Aus: Labour party ahead in poll
Canberra – Prime Minister Julia Gillard has staked her government's campaign for re-election this week on its economic record in steering Australia clear of recession during the global downturn.
Gillard used her speech to her Labour Party's official campaign launch on Monday to describe how her government had prevented hundreds of thousands of Australians from losing their jobs through stimulus spending that carried Australia through the crisis with a single quarter of economic contraction.
"I acknowledge not everything went according to plan, but look at what we achieved together," Gillard said. "We emerged from this global economic crisis... stronger than any other major economy in the world."
She also used her 40-minute speech to praise the legacy of Kevin Rudd, the prime minister whom she overthrew in an internal party coup in June. She explained at the time that she had ousted Rudd because the government "had lost its way".
On Monday, she described Rudd, who sat among 500 party faithful at the launch and received a standing ovation on arrival, as "a man of great achievements with great achievements to lie in the future for our nation".
Gillard excluded Rudd, the main architect of the government's AU$52bn ($46 billion) in stimulus spending, from her Cabinet but has promised him a senior Cabinet position if Labour is re-elected,
The launch in the Queensland state capital Brisbane, only five days before the election on Saturday, was aimed at attracting an 11th hour surge of support for centre-left Labour and deliver it a second three-year term in office.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott said Gillard had failed to spell out an economic plan during her speech.
A survey published on Monday by the respected pollster Newspoll, a Sydney-based market research company part-owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, showed Labour ahead of the conservative coalition led by the Liberal Party with 52% of voters' support – a 4 percentage point lead over the opposition.
The poll was based on a random telephone survey of 1 694 voters nationwide at the weekend. It has a 2.4% point margin of error.
But it is difficult to predict how such support would translate into seats in the House of Representatives, because of large regional variations.
Gillard made her nationally televised speech beneath a banner carrying the campaign message: Stronger economy; better hospitals and schools.
The opposition argues that Labour is addicted to spending and had sunk Australia too deep in debt with wasteful stimulus programmes.
A bungled AU$2.5bn programme to provide free ceiling insulation to homes was scrapped after four labourers died while installing it and scores of house fires were blamed on poor workmanship.
A government-commissioned report found numerous examples of poor value for the money in a AU$16bn programme to provide every school in Australia with a new building.
Support for government has grown
The Newspoll found that the opposition coalition led Labour on the question of who would best handle the economy, with 44% of voters choosing the coalition and 43% choosing Labour. A similar Newspoll three weeks earlier gave the coalition at 12 percentage point lead at 47%.
Previous Newspolls have shown that support for the government has grown in Gillard's home state of Victoria since the 2007 election, which Labour won with 52.7% of the national votes compared to 47.3% of the votes that the coalition attracted.
But Labour expects a swing against it in Queensland, Rudd's home state.
Rudd last week began campaigning for Labour, at Gillard's request, in a bid to overcome anger in Queensland at his treatment.
Labour also is expecting to lose seats in Sydney, Abbott's hometown and capital of New South Wales state.
Gillard blames unpopular state Labour governments in New South Wales and Queensland for the party's poor polling there.
Labour campaign spokesperson Chris Bowen on Monday predicted Australia's closest election result in almost 50 years.