Gillard Sees Poll Support Slump Ahead of Australian Election

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who last week announced an election on Sept. 14, has seen support for her ruling Labor party slump as a scandal involving a former Labor lawmaker and the resignation of senior ministers dent her government’s credibility.

Labor fell 5 percentage points to 44 percent on a two-party preferred basis, with Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition surging 5 points to 56 percent, according to a Newspoll survey published in the Australian newspaper today. The measure is designed to gauge which major party is likely to win the seats required to form a government.

A day after Australia’s first female prime minister broke with tradition by announcing an eight-month run in to the election, former Labor parliamentarian Craig Thomson was arrested over 150 fraud charges. On Feb. 2, Gillard said Attorney General Nicola Roxon and party Senate leader Chris Evans had resigned from cabinet, forcing a ministry reshuffle.

“Every time Gillard attempts to deliver a positive message it gets overwhelmed by events she doesn’t appear to be able to control,” said John Wanna, a professor of public administration at the Canberra-based Australian National University. “She needs to calm her party and try to put pressure back on the opposition to deliver some real policies.”

The Feb. 1-3 telephone survey of 1,163 people had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. On the question of who would make the better prime minister, Gillard’s lead over Abbott narrowed from 12 percentage points to 2. She now leads 41 percent to 39 percent. The previous poll was held Jan. 11-13

New Year

Gillard’s new ministry was sworn in today ahead of parliament sitting in Canberra tomorrow for the first time this year. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was elected Senate leader.

Mark Dreyfus, parliament secretary for climate change, will become attorney general and minister for emergency management, replacing Roxon, who quit both posts for family reasons. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen will be sworn in as minister for tertiary education, skills, science and research to replace Chris Evans, who also cited family for his exit.

Brendan O’Connor will be sworn in as minister for immigration and citizenship, replacing Bowen. Jason Clare, home affairs and justice minister, will replace Dreyfus as cabinet secretary.

Carbon Pledge

The departures of Roxon and Evans suggest instability in the government, Abbott said. He’s vowed to scrap Labor’s taxes on carbon and mining profits should he win power in September.

“It is going to be very important in the days and weeks ahead that there is a strong and stable government in Canberra and I regret to say that just at the moment, that doesn’t appear to be the case,” Abbott told reporters in Queensland state on Feb. 2.

Thomson, a former national secretary of the Health Services Union, faces 150 fraud charges in Victoria state related to allegations he misused a union credit card to pay for prostitutes, air travel and cash advances between 2002 and 2007. The alleged misconduct occurred before he entered parliament.

In New South Wales, the nation’s most populous state, an anti-corruption inquiry has been hearing allegations that former Labor lawmaker Eddie Obeid earned millions of dollars from illegal property deals.

Coalition Attacks

Gillard’s re-election chances have also been undermined by coalition attacks on her integrity linked to her reneging on a pledge not to implement a carbon tax, in return for support from the Australian Greens party that she needed to form a government. Three months after winning the prime minister’s job in a party coup against Kevin Rudd in June 2010, Gillard assembled a minority government with support from the Greens and independents.

Details on the scandals come even as economic data shows Australia is performing well compared with other developed nations. Gross domestic product will rise 3 percent this year, compared with 1.54 percent for advanced economies as a group, according to October forecasts from the International Monetary Fund.

“We’re behind but we can win it,’ Minister for Regional Australia Simon Crean said in an Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio interview today. ‘‘It’s difficult. We’ve got to hold our nerve, our conviction and our belief in not just what we’ve done but what we plan to do.”

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