Australia election set for neck-and-neck finish

  • World
  • Monday, 02 Aug 2010

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's Labour government and the opposition are neck-and-neck ahead of an Aug. 21 election, an opinion poll showed on Monday, prompting a call by Prime Minister Julia Gillard for an aggressive election campaign.

"I wake up some days and go, let's fire up, let's get more determined and that's what I've done today," Gillard told Sydney radio after a Newspoll survey put her Labour party and opposition Liberal-National coalition 50:50 to win the election.

Gillard pledged to do away with a "stage-managed" and "risk averse" re-election campaign in order to talk directly to voters about real issues like jobs, schools, hospitals and the economy.

"I'm desperate to make sure that Australians in this election campaign get to hear from me," she said.

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Gillard's key policies are a 30 percent tax on iron ore and coal mines, the introduction of carbon trading and the building of a $33 billion-plus broadband network.

The opposition led by Tony Abbott has pledged to dump the mining tax and is running on a platform of cutting waste in government spending and tougher immigration.


Gillard, Australia's first female prime minister after replacing Kevin Rudd in a party coup in June, has been criticised by political commentators for a staid, orchestrated election campaign, devoid of major policy announcements.

Government infighting and cabinet leaks appear to be weighing on Labour's popularity, after it had been comfortably ahead in polls when the election was called on July 17.

"Julia Gillard is starting to run a scare campaign because she's starting to run scared," Dennis Shanahan, political editor of The Australian newspaper, wrote on Monday.

"At this point the ALP (Australian Labour Party) is losing the election campaign, Gillard is losing her gloss and the advantage of removing Kevin Rudd is gone."

The Sydney Morning Herald frontpage headline on Gillard's change of election strategy read: "Target Tony".

"I think the campaign is about who you want to be prime minister," said Gillard, focusing on Abbott's changing stance on climate change, immigration and labour laws in the past year.

Abbott dismissed Gillard's declaration of a more honest campaign, saying the "faceless men" of the Labour party who appointed her prime minister would continue to run her campaign and if Labour was re-elected would run the country.

"Would the real Julia please stand up. What have we been seeing for the last five weeks if it is not the real Julia," Abbott told reporters.

Support for Gillard's Labour was 50 percent, down from 52 percent the week before, according to the Newspoll survey published in the Australian newspaper on Monday. Support for the conservative opposition rose to 50 percent from 48 percent,

On Saturday, a Nielsen poll showed support for Labour had dived six percentage points to 48 percent, behind the opposition, led by Abbott with an election-winning 52 percent.

The latest Newspoll showed Gillard has kept her clear lead over Abbott as preferred prime minister, standing at 50 percent to 35 percent. But dissatisfaction with Gillard's performance rose 3 points to 40 percent, and is now up 11 percentage points since the election was called.

(Additional reporting by Gyles Beckford and Adrian Bathgate in Wellington; Editing by Ed Davies and Sanjeev Miglani)

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