Gillard Rating Drops to 18-Month Low After Labor’s Ructions

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s personal rating slumped to an 18-month low in an opinion poll conducted after she won last week’s leadership contest as her ruling Labor party faces defeat in elections.

Gillard’s satisfaction level fell 6 points to 26 percent, the weakest result since September 2011, while opposition leader Tony Abbott rose 3 points to 39 percent, according to a Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper today. Labor slipped 6 points to 42 percent on a two-party preferred basis, while Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition rose 6 to 58 percent, the biggest gap in almost a year, the survey showed.

Gillard won a leadership ballot unopposed March 21 when predecessor Kevin Rudd refused to challenge, and yesterday announced a new ministerial lineup after three Cabinet members who backed Rudd departed. Australia’s first female leader faces the challenge of ensuring her message isn’t drowned out by party disunity as the government prepares its budget ahead of elections due Sept. 14.

“Last week’s events have punched a bigger hole in Labor’s popularity,” said Paul Strangio, a senior lecturer in politics at Monash University in Melbourne. “All Gillard can do is work hard on governing, focus on any policy strengths she has, and hope there’s enough time to sway some voters back to her side.”

Community Cabinet

The prime minister flies to the resource-rich state of Western Australia later today and will hold a community Cabinet meeting there tomorrow as she tries to restore her party’s standing.

Western Australia, more than three times the size of Texas, is enjoying a decade-long boom, comparable with its 1890s gold rush, on Asian demand for its resource riches. The state conservatives increased their majority at local elections earlier this month, leaving Labor in opposition in the four biggest of the nation’s six states.

The Newspoll survey of 1,136 people taken March 22-24 had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Abbott leads Gillard in the category “better prime minister” by 43 percent to 35 percent, the survey showed.

“It was an appalling week last week, there is no point trying to gloss over that,” Gillard, 51, said late yesterday in an interview with Channel Ten. “But now we’re in a position to move on with unity and with confidence and certainly with a sense of purpose. What we’ve lacked is a sense of unity.”

Seats in Jeopardy

The Australian said that based on today’s poll, five ministers would lose their seats: Treasurer Wayne Swan; new Resources Minister Gary Gray; School Education Minister Peter Garrett; Trade Minister Craig Emerson; and Defense Minister Stephen Smith. The two-party measure is designed to gauge which party is likely to win enough seats to form a government under Australia’s preferential voting system.

On the primary vote, which tallies respondents’ first voting preference, Labor slipped 4 points in the poll to 30 percent, against the coalition’s 50 percent.

The government is trying to reconcile weakening tax revenue with promoting its plan for a third term as it prepares the May budget. The government late last year was forced to abandon a pledge to return the books to the black. Abbott yesterday said he intended to move a vote of no confidence in Gillard’s minority government when parliament convenes for the budget.

“I am confident that the prime minister’s strength, her values, her leadership, and the policy program of the government” will allow it to return to office in September, Gray said in an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio today.

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