Rudd Overtakes Abbott as Australian Voters’ Pick, Poll Shows

Kevin Rudd overtook opposition leader Tony Abbott as Australia’s preferred prime minister ahead of an election scheduled Sept. 14, according to a national poll of voters.

Rudd is the preferred choice for prime minister by 51 percent of voters compared with 34 percent for Abbott, according to a Galaxy poll of 1,002 voters. Support for Labor increased as much as 10 percent in Sydney and Melbourne suburbs including Blaxland and Maribyrnong, according to a separate ReachTEL poll conducted June 27. Rudd, sworn in as prime minister a day after ousting Julia Gillard in a party-room vote June 26, has yet to outline policy specifics.

“Honeymoon is a good term for it,” Norman Abjorensen, a Canberra-based political analyst at Australia National University, said by phone today. “The opposition have had a free run recently and suddenly you have the worst possible scenario for Abbott -- Rudd returning. It’s a very small sample poll so we need to bear that in mind for perspective.”

Rudd said he returned to the leadership to avoid a “catastrophic” election defeat for Labor. He faces the challenge of uniting his party and building a policy platform on issues including the nation’s carbon tax and dealing with illegal entry by asylum seekers, many fleeing war-torn Middle Eastern and South Asian nations.

‘Just Chill’

“Those of you good ladies and gentlemen of the press which expect an avalanche of policy decisions between now and next Monday, just chill for a while,” Rudd, 55, told reporters in Canberra on June 28.

Rudd needs to fill Cabinet positions, including treasurer and climate change minister, vacated by supporters of Gillard. The Governor General will swear in ministers and parliamentary secretaries tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Canberra, as Rudd forms his team.

Jacinta Collins, Julie Collins, Catherine King are among those to be added to the Cabinet, the Australian newspaper reported, citing a spokeswoman for Rudd. Melissa Parke will also be named to a ministry, the report said. Voicemail messages left with two of Rudd’s spokesmen outside of business hours were not immediately returned.

Gap Narrows

The Galaxy poll, published in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper today, did not specify the margin for error in the study conducted June 27-28. The gap between support for Labor and a Liberal-National coalition narrowed to 2 points, down from a 10 point gap June 11-13, the poll showed.

No margin for error was given in the ReachTEL poll, published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper yesterday. Rudd has declined to name a new election date when pressed by Liberal-National coalition leader Tony Abbott, 55. There won’t be a “huge variation,” he said, and any announcement would be consistent with the constitution. Australian law requires the election to be held by Nov. 30.

Gillard restored Labor’s advantage in opinion polls when she ousted Rudd in June 2010, surveys by Nielsen and Galaxy showed at the time.

Rudd must decide whether to support some big-ticket policy items that Gillard struggled to sell to voters, including the nation’s first levy on greenhouse-gas emissions and a tax on mining company profits that will reap A$1.8 billion ($1.64 billion) less revenue than previously forecast for the year ending today, according to budget documents released May 14.

‘Not Dividing’

“The government’s about bringing the country together, not dividing it,” Rudd said. He has challenged Abbott to a debate over the country’s debt and deficit within the next two weeks.

Illegal immigration will probably be on the agenda when Rudd visits Indonesia on July 4 and 5 to meet with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, after Abbott promised to “stop the boats” carrying asylum seekers.

While asylum seekers have been arriving in Australia since the Vietnam War in the 1970s, the issue became more politicized about a decade ago when then-Prime Minister John Howard’s Liberal-National government detained refugees, including children, in offshore processing camps or in detention centers in remote areas.

Shortly after becoming prime minister, Gillard announced plans to open a refugee-processing center in East Timor to cope with a surge in the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat -- without having completed talks with the northern neighbor. East Timor’s Parliament then voted against the facility.

Hundreds of would-be migrants, seen by some Australians as unworthy of receiving welfare benefits, have drowned in the waters between Indonesia and Australia. Rudd has drawn criticism for seeking to turn immigration policy back on the opposition.

‘Risk Conflict’

“I really wonder whether he’s trying to risk some sort of conflict with Indonesia,” Rudd told reporters in Canberra on June 28, referring to Abbott.

Australia’s national interest and sustaining popular support for an immigration program will determine policies on asylum, he said.

“It’s the issue that is causing Labor the most pain in the electorate,” Nick Minchin, finance minister in Howard’s government from 2001 to 2007, said in an ABC interview yesterday. “For Kevin Rudd to raise the specter of armed conflict is ridiculous and over the top.”

Abbott has vowed to scrap the carbon price system introduced by Gillard should he win, calling it a toxic tax. Bloomberg New Energy Finance joined RepuTex in Melbourne and Climate Mundial in London in predicting Rudd will try to deflect attacks on Australia’s fixed carbon price, set to rise next month to almost four times the European rate, by pledging to accelerate the shift to a market-based trading system.

‘Great Weakness’

Rudd has been criticized by colleagues including Wayne Swan -- who resigned as treasurer and deputy leader -- for an autocratic style, raising questions over whether Labor can rally behind him before the election. Swan last year described him as a man of “great weakness” who demeaned party colleagues during his tenure as prime minister from 2007-2010.

Former Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, who announced his resignation after Rudd’s return, said he will quit politics citing personal reasons, the ABC reported yesterday.

(Adds new Cabinet members in seventh paragraph.)
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