CANBERRA, May 19 (Xinhua) -- Talks of a leadership challenge within Australia's opposition Labor Party were declared as "fake news" on Friday, with both the opposition leader Bill Shorten and frontbench colleague Anthony Albanese denying they are on a collision course for a second leadership challenge in four years.
Following the release of the Liberal government's federal budget earlier this month, which many political commentators described as being "Labor-like" in nature, Shorten denied the measures were what Labor would have introduced had they been in power.
However earlier this week, Albanese told a forum in Western Australia that Labor should be celebrating the budget, as the Liberal government had embraced Labor policies, fuelling speculation that the two were at an impasse and heading towards a leadership challenge.
While on a visit to the island state of Tasmania on Friday, Shorten said he and other members of the Labor Party were "not in the least concerned" by the media beat-up of the story, describing the coverage of the apparent rift as an "absolute exaggeration."
"I just want to say, and we have chatted about this, I am not in the least concerned about his remarks and nor should anyone else be," Shorten told the press on Friday.
"I had a very good chat with Anthony yesterday and we both agree that the stories are an absolute exaggeration, and I couldn't be happier with my whole team.
"Let's be candid - four years ago, Labor was a mess, but we've got our act together. I just want to put on record today my gratitude to all of my team including Anthony.
"We're focussed on the issues which affect all Australians, and that is why we have called out (the government's) budget for what it really is."
Earlier, speaking on the Nine Network's morning show, Albanese said, "This is fake news to quote a prominent American."
"The fact is that (my) speech (saying the budget contained 'Labor values') was approved in advance by Bill's office and perfectly consistent with what Bill said in his budget reply."
If Albanese was to eventually challenge Shorten for Labor's top job, it wouldn't be the first time the party heavyweights have gone "toe-to-toe" in the name of the leadership.
In 2013, Shorten and then-deputy Labor leader Albanese faced a party vote after Kevin Rudd stepped down following that year's election loss to the now-governing coalition government.
Despite going into the vote as deputy party leader, Albanese was narrowly beaten (48 percent to 52 percent) by Shorten in a poll of both Labor MPs and party members across the nation. Shorten then snubbed his rival by relieving Albanese of his deputy leader status in favor of Tanya Plibersek.
While Shorten and Albanese were both talking down the chances of a "round 2" on Friday, government MPs stepped up the pressure surrounding the Labor leadership position.
Also speaking with the Nine Network on Friday, government frontbencher Christopher Pyne said that, in contradicting the party leader, Albanese has in effect thrown down the gauntlet to Shorten, adding that Albanese had "fired the starter's gun" and was "out of the blocks."