Kevin Rudd took the lead as Australia’s preferred prime minister in the first polls since he ousted Julia Gillard, as his Labor party narrowed the gap against the opposition ahead of this year’s election.
A Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper shows Rudd, who will name his Cabinet team today, leads Liberal-National leader Tony Abbott as preferred leader 49 percent to 35 percent. Labor is trailing the coalition by two percentage points on a two-party preferred basis, from 14 points a week ago.
Rudd, 55, who defeated Gillard in a party room vote on June 26, said he returned to the leadership to avoid a “catastrophic” election defeat for Labor. He faces the challenge of uniting his party and building a policy platform on issues including the nation’s carbon tax and dealing with entry into Australia by asylum seekers, many fleeing war-torn Middle Eastern and South Asian nations.
“Honeymoon is a good term for it,” Norman Abjorensen, a Canberra-based political analyst at Australia National University, said by phone yesterday. “The opposition have had a free run recently and suddenly you have the worst possible scenario for Abbott -- Rudd returning.”
Rudd, who hasn’t committed to Gillard’s pledge to hold the election on Sept. 14, needs to fill Cabinet positions vacated by supporters of Australia’s first female leader. The Governor General will swear in ministers and parliamentary secretaries at 2 p.m. in Canberra.
Jacinta Collins, Julie Collins and Catherine King are among those to be added to the Cabinet, the Australian newspaper reported yesterday, citing a spokeswoman for Rudd. Melissa Parke will also be named to a post, the report said. Voicemail messages left with two of Rudd’s spokesmen outside of business hours yesterday were not immediately returned.
Jacinta Collins is a senator in Victoria and Julie Collins is a member of parliament in Tasmania. Together with King, currently minister for road safety, their appointments will boost the representation of women in the Cabinet.
Rudd will announce the Cabinet today, Labor deputy prime minister Anthony Albanese told reporters during a stop in northern Tasmania.
Abbott called the forthcoming election Australia’s “clearest choice in a generation,” speaking at a party rally in Melbourne on June 29.
“It is a choice about fundamental values, it’s a choice about what we believe in as a people and a nation,” he said.
Rudd visited the Blue Mountains area, west of Sydney, on June 29 to campaign with the local Labor candidate.
“I think we’re doing OK but we’ve got a long, long way to go,” he said.
The Newspoll, conducted June 28-30 and published today, shows the coalition leading Labor by 51 percent to 49 percent on a two-party basis, designed to gauge which party is most likely to form a government under Australia’s preferential voting system.
The survey of 1,149 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Newspoll is 50 percent owned by News Ltd. and 50 percent by Millward Brown Inc., a market-research company.
Rudd is also the preferred choice for prime minister by 51 percent of voters compared with 34 percent for Abbott, according to a Galaxy poll of 1,002 voters. Support for the ruling Labor party increased as much as 10 percent in Sydney and Melbourne suburbs including Blaxland and Maribyrnong, according to a separate ReachTEL poll conducted June 27.
The Galaxy poll, published in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper yesterday, did not specify the margin for error in the study conducted June 27-28. The gap between support for Labor and a Liberal-National coalition narrowed to 2 points on a two-party preferred basis, down from 10 points in a June 11-13 poll.
No margin for error was given in the ReachTEL poll, published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper June 29. Rudd declined to specify a new election date when pressed by Liberal-National coalition leader Abbott, 55, last week. There won’t be a “huge variation,” he said, and any announcement would be consistent with the constitution. Australian law requires the election to be held by Nov. 30.
Gillard restored Labor’s advantage in opinion polls when she ousted Rudd in June 2010, surveys by Nielsen and Galaxy showed at the time.
Rudd must decide whether to support some big-ticket policy items that Gillard struggled to sell to voters, including the nation’s first levy on greenhouse-gas emissions and a tax on mining company profits that will reap A$1.8 billion ($1.64 billion) less revenue than previously forecast for the financial year ended yesterday, show budget documents released May 14.
“The government’s about bringing the country together, not dividing it,” Rudd said. He has challenged Abbott to a debate over the country’s debt and deficit within the next two weeks.
Illegal immigration will probably be on the agenda when Rudd visits Indonesia on July 4 and 5 to meet with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, after Abbott promised to “stop the boats” carrying asylum seekers.
While asylum seekers have been arriving in Australia since the Vietnam War in the 1970s, the issue became more politicized about a decade ago when then-Prime Minister John Howard’s Liberal-National government detained refugees, including children, in offshore processing camps or in detention centers in remote areas.