burke suggests she will also buck the trend and retain her Box Hill-based inner eastern suburbs seat of Chisholm.
Support rises for Independents: Windsor
Independent MP Tony Windsor said support for independents remained significantly higher than at the 2010 election, reflecting the electorate's view of the major parties.
The primary vote for "others" was 12 per cent in the latest Newspoll, nearly double the 6.6 per cent recorded at the election.
"There has been disillusionment and there has been for some time with the major parties," Mr Windsor said.
Coalition 'underdogs' in election
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has warned coalition MPs not to get too carried away despite the latest opinion polls showing the Gillard government heading for a massive election defeat.
"If a week is a long time in politics, then 102 days (to the election) is an eternity," he told a coalition meeting in Canberra.
Mr Abbott said voters were now looking at the coalition with intensity and he emphasised the need for all opposition MPs to display a high sense of character.
"We have to give people a sense of our competence," he told the meeting.
The opposition leader also urged his colleagues to work "incredibly hard" between now and the election and to reinforce the coalition's key messages of hope, reward and opportunity.
Deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop warned Labor would sink to new lows in attempt to stave off defeat, citing a $500 million war chest in the budget.
"They are frightened and angry and it will get very nasty," she said.
Nationals leader Warren Truss also warned coalition MPs not to think the election was already won.
"In politics, you only have to be one day ahead every three years to win an election," he said.
Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said the electorate was not in the mood to be bought off or hear rash promises.
Liberal MP Jamie Briggs insisted the coalition would start as underdogs despite its big lead over Labor.
His colleague Simon Birmingham denied the coalition was becoming complacent about an election victory.
"Far from it. We know that no election can be taken for granted," he said, adding the Liberal Party had only succeeded in winning an election from opposition three times.
"We know people want a change, but we also know we need to earn their votes and earn their trust, and in the next 101 days that's all we'll be doing."