Australia Government Drops Two Candidates as It Trails in Polls

Australia’s governing Labor party lost two of its 150 candidates for a Sept. 7 election as an opinion poll showed the opposition Liberal-National coalition nudging ahead among voters.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd asked his party to remove Geoff Lake as candidate for Hotham, a Labor-held seat in Melbourne, according to an e-mailed statement from the premier’s office. It followed a report yesterday in the city’s Herald Sun newspaper that he’d sworn at a fellow councilor in 2002. Ken Robertson, standing for a seat in Queensland state, also resigned from the race.

A Galaxy Research poll carried in Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper today showed Labor trailing the opposition with 49 percent among 1,002 voters surveyed August 7-9, down from a 50-50 tie in the last such study conducted July 23-25. No margin of error was quoted. That echoes the result of a Nielsen poll in Fairfax Media Ltd. newspapers yesterday showing the opposition leading with 52 percent of the vote after tying in the previous Nielsen poll a month earlier.

“Rudd and his colleagues know that they’re losing this, and they might lose it quite substantially,” Nick Economou, a lecturer in politics at Monash University, said by phone from Melbourne.

The removal of Lake was a panic move by Rudd over “silly, petty local government stuff blown out of proportion by the Herald Sun,” he said.

Rudd Preferred

Rudd retained his lead as preferred prime minister in the latest Galaxy poll, with the margin narrowing to 47 percent over 34 percent for Abbott, from a 51-34 advantage in the July survey.

Having led Australia as it escaped recession after the 2008 financial crisis, Rudd said since returning to the leadership in June that the nation faces challenges as China’s economy slows and the Reserve Bank of Australia lowers its growth outlook. In yesterday’s Nielsen poll, the opposition was preferred for its ability to steer the economy by 56 percent, to 36 percent for the government.

Australia’s government is raising taxes on tobacco, charging banks a fee for deposit insurance, and tightening tax breaks for business car use as the country’s budget deficit is forecast to blow out to A$30.1 ($27.7 billion) this fiscal year, about 1.9 percent of gross domestic product.

The Treasury said Aug. 2 that revenue collected over the next four years will be about A$33.3 billion less than it had previously forecast in May. That was three days before the five-week election campaign was called.

Televised Debate

Opposition leader Tony Abbott, who will join Rudd in a televised election debate tonight, needs to spell out where he will raise taxes and cut spending to meet commitments to improve the country’s debt position relative to the government’s forecasts, the prime minister said today.

“Based on today’s polls if there was an election yesterday Mr. Abbott would be prime minister today,” Rudd told a media event in Queanbeyan outside Canberra. “Therefore he can’t be evasive about where his A$70 billion in cuts would fall.”

The coalition will lay out the rest of its budget policies in time for the Sept. 7 poll, shadow financial services minister Mathias Cormann said on Sky News television today.

“We’ve already announced about A$17 billion of savings and between now and the election there will be more to come,” he said. “We will be releasing all the detail and people will have ample time to form their judgments.”

Lower Forecast

In its quarterly monetary policy statement released in Sydney Aug. 9, the central bank said gross domestic product will rise 2.25 percent in the year to December, down from a forecast of 2.5 percent growth three months earlier. Governor Glenn Stevens and his board reduced Australia’s key interest rate to a record-low 2.5 percent this week amid benign inflation and a slowing in mining investment.

The margins in the Galaxy and Nielsen polls reflect the most recent Newspoll conducted for the Australian newspaper, which showed the coalition with a 52-48 lead among 1,141 voters July 19-21. Rudd led Abbott as preferred prime minister in that survey by a 50-34 margin.

Ken Robertson, who had been selected to run against independent MP Bob Katter in the northern Queensland state seat of Kennedy, also resigned yesterday, a Labor campaign spokeswoman said today, asking that her name not be published because she was discussing internal party matters.

Robertson was quoted in an interview with Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper yesterday calling Abbott a bigot. Labor won just 38 percent of the two-party vote in the 2010 election in Kennedy.

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