Opinion polls signal Australian PM Howard’s end


Sydney : An opinion poll Tuesday showed the opposition Labor Party far ahead of Prime Minister John Howard’s ruling coalition a month before Australians vote in a general election.

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Support for Kevin Rudd’s Labor is on 58 percent against 42 percent for Howard’s conservatives as the candidates enter the second week of a six-week campaign.

The poll, published in The Australian newspaper, predicts a hammering for the coalition on Nov 24, throwing out Australia’s second-longest serving prime minister.

Howard, 68, has won four elections since coming to power in 1996 and has presided over Australia’s longest period of continuous economic growth since World War II.

“You don’t take all this terribly seriously,” Rudd said of the rosy poll results. “I’ve got to win 16 seats, and what I also know is I’m up against a very clever and very cunning politician.”

Rudd, who has been ahead since he took over the leadership of Labor in December, has forced Howard to declare that within two years he would hand over to heir apparent Treasurer Peter Costello if his conservatives won a fifth term.

Rudd’s lead over the coalition is so strong that the incumbent has become the challenger.

Costello has broken with tradition and invited Labor treasury spokesman Wayne Swan to a televised debate next week. In the past, governments have kept televised debates to a minimum because they give the opposition equal standing in the eyes of the electorate.

“I’ve offered him the opportunity for a debate, and I think we ought to talk about the economy, and I think we ought to talk about the way in which he and Mr Rudd have opposed economic reform,” Costello said.

He also offered Rudd a public debate, saying: “I’m prepared to debate whoever will debate me.”

The public antipathy toward Howard seems so great that Rudd has streaked ahead despite adopting almost all the coalition’s policies and offering himself up as an “economic conservative” who would not busy himself in government with redistributing wealth.

Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, has even cast himself as a conservative on social issues, echoing Howard’s opposition to same-sex marriages.

“On the institution of marriage itself, our view is it’s between a man and woman, and it’s just been our traditional, continuing view,” Rudd said.

He said he would love his children even if they were gay.