Bill Shorten wanted to use his first day back in Canberra to talk about the cost of living, but instead arrived to find voters think he's the third-best option to lead Labor.
He's also facing another potential by-election with the government urging him to refer Brisbane-based MP Susan Lamb to the High Court over her citizenship.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull enjoyed a boost from the first Newspoll of the year, beating Mr Shorten as preferred prime minister, 45 per cent to 31, and clawed back some two-party preferred vote to trail Labor 48 to 52 per cent.
It wasn't the only Newspoll contest Mr Shorten lost.
Tanya Plibersek was chosen as the preferred Labor leader by 25 per cent of voters, closely followed by Anthony Albanese on 24 per cent and Mr Shorten on 22 per cent.
But senior Labor frontbencher Tony Burke believes Mr Shorten will lead the party to the next election.
"We don't want to go back to the days, which the Liberal Party are still in, of constant leadership change and speculation," he said on Monday.
His colleague Stephen Jones saw a silver lining in the preferred leader results: "Isn't it good to be a member of a party where we've got such a talented frontbench?"
The government put pressure on Ms Lamb to resign from her Longman seat after the UK Home Office could not process her citizenship renunciation.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said Mr Shorten should send Ms Lamb's case to be tested in the High Court.
"I think it's almost to the point now where it's irresistible the argument that (Mr Shorten) should refer and my view is he likely will in the very near future," he told Sky News on Monday.
But Mr Burke said all MPs with Section 44 questions hanging over their heads should go to the High Court at the same time, including Liberal MP Jason Falinski.
Mr Shorten took the government to task over wage stagnation and health insurance premium rises, as he looked to take advantage of concerns about rising inequality among Australian families.
The Senate welcomed Liberal Jim Molan to its benches, replacing the NSW Nationals' Fiona Nash, One Nation senator Fraser Anning announced he was now an independent, while independent Lucy Gichuhi joined the Liberal Party.
Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten also paid tribute to Hawke government minister Barry Cohen at a memorial service, and ex-Fairfax journalist Michael Gordon.
Anti-Adani protesters used Parliament's first day back to increase the pressure on MPs to back away from a proposed Queensland coal mine.