Aus PM vows fight back
Sydney - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard vowed on Monday to tear up the rule book on traditional campaigning and be herself, as a new poll showed this month's election was on a knife-edge.
Gillard, who has come under fire for her highly controlled and scripted performances ahead of the election on August 21, said she would reveal "the real Julia" and take control of her campaign.
The shift in her battle against conservative rival Tony Abbott came as a latest opinion poll showed Gillard's Labour Party had lost its commanding lead over the opposition.
"It's time for me to make sure the real Julia is well and truly on display, so I'm going to step up and take personal control of what we do in the campaign from this point," the country's first woman leader said.
Five weeks after seizing power from predecessor Kevin Rudd in a shock party coup, the ex-lawyer said her "traditional campaign" filled with "stage-managed events" was over.
"I've made a decision that the risk-averse orthodoxy of modern campaigning is not for me. I'm going to play my own game," she said, turning the tables to dismiss Abbott's campaign as tightly stage-managed.
In recent weeks, Gillard's popularity has taken a bashing following a series of damaging high-level leaks about her from within her party.
She has also tripped on her unpopular plans to form a citizens' committee to tackle climate change and her decision to outsource the processing of boat people away from Australia to the Pacific nation of East Timor.
Gillard, 48, who is unmarried and lives with her boyfriend, took a swipe at devoutly Catholic Abbott, known for his off-the-cuff style which has led to a string of verbal gaffes.
"The Liberal party doesn't want the real Tony Abbott coming out. They're trying to hide that Tony Abbott," she said of the man who famously dismissed climate change as "crap" and angered women over his opposition to abortion.
Asked why the "real Julia" was only emerging halfway through a somewhat lacklustre campaign, Gillard denied "faking it" during the first five weeks of her reign.
But Abbott attacked Gillard's credibility and questioned whether she is in control of her party, suggesting Labour's notorious factions run the show from behind the scenes.
"Would the real Julia please stand up," he said. "What have we been seeing over the last five weeks if it hasn't been the real Julia?"
"If you vote for Tony Abbott, you'll get Tony Abbott."
The sparring followed the release of a Newspoll survey showing the Liberals have whittled down Labour's commanding lead and that the election could go down to the wire, with each party garnering 50% of the vote.
Labour's vote has fallen from a 52% - 48% lead just one week ago, before the leaks began undermining Gillard's public image.
The poll, published in the Australian newspaper, gave Gillard a 50% to 35% lead over Abbott as preferred prime minister.
But that was the only good news for Gillard in the poll that came two days after a separate Nielsen survey showed her headed for a rare first-term defeat with 48% of the vote to the opposition's 52%.
"Look, it is genuinely, genuinely tough," Gillard conceded on commercial radio, casting the ruling party as the underdog in the campaign while just two weeks ago it was seen as a shoo-in for re-election.
"I’ve said all along it’s going to be a photo finish. There's a real chance that... Mr Abbott will be prime minister."
Rudd led Labour to a landslide election victory in 2007 after 11 years of Liberal rule, but he tumbled from his record opinion poll highs after delaying action on implementing a carbon emissions trading scheme.
Labour's factions then brutally forced him from office and replaced him with Gillard, who has also come under heavy criticism over the way in which she came to power.