Gillard’s Labor Party Sinks in Poll as Mining Tax Vote Looms

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard, Australia's prime minister. Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor party sank to a six-week low in an opinion poll as the government, trying to recover from a leadership fight, seeks to pass into law an unprecedented tax on mining profits.

Labor’s 31 percent trails opposition leader Tony Abbott’s coalition by 12 percentage points, compared with a 10-point margin in the previous survey, according to a Newspoll published in today’s Australian newspaper. Gillard received a personal boost, rising to a two-percentage-point lead as preferred prime minister over Abbott, from two points behind.

After fending off a leadership challenge by predecessor Kevin Rudd last month, the nation’s first female prime minister must galvanize her party as it returns to Canberra for a two-week sitting. Gillard’s minority government needs the backing of independent and Green party lawmakers to pass legislation before elections that must be held by the end of 2013.

“The leadership challenge was always going to damage the government in the opinion polls over the short term,” said Norman Abjorensen, a political analyst at Australian National University in Canberra. “Labor will need to pick up ground going into the middle of the year to have any real chance at winning the next election.”

Gillard’s government intends to push the mining tax bill through the upper house so it can take effect July 1.

Rudd’s Ouster

Rudd, who was ousted as prime minister in a June 2010 party coup by Gillard, 50, stepped down as foreign minister on Feb. 22 to challenge her for the nation’s top job. He was defeated 71 to 31 in a Feb. 27 party ballot.

Rudd’s replacement as foreign minister, former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, 64, took his place in the Federal Senate today after being sworn in to his new Cabinet role.

“I’ve got a lot to learn,” Carr told reporters in Canberra today. “I’m bound to make mistakes. It’s a big step to go from the New South Wales Parliament to the Parliament of the Commonwealth.”

Support for Labor dropped four points in today’s Newspoll survey, while Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition dropped two points to 43 percent. The survey of 1,153 people, conducted March 9-11, asked respondents to choose among four choices -- Labor, Abbott’s coalition, Greens and others. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The result was Labor’s worst since a Jan. 27-29 poll, when it received support of 30 percent.

Two Party Basis

On a two-party preferred basis, seen as the most accurate gauge of potential election outcomes, the coalition remained six percentage points in front of Labor, unchanged from the previous poll conducted Feb. 23-26. Labor lost its majority in the August 2010 national election, the closest in 70 years, forcing it to rely on the support of non-party lawmakers.

Labor’s 30 percent tax on iron ore and coal profits is expected to be submitted this week for final approval in the Senate, where the Green party holds the balance of power.

The government is also assembling a national disability-insurance program and plans legislation for the rollout of a A$36 billion ($37.9 billion) government-owned high speed Internet network.

Parliament goes on hiatus from March 22 and resumes May 8, when the government will announce its annual budget that it says will return to surplus. Under laws already passed, the government will put a tax on carbon emissions from July 1 by charging about 500 polluters A$23 a ton for discharges until the set price gives way to a cap-and-trade system in 2015.

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