Two supporters of Kevin Rudd are set to end their careers with federal Labor as the government prepares for an election later this year.

Former federal attorney-general Robert McClelland, who has decided not to seek preselection for his Sydney seat of Barton, has joined Senator Trish Crossin in bowing out of federal politics.

"After almost 17 years in federal parliament my decision has not been taken lightly," Mr McClelland said in a statement on Tuesday.

The MP for the southern Sydney seat of Barton was dumped from the frontbench by Prime Minister Julia Gillard after he supported Mr Rudd in a 2012 leadership challenge.

News of his retirement came just hours after the ALP national executive had endorsed Aboriginal Olympian Nova Peris as its top pick on the NT Senate ticket.

That decision ousts Senator Crossin from the winnable spot and follows a "captain's pick" by Ms Gillard last week to install Ms Peris as Labor's first indigenous woman in parliament.

Senator Crossin is disappointed but ruled out standing as an independent after 30 years' membership of the ALP and trade unions.

She said on Tuesday she may have announced her retirement if she had been told earlier she was to be cast aside.

Mr McClelland was attorney-general in Mr Rudd's government but was moved into emergency management when Ms Gillard took over before being dumped.

As a backbencher in June last year, he called for a crackdown on corruption in the union movement, while making references to Ms Gillard's work as a union lawyer in the 1990s.

Speaking on the government's bill in response to the Health Services Union affair, he said under parliamentary privilege: "I never want to see a dollar that a worker gives a union used for any purpose other than the proper purposes of representing that union member's best interests.

"Indeed, I know the prime minister is quite familiar with this area of the law; as lawyers in the mid-1990s, we were involved in a matter representing opposing clients."

His comments allowed the opposition to put more question marks around Ms Gillard's role in the establishment of a slush fund set up by her former boyfriend, union boss Bruce Wilson.

His retirement has sparked renewed speculation he could be replaced by former NSW Labor premier Morris Iemma.

Last year, amid talk Mr Iemma was being promoted as a Labor pre-selection candidate for Barton, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said that if Mr McClelland were to retire he could not think of a better candidate than Mr Iemma.

Despite an 8.1 per cent swing against Labor in 2010, Barton is considered fairly safe.

Mr Iemma isn't the only former NSW premier who's been mentioned as a possible federal candidate. Kristina Keneally's name has also surfaced along with her husband, Botany Bay mayor Ben Keneally.

Mr McClelland did not offer any reasons for his departure.

"I wish my successor all the very best in the important and tremendously satisfying role that lies ahead for him or her and I look forward to continuing to make a contribution to the Australian community in the next stage of my professional career," he said in his statement.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott said the Liberal Party was eager to contest Barton, vowing to campaign with Kogarah mayor Nick Varvaris for the seat.

Ms Gillard said Mr McClelland had served Labor well and been a loyal and faithful MP to his constituents.

 

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