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Gillard Keeps Narrow Newspoll Lead Over Opposition Ahead of Australia Vote

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor Party held a narrow lead over the opposition in a Newspoll opinion survey published today as candidates make their final push for the Aug. 21 election.

Labor kept a four-percentage-point nationwide advantage over Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition, according to the Newspoll in the Australian newspaper, unchanged from a week ago. The result contrasts with a Galaxy survey published yesterday in the Sunday Telegraph showing Abbott in an election-winning position if the national ballot were held now.

“There is massive uncertainty,” said Malcolm Mackerras, a visiting fellow in political science at the University of New South Wales. “I don’t want to rule out the possibility that Mr. Abbott will be prime minister next week.”

Opinion surveys are deadlocked ahead of the Aug. 21 contest as voters weigh which side can best manage the A$1.2 trillion ($1.1 trillion) economy after Australia skirted the global recession supported by demand for iron ore and coal. The opposition led in polls before Gillard ousted Kevin Rudd as leader in June and watered down his resources tax proposal in a deal with BHP Billiton Ltd., Rio Tinto Group and Xstrata Plc that still faces opposition from smaller miners.

Gillard kicked off the official start of her campaign in Brisbane today, saying the contest is “about having a strong economy, it’s about having jobs.”

Abbott’s Support

Abbott is gaining enough support in mining communities in Western Australia and Queensland and in Sydney where voters are concerned about rising borrowing costs to win the 17 extra seats he needs to form a government, according to the Galaxy poll.

“A handful of votes in a handful of seats” in the west and east will determine the outcome, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told Sky News earlier today. “It will be close.”

In today’s Newspoll, 52 percent of voters preferred the Labor Party compared with 48 percent support for the coalition according to the Aug. 13-15 telephone survey of 1,694 voters. The poll has a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.

“I don’t believe the Labor figure will be as high as 52 percent,” said Mackerras, who devised the “Mackerras pendulum” to determine how big a swing in support is needed to pick up key districts. A minority government formed by the coalition and three independent lawmakers, creating uncertainty for markets, is “possible,” he added.

Growth, Currency Performance

Australia has had 18 unbroken years of growth and the world’s best-performing major currency of the past eight years, according to Bloomberg data. Much of that performance has been achieved by selling iron ore, coal and other commodities, primarily to China, the fastest-growing major economy.

“The claims of the Labor Party to be good economic managers are just laughable,” Abbott, the coalition’s third leader since defeat in 2007, told reporters in western Sydney today. “A government which clobbers our mining industry with a great big new tax does not know how to manage this economy.”

Both Labor and Abbott’s coalition pledge to get the nation back into surplus by 2012-13 and maintain the independence of the Reserve Bank of Australia in setting interest rates. Labor plans to cut company taxes to 29 percent from 30 percent, while the coalition would cut the rate to 28.5 percent if elected.

Gillard did not pledge any action today to reduce emissions, a mainstay of Rudd’s win three years ago that he shelved in April. Abbott has said he will not introduce a carbon tax.

The coalition would scrap Labor’s 30 percent levy on iron ore and coal profits, introduce paid-parental leave of six months funded by a 1.5 percent levy on businesses with annual taxable income of more than A$5 million, and set up a taskforce to pay off net debt forecast at A$80.6 billion in 2010-11.

“We still have the government A$1.28 to be returned, while the coalition are distinct outsiders at A$3.60,” Sportingbet Australia Chief Executive Officer Michael Sullivan said in an e- mailed statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Marion Rae in Canberra at mrae3@bloomberg.net

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