Labor Challenge to Gillard Eroded Status, Poll Says

Australian voters said the status of their nation’s leadership was damaged last week as Prime Minister Julia Gillard had to face down a challenge from within her Labor Party six months ahead of a national election.

A Galaxy poll published in the Herald Sun newspaper yesterday showed 71 percent of respondents believe the office of prime minister was damaged. Gillard trails the opposition Liberal-National coalition 55 percent to 45 percent on a two-party preferred basis, according to the poll. The measure is designed to gauge which party is likely to win enough seats to form a government under Australia’s preferential voting system.

Gillard, 51, called the leadership contest on March 21 after former party chief Simon Crean urged a rematch between her and Kevin Rudd, whom she ousted in 2010 and beat again in a February 2012 party vote. Gillard won uncontested after Rudd refused to run.

A further loss in support will increase the odds of opposition Liberal-National leader Tony Abbott pressing for a parliamentary no-confidence motion in the government, after he lost a bid to hold one last week by three votes. Gillard has called the election for Sept. 14.

“Of course people would be disappointed with the events” surrounding the challenge to Gillard, Labor’s Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said yesterday on Sky News television. “A line is drawn under it now.”

Wrong Decision

Fifty-three percent said the Labor party made the wrong decision on March 21 in choosing Gillard over Rudd, according to the poll published on the Melbourne-based Herald Sun’s website. The poll of 1,005 people was conducted March 22 to March 23. It didn’t provide a margin of error.

Gillard now faces the challenge of unifying the party and rebuilding her Cabinet after she fired Crean and three other members resigned.

“I will deal with the ministerial reshuffle in coming days,” Gillard said March 23. “One of the things about the Labor team is it is an incredibly deep team. There is a depth and wealth of talent there.”

Gillard may announce the Cabinet changes as early as today, the Sun Herald newspaper reported, without saying where it obtained the information.

Internet Plan

The reshuffle comes as NBN Co. said Australia’s $37.9 billion ($39 billion) fiber Internet network may be more than 20 percent cheaper to construct under an opposition party plan. Asked if the proposal from the Liberal-National coalition may cost 10 percent to 20 percent less, NBN Chief Executive Officer Mike Quigley told Australian Broadcasting Corp. it may be even more than that.

“The upfront capital costs would be lower,” Quigley said in an interview broadcast yesterday.

Parliament has entered a seven-week hiatus, leaving the government to prepare its May 14 budget.

Treasurer Wayne Swan late last year abandoned a pledge to return the budget to surplus this fiscal year, damaging the government’s economic credibility. The budget fell a further A$4.6 billion into deficit in the first four weeks of 2013, taking the total shortfall to A$26.8 billion for the first seven months of the financial year, according to Treasury figures released by the government March 15.

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