Scandal-Besieged Gillard Boosts Australia’s Labor Support

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard, Australia's prime minister. Photographer: Ian Waldie/Bloomberg

Support for Australia’s governing Labor Party rose to a three-month high as Prime Minister Julia Gillard attempts to reverse a slide in popularity before elections due next year.

Labor’s primary vote climbed 2 percentage points to 32 percent, while support for the opposition Liberal-National coalition increased 1 point to 46 percent, according to a Newspoll published in today’s Australian newspaper. On a two-party preferred basis, which takes into account the country’s preferential voting system, the opposition’s lead shrank to 8 points from 10.

Gillard, who overtook Liberal-National coalition leader Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister in today’s poll, has gained ground on the opposition after this month’s budget handed out extra cash to households. After defeating her predecessor Kevin Rudd in a leadership ballot in February, her minority government has been weakened by lawmaker scandals that have eroded Labor’s control of parliament.

“The government will be relieved with today’s poll, which shows Labor’s move to deliver some goodies to lower-paid voters in the budget gave it a bit of a boost,” said Nick Economou, a political analyst at Monash University in Melbourne. “It’s doubtful that momentum can be sustained because there’s a lot of negativity around this government. One swallow certainly doesn’t mean spring has arrived.”

The Newspoll survey of 1,152 people, conducted May 25-27, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Support for Labor hit a record low of 26 percent in a Newspoll survey taken on Sept. 16-18 last year. Labor’s primary vote was last above 32 percent in February.

New Attacks

The government unveiled a federal budget on May 8 that aims to return to a surplus next year and scrapped a planned cut in company taxes to fund payouts for low- and middle-income earners. Since then, Gillard has faced renewed attacks about her leadership after unions criticized a decision to allow billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart to employ more than 1,700 overseas workers.

The government approved an enterprise migration agreement May 25 authorizing Rinehart’s Roy Hill mining project in Western Australia’s Pilbara region to sponsor as many as 1,715 overseas workers for its three-year construction phase because of a shortage of local employees.

The Department of Immigration said today it’s investigating claims made by a labor union that Chinese workers on Citic Pacific Ltd.’s Sino Iron project in the Pilbara are being underpaid.

“The department is aware of the allegations and is investigating them,” department spokesman Sandi Logan said.

Rob Cory, media and communications manager for Citic Pacific’s Australian unit, wasn’t immediately able to comment when contacted outside of normal business hours.

Abbott’s Call

Australia’s first female prime minister is also fighting to overcome charges by the opposition that she’s beholden to Greens party allies and broke a campaign pledge to oppose the carbon levy, to be introduced July 1.

Abbott has been calling for the resignation of Craig Thomson from parliament after the former Labor lawmaker, whose vote Gillard relies on to pass laws, dismissed allegations he used a union credit card to pay for prostitutes. The opposition’s strategy of attacking the minority government in parliament may be backfiring with voters, Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said today.

“What Australians want in parliament is a debate about the issues, about the future,” Shorten said in an Australian Broadcasting Corp. interview. “Being positive in the long run will trump being negative. With Mr. Abbott they’ll always find the negative.”

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