Australia’s minority Labor government is slipping further behind the Liberal-National opposition in opinion polls, two years after Prime Minister Julia Gillard ousted her predecessor in a party coup.
Labor’s primary vote fell 1 percentage point to 30 percent, while support for the opposition Liberal-National coalition increased 2 points to 46 percent, according to a Newspoll published in today’s Australian newspaper. On a two-party preferred basis, which takes into account the country’s preferential voting system, the opposition’s lead widened by 2 points to a 10-point margin.
Gillard, who is still ahead of Liberal-National coalition leader Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister, is betting she can turn around her government’s performance in the polls before an election due by November next year amid increased benefit payments to low and middle-income households. After defeating her predecessor Kevin Rudd in a leadership ballot in February, her minority government has been weakened by lawmaker scandals that have eroded Labor’s control of parliament.
“The problem for the government is it’s running out of time to turn these polls around and avoid an election wipeout,” said Zareh Ghazarian, a political analyst at Monash University in Melbourne. “Voters have stopped listening to Gillard.”
The Newspoll survey of 1,146 people, conducted June 22-24, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Support for Labor hit a record low of 26 percent in a Newspoll survey taken on Sept. 16-18 last year. In a poll conducted June 18-20, 2010, days before Gillard toppled Rudd, Labor trailed the coalition by 5 points in the primary vote.
Parliament resumes in Canberra today for the final sitting week before a six-week hiatus, with debate expected to focus on the impact of new taxes on carbon emissions and the ramifications of Labor’s policy on asylum seekers after a boat filled with refugees traveling to Australia sank in Indonesian waters four days ago, leaving as many as 90 people missing.
Gillard cobbled together a minority government in September 2010 after the closest election in seven decades with support from independents and Greens, who pledged their vote in parliament. The price they extracted was for Australia’s first female prime minister to backtrack on her pledge not to create a tax on carbon.
“This is the second anniversary of the ascension to the prime ministership of Julia Gillard,” Abbott told reporters in Melbourne yesterday. “At the time, she said it was necessary to make the change because ‘a good government had lost its way.’ It’s now clearly a bad government which is just getting worse and if there is one thing which symbolizes the failure of this government, it is the carbon tax.”
Gillard’s government in May forecast it will end four years of deficits with an A$1.54 billion ($1.55 billion) surplus for the year starting July 1.
Australia expects to raise A$24.7 billion in four years from the carbon tax, as the government seeks to reduce emissions and spur investment in cleaner energy. The mining tax will reap about A$6.5 billion in revenue over two years from companies including BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) and Rio Tinto Group, government estimates show.
Abbott also has been seeking to undermine the government’s one-seat majority in parliament. He’s called for the resignation of Craig Thomson from parliament after the former Labor lawmaker, whose vote Gillard relies on to pass laws, dismissed allegations he used a union credit card to pay for prostitutes.
Tony Crook, a National party member of parliament for Western Australia who voted as an independent, in May withdrew his support for the government. Peter Slipper, the parliamentary speaker on whom Gillard had relied to solidify her control of the house, in April stepped aside to deal with fraud and sexual harassment claims that he denies.
“If Gillard doesn’t get any traction from the cash handouts from the carbon tax, and especially if she slips further in the polls in the next couple of months, the party will start agitating for another leadership challenge,” Ghazarian said.
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