Home International Opinion poll buoys Australia’s ruling party

Opinion poll buoys Australia’s ruling party


Sydney : Prime Minister John Howard’s conservatives have halved the lead of Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party and could yet win the Nov 24 general election, an opinion poll released Tuesday showed.

Halfway through the six-week campaign, support for Labor slipped to 54 percent from 58 percent a week earlier and the ruling coalition rose to 46 percent from 42 percent.

The poll perked up the Howard camp, which has been behind in opinion polling since Rudd took over the Labor leadership in December.

Finance Minister Nick Minchin said the numbers from Newspoll showed a government first elected in 1996 could still win a fifth ballot-box victory.

“We know that up to 30 percent of voters really don’t make up their minds finally until the last week of the election campaign,” he said. “So I think there’s that volatility there, as reflected in this poll, but, look, it just confirms that we are the underdogs.”

Bad polling all year and leadership rumblings within his Liberal Party forced Howard, 68, to anoint Treasurer Peter Costello as leader-in-waiting. Costello, 50, would take over midway through the term should Howard triumph next month.

Newspoll chairman Sol Lebovic warned that the trend showed the coalition was still headed for a drubbing.

Rudd is a 50-year-old former diplomat who has never served in a government. The gap he has built up over the coalition is so wide that the incumbent has become the challenger.

Costello has broken with tradition and will debate Labor treasury spokesman Wayne Swan in front of a television audience. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who like Costello has held his portfolio for 11 years, will also front the cameras against his Labor counterpart.

The extra debates show the coalition is desperate to land a blow on Rudd, whose chirpy demeanour and promise of fresh faces is powering the Labor campaign.

Rudd has adopted almost all the government’s policies. This week Rudd performed a summersault on climate change policy to bring it into line with the coalition.

On Monday, Labor said it would accept emissions-reduction targets in a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, even if targets were not accepted by developing countries. On Tuesday, it adopted Howard’s policy of insisting that India, China and other large developing countries also accept emissions targets in any post-Kyoto agreement.

Garrett had said developed countries should accept targets regardless of the position of developing ones and that their refusal to do so would not be a “deal-breaker”.