Polls turn against Aus PM Gillard

2010-07-31 08:08

Sydney - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard lost her election lead to the opposition Saturday, with polling showing her party's popularity sinking to levels that prompted the shock axing of her predecessor.

Gillard suffered a spectacular reversal of fortunes in the campaign's second week, with damaging leaks and the ghost of hospitalised former leader Kevin Rudd dogging her bid to return the ruling Labor party to office.

Labor's vote slumped to 48 percent against the conservative Liberal/National coalition's 52%, the latest Nielsen poll showed, a six percentage point shift away from Gillard's centre-left party.

Labor's primary vote bled six percentage points in the week to 36% while the coalition, led by Tony Abbott, gained four points to a commanding 45%.

The numbers are similar to those recorded in early June, which Labor considered so dangerous to its re-election chances it took the massive gamble of dumping first-term prime minister Rudd in favour of Gillard, his deputy.

If replicated at the August 21 polls the polling would translate to an election-winning 4.7% swing against Labor and put Abbott's conservatives in office.

Australia's first female leader, Gillard enjoyed a brief honeymoon with the public, with an initial poll bounce of 14 points after she deposed Rudd in a lightning partyroom coup last month.

But the gloss appears to have come off her leadership, with her preferred prime minister rating down 13 points Saturday to 49%, against Abbott's 41%.

Her formerly stratospheric rating among women had levelled to an even split with Abbott.

Gillard struggled to make headway this week as her campaign was hit with damaging high-level leaks claiming she had opposed popular welfare increases, and widespread speculation Rudd had spilled the information to the press.

Rudd said he would "never comment" on Cabinet discussions and was committed to a Labor victory, as he was hospitalised for gall bladder surgery on Friday.

Further leaks dominated headlines on Saturday, with the Weekend Australian newspaper reporting that Gillard had sent her former bodyguard to critical national security briefings in her place when she was deputy leader.