July 29 (Bloomberg) -- Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who must call an election this year, has erased his ruling Labor party’s popularity deficit with voters since returning as leader, according to a national poll.
Labor and the Tony Abbott-led Liberal-National opposition are split 50-50 on a two-party preferred basis, according to a Galaxy poll published in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper yesterday. That compares with a two-point deficit four weeks ago and a 10-point gap on June 11-13, before Rudd successfully challenged Julia Gillard for the leadership.
The poll shows Rudd, who made a surprise visit to Australian troops in Afghanistan at the weekend, has gained ground with voters previously disillusioned with Labor’s infighting and policies on carbon trading and asylum seekers. His minority government, which must hold elections before Nov. 30, will probably this week outline fiscal strategy when it revises forecasts for the world’s 12th-largest economy.
“Since Rudd’s re-emergence as leader the race has tightened,” said Stephen Stockwell, a political analyst and Griffith University professor of journalism and communications in Brisbane. “The reason why the election hasn’t been called is because Labor still isn’t ahead in the polls and it wants to use the window of time is has to make up that ground.”
Primary support for Labor under Rudd has also increased, according to the Galaxy poll. On the question of which party voters would support in the lower house, 40 percent named Labor, up two points from the previous poll. The coalition remained on 44 percent and the Greens fell 1 point to 9 percent.
Rudd will hold the election in September, the Sunday Telegraph said yesterday, without citing sources. Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on July 27 there was “no rush” to call an election. The business community and other Australians want a ballot now, according to Abbott.
“The people’s choice can’t come soon enough for our country,” Abbott told reporters in Sydney yesterday. “Let the people decide.”
Rudd, who defeated Australia’s first female prime minister in a June 26 leadership ballot, on July 27 touched down in Tarin Kowt, located in southern Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, with his wife Therese Rein for an unannounced three-hour visit.
“It’s about time we brought you back,” Rudd told Australian troops. The Tarin Kowt base is scheduled to be closed by the end of the year, with 1,000 soldiers due to leave the war-torn nation.
Treasurer Chris Bowen is preparing to release a fiscal and economic statement that will outline the government’s budget position. The government is committed to return the budget to surplus by the 2016-17 financial year, Bowen told reporters in Sydney July 26.
The Reserve Bank of Australia has reduced borrowing costs seven times -- for a total of 2 percentage points -- since November 2011 as the local dollar’s strength dragged on growth and a mining investment boom crests. Falling tax revenue prompted the government in December to ditch its promise to return the budget to surplus last financial year.
“Global developments are placing Australia on the cusp of an important economic transition,” Treasurer Chris Bowen said in his weekly economic note yesterday. “With the slowing of China’s investment-driven growth, Australia’s mining investment boom is drawing to a close.”
‘Stop the Boats’
Rudd, 55, is toughening his government’s stance against asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat, after the number of people attempting to make the perilous journey increased.
Australia announced July 19 it will refuse entry to such arrivals and send them to Papua New Guinea in a bid to defuse an issue that’s eroded voter support amid pledges by Abbott, 55, to “stop the boats.”
According to the Galaxy poll, 40 percent of voters said Labor’s policy regarding the handling of asylum seekers was better, with the coalition garnering 38 percent.
Rudd announced July 16 that Australia will move to a floating carbon price on July 1, 2014, which is one year earlier than previously scheduled. Abbott, in contrast, has vowed a “blood oath” to dismantle Labor’s emissions-trading program.
Asked which party would be better at tackling climate change, 45 percent of voters surveyed by Galaxy named Labor, with 31 percent choosing the coalition.
Rudd has also won a bid to change the rules and give Labor’s rank and file members more of a say in electing the party’s leadership since returning to the top job. The former diplomat has accused Abbott, a Rhodes scholar, of being too negative and lacking positive policies for Australia.
“What we have seen over the last month is a fundamental change in the political dialogue in this country,” Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Kim Carr said in a Channel Ten interview yesterday, referring to Rudd’s return.
On the question of which of the two party leaders had the best vision for the future, 46 percent said Rudd and 36 percent named Abbott in the Galaxy poll, which was conducted July 23-25 among 1,015 voters across the nation, the Telegraph said. The paper’s website didn’t give a margin for error.
The two-party preferred measure is designed to gauge which party is more likely to form a government under Australia’s preferential voting system.
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