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Gillard Slips Again in Poll as Australians Abandon Labor

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard, Australia's prime minister, looks on during House of Representatives question time in Canberra on May 28, 2013. Photographer: Stefan Postles/Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor party slumped again behind Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition in an opinion poll that indicates a change of government in the Sept. 14 election.

Labor fell 2 percentage points to 42 percent on a two-party preferred basis, while the opposition gained 2 points to 58 percent, according to a Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper today. Gillard’s satisfaction rating dropped 3 points to 28 percent.

Gillard’s bid to woo voters disaffected by internal party infighting and policy reversals by announcing increased education and health funding has failed to boost Labor’s ratings. With signs of a slowdown in the world’s 12th-largest economy, including worsening employment prospects and waning of the mining boom, momentum is with Abbott’s conservative coalition, which hasn’t ruled since 2007.

“When elections get closer Australian opinion polls usually become tighter, but that isn’t happening now, which suggests voters have totally turned off this government,” said Zareh Ghazarian, a lecturer in politics at Monash University in Melbourne. “While these figures probably won’t be replicated in the election it’s still hard to see anything but a wipe out.”

Leadership Challenge

Gillard’s woes were exacerbated in March by a challenge to her party leadership. She has sought to arrest her minority government’s ailing electoral fortunes by announcing A$9.8 billion ($9.6 billion) in extra funding for schools over six years from 2014-15 and a new levy that will collect A$20.4 billion for the disabled by mid-2019.

While some states have said they will financially support those plans, others such as Western Australia -- at the forefront of the softening mining boom -- have rejected them. That has undercut Gillard’s reputation for negotiating and economic management, which was damaged in December when the government abandoned a pledge to return the budget to surplus.

“There’s no doubt we are under considerable pressure as we head toward the election,” Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said in an Australian Broadcasting Corp. interview today. “There’s no news in that. It’s been difficult for quite some period of time.”

Labor will win back some voters as the election gets closer through policies in areas including education, Combet said.

Preferred Leader

Abbott’s satisfaction rating remained on 37 percent, according to the poll. He increased his lead on the question of who would make the better prime minister, gaining 3 points to 43 percent, while Gillard fell 4 points to 35 percent.

Labor’s primary, or first-preference, vote fell 1 point to 30 percent, while the coalition rose 3 points to 49 percent and the smaller Greens party remained on 9 percent.

The Newspoll survey of 1,139 people taken May 31-June 2 had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The two-party preferred measure is designed to gauge which party is most likely to form a government under Australia’s preferential voting system. Newspoll is 50 percent owned by News Ltd. and 50 percent by Millward Brown Inc., a market-research company.

Other polls released today show Labor is losing momentum across Australia.

Internal Labor polling showed the party risked losing all but one of the 26 seats to be contested in Queensland, the nation’s third biggest state, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, citing a senior party source it didn’t identify.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who Gillard ousted in a backroom party coup in June 2010, could be the sole Labor representative from the state after the election, with Treasurer Wayne Swan set to lose his seat, it said.

In Victoria state, several previously safe Labor seats are at risk, including that of Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, the Herald Sun reported, citing polling by JWS Research.

The opposition has “a complete focus on developing and building the relationship of trust with the Australian people and restoring trust in government,” Shadow Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in a Sky Television interview today. “There is deep disenchantment with the Gillard government.”

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