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Gillard’s Labor Trails Coalition as Parliament Enters Last Week

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard enters this year’s final sitting week of parliament with her Labor party still trailing the coalition, which remains favored to win elections that must be held in 2013.

The ruling Labor party’s primary vote remained on 36 percent with Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition staying on 43 percent, according to a Newspoll survey published in the Australian newspaper today. Taking preference votes into account, Labor was on 49 percent and the opposition on 51 percent on a two-party preferred basis, unchanged from a poll two weeks earlier.

While the coalition has led in almost every poll for more than 18 months, Gillard’s minority government has closed the gap as voter concern waned about the impact of a new tax on carbon emissions. Australia’s first female leader is staking her economic credentials on returning the national budget to surplus next year.

The telephone survey of 1,156 people, conducted Nov. 23-25, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Abbott rose 3 points on the question on whether voters were satisfied with his performance, after falling to the lowest level in his three years in charge of the coalition in the previous poll, while Gillard remained at 37 percent.

On the question of who would make the better prime minister, Abbott rose 1 point to 33 percent against Gillard’s unchanged 46 percent.

Toughen Standards

Abbott, 55, is indicating he’ll try to maintain pressure on Gillard, a former union lawyer, during the final sitting week until February by introducing a private member’s bill that would toughen standards for union leaders.

“This government has hurt you, it’s wasted your money, it’s betrayed your trust, it’s compromised your future,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra today. “The only way to restore hope, reward and opportunity is to change this government.”

Gillard, 51, should answer questions about her conduct as a union lawyer in the 1990s, Abbott said today. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.

“Tony Abbott has spent the year being ‘‘Captain Negative’’ in Australian politics,” Education Minister Peter Garrett said in an Australian Broadcasting Corp. television interview today. “It will be a test of his leadership as to whether the opposition will continue with the smear campaign that they are they are now waging on the prime minister.”

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