Gillard Faces Loss of Western Sydney Labor Heartland, Poll Shows

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard faces the loss of four electoral districts in the key battleground of western Sydney, traditionally a stronghold of her Labor party, according to an opinion poll.

The seats of Werriwa, Chifley, Blaxland and McMahon -- two held by Gillard government ministers -- would be lost if an election were held now, according to a ReachTel automated poll conducted on the evening of Feb. 28 and published in the Sydney Morning Herald today. The survey of more than 600 people in each seat had a margin of error of just under 4 percent.

“Western Sydney is crucial to any party that wants to form government,” said Zareh Ghazarian, a politics lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne. “People in these seats are traditional Labor heartland voters, and when we see these sorts of poll results that show Labor is not at all popular there, then really it confirms the government’s bad polls nationally.”

Gillard, who set an election for Sept. 14, will try to arrest the slide in a five-day tour through western Sydney next week, and will stay in the local suburb of Rooty Hill rather than the prime ministerial residence on Sydney harbor. Her party is struggling in New South Wales to contain fallout from scandals involving former local Labor lawmakers at an anti-corruption commission. Sydney, the state capital, is Australia’s largest city.

Rosella Shut

Concern about job security, particularly in industrial western Sydney, has intensified as a 60 percent rise in the currency hurts the competitiveness of manufacturers. Rosella, a saucemaker founded before Australia became a nation in 1901, yesterday announced the shut down of its plant with the loss of 70 jobs in the region.

At the 2010 election, Chifley and Blaxland were won by margins of 12.3 percent and 12.2 percent, respectively, according to the Australian Electoral Commission. McMahon and Werriwa were held with 7.8 percent and 6.8 percent, it showed.

Today’s ReachTel poll showed a return to the leadership by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd would save two of the seats and make the other two winnable.

“Each of these polls is yet another blow to the prime minister’s authority,” Ghazarian said. “I don’t think Rudd will become prime minister again before the next election, because it appears he doesn’t have the support in his own party room. But even if he doesn’t become prime minister, it opens the way for the party to look at possible alternatives and try to arrest the slide the Labor party is on.”

Preferred Leader

Gillard slipped behind opposition leader Tony Abbott as Australia’s preferred leader for the first time since August, a Newspoll published Feb. 26 showed. The ruling Labor party rose 1 point to 45 percent on a two-party preferred basis, with the Liberal-National opposition down 1 point to 55 percent.

The Newspoll showed 24 percent of respondents said they were more likely to vote for Labor if Rudd was restored as party leader, with 13 percent saying they were less likely to and 62 percent saying it would make no difference.

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

The seats of Werriwa and Blaxland in Western Sydney were held by former Labor prime ministers Gough Whitlam from 1952-1978 and Paul Keating from 1969-1996, respectively.

“Western Sydney is the place that Labor sees itself as representing,” said Ghazarian. “Working class families with mortgages, people concerned about health care and education, issues that Labor has long been seen to be leaders in.”

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