Labor’s Support Slips From 18-Month High in Australia Poll

Support for Australia’s governing Labor Party fell from an 18-month high, as Prime Minister Julia Gillard struggles to gain traction with voters before elections due next year.

Labor’s primary vote dropped 3 percentage points to 33 percent, while Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition climbed 4 points to 45 percent, according to a Newspoll survey published in the Australian newspaper today. Taking preference votes into account, Labor trailed the coalition by 8 points after pulling level in the previous survey.

Australia’s first female prime minister is battling to maintain support more than two years after backtracking on a pledge not to introduce a carbon tax. Abbott may be benefiting from his bid to counter claims that he is prejudiced against women, after his wife Margie last week began a media blitz defending his credibility.

“Gillard’s recent surge may have been a dead-cat bounce and the tactic to attack Abbott hasn’t worked,” said Andrew Hughes, who conducts political-marketing research at the Australian National University in Canberra. “The only good news for Labor is it still has a year to regain momentum before the next election.”

Gillard’s lead over Abbott as preferred prime minister shrank to 10 points from 14 points in the previous poll. The telephone survey of 1,168 people, conducted Oct. 5-7, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Rhodes Scholar

Senior Labor lawmakers including Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Health Minister Tanya Plibersek have claimed Abbott has a problem dealing with powerful women. The Rhodes Scholar and former amateur boxer last month denied allegations that he physically intimidated a female political opponent during Sydney University elections in 1977.

The latest analysis of Newspoll surveys, published in The Australian on Oct. 5, showed 29 percent of female voters are satisfied with Abbott, compared with 34 percent of men.

“I won’t stand by and let others claim that the man I love, and the father my children adore, has some agenda against women,” Margie Abbott said in a News Ltd. interview published Oct. 5.

Abbott last week declined to rule out appearing on the radio show of Sydney-based Alan Jones, a critic of Gillard, after the disc jockey claimed at a Liberal Party fundraiser that the prime minister’s father, who passed away last month, had “died of shame.”

‘Negative Commentary’

“Being the first female prime minister also attracts some commentary of the negative kind, and you know what I’m talking about when I refer to that,” Gillard, 51, said in a speech in Canberra today. “That negative commentary has never detracted from the real delight of having the opportunity not only to change perceptions, but to change the nation.”

After the closest election in seven decades, Gillard formed a minority government in September 2010 with support from independents and Greens Party lawmakers. She backtracked on a promise not to tax carbon emissions, implementing the levy on July 1 along with new taxes on iron ore and coal mining profits. Abbott, 54, has vowed to repeal the laws should he win power.

Parliament resumes in Canberra today, with the lower house having three more sitting weeks this year before the two-month summer break. Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan have promised to bring the budget back to surplus before elections that must be held by November 2013.

That task isn’t getting easier with concern mounting that the nation’s mining boom may end prematurely as growth slows in China, Australia’s biggest trading partner, fueling a plunge in commodity prices and lower government revenues.

Australia’s central bank resumed cutting its benchmark interest rate last week to revive demand outside of the resource boom that it said is likely to crest next year at a lower level than previously expected.

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