Gillard Faces Election Wipeout Amid Rudd Return Speculation

Australia’s ruling Labor Party may lose 35 of its 71 lower house seats in the Sept. 14 election, according to a new poll, amid speculation Kevin Rudd may challenge Prime Minister Julia Gillard before the week is out.

The JWS Research poll, published in the Australian Financial Review today, shows nine Labor ministers could lose their seats, the newspaper said. It was conducted in 47 seats held by the party with a margin of 12 percentage points or less, and shows a swing against Labor of 7.6 percent on a two-party basis, designed to gauge which party is most likely to form a government under Australia’s preferential voting system.

Labor would fare better in the election if Rudd were leader, the JWS poll shows, with a window to change leaders this week before parliament goes into recess. While Gillard has vowed she won’t resign, speculation has intensified that Rudd, who is planning to travel to China this week, will vie for the job he lost to her in a backroom party coup three years ago.

Should Australia’s first female prime minister refuse to throw open her leadership, a contest could be held if more than a third of Labor’s caucus demands a party-room vote, known as a spill. Gillard beat Rudd in a February 2012 leadership ballot 71 votes to 31, prompting the former leader to say he wouldn’t challenge again.

“To still have the dominant narrative -- ‘Will he? Won’t he?’ -- it becomes this sort of soap opera,” Alastair Campbell, former press secretary to Tony Blair during his term as U.K. prime minister, said in an Australian Broadcasting Corp. interview yesterday. “The public then are entitled to look in and say ‘Excuse me, what the hell has this got to do with the election and what the hell has it got to do with me?’”

Support Falls

The JWS poll of 3,903 voters showed 26 percent of respondents in the seats who are intending to vote for the coalition said they would be “more likely” to vote Labor if Rudd took over. The survey was conducted June 22-23, the paper said, with a margin of error of 1.6 percentage points.

Gillard’s personal support has crashed to record lows and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott nearly matches her standing among women, The Australian reported today. A quarterly analysis of Newspoll surveys shows Abbott is almost as popular among female voters as the preferred prime minister, coming within 4 percentage points of Gillard.

Rudd Travel

Parliament’s Senate will sit for an extra day on June 28 to conclude the passage of legislation through the upper house, including laws to enable increased schools funding, Leader of the House Anthony Albanese said in an ABC interview today.

Rudd has applied to leave Canberra on the afternoon of June 27 -- before the lower house goes into recess that night -- to attend a conference in Beijing, according to an e-mailed statement from his office. Due to Labor’s lack of an outright majority in the lower house, lawmakers not attending parliament must seek leave for a “pair,” where one opposition vote is removed to balance their absence.

“Mr Rudd accepted the invitation to speak at the conference a number of months ago,” his office said in the statement.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.