With an opinion poll showing more support for scrapping or deferring the national broadband network than for a levy to pay for flood reconstruction, Mr Shorten said: ”Individuals should take some responsibility for insuring against disaster. If we just say ‘have a permanent fund forever and a day’, people will say ‘why bother insuring?’

”And then what will happen is, we’ll get into a bigger cycle of how much we pay,” Mr Shorten said, opposing the call by independent Tony Windsor and some other crossbenchers for a fund.

An Essential Research poll found 28 per cent favoured paying by scrapping or deferring the NBN, 24 per cent by postponing the surplus, 22 per cent by a levy and 10 per cent by raising taxes on mining companies.

The opposition has consistently called for money to be taken from the NBN. Labor voters favoured the levy (42 per cent) while Coalition voters favoured scrapping or postponing the NBN (48 per cent).

More than 90 per cent of the more than 1000 poll interviews were done after the announcement of the government package with its $1.8 billion levy. The rest were done just before when the prospect of the levy was being widely canvassed in the media.

Asked what the government should spend a levy on, more than nine in 10 people favoured infrastructure and replacing and repairing public buildings. A majority (58 per cent) supported compensating farmers for lost income But they were more likely to oppose compensating businesses or those who were not insured.

Nearly half (48 per cent ) rated the performance of the government in responding to the floods as ”good” while 29 per cent gave a rating of good to the opposition.

The government stepped up its attack on Tony Abbott with Climate Change Minister Greg Combet saying he found some of the contributions the opposition leader had made ”disgusting”. ”I think it has demonstrated he is not fit to be prime minister. He should support the government’s package. We should all pull together.”

The government has started briefing the crossbench MPs whose support its needs to pass the levy. Independent senator Nick Xenophon had a phone hook-up with the Prime Minister’s office and officials.

Senator Xenophon said: ”A one-off levy isn’t going to solve long-term problems. When you have insurers forecasting there will be more floods, more natural disasters, then we can’t have a Band-Aid approach. We need to look at the big picture.”

He wants an insurance arrangement on the model of the Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation set up after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US, which deals with anti-terrorism insurance.

Family First senator Steve Fielding, who has yet to be briefed, said that for him to support the levy he would have to be convinced ”that the money is going to be spent without waste”.

Meanwhile, floodwaters are not expected to recede from north-western Victoria for up to three weeks.

The area around Swan Hill can expect waters to reach minor flood levels in the next 48 hours, but the mass of water is not expected to peak at Swan Hill until tomorrow or Thursday.

Extract from the The Age Online