Comical Julia will give Abbott the mother of all battles
I was speaking with a media friend at lunch on Friday, "See all those people in the street, they could all tell you that Whitlam was dismissed, about 25% could tell you what Craig Thomson is alleged to have been up to, maybe 1 in 20 has some understanding of what Gillard did in the AWU matter. When Australians understand what went on in the AWU, the backlash will be frightening."
Labor slumps as campaign starts: Newspoll
- BY:DENNIS SHANAHAN AND SID MAHER
- From:The Australian
- February 04, 2013 12:00AM
LABOR support has slumped back to levels seen at the end of last year and Tony Abbott has surged against Julia Gillard as the nation's preferred prime minister after the start of the record-breaking seven-month election campaign was marked by chaos and confusion in government ranks.
As Labor MPs returned to Canberra last night for the first sittings of the parliamentary year - and as senior ministers publicly expressed support for the Prime Minister and her tactics - the latest Newspoll, conducted exclusively for The Australian at the weekend, puts the Coalition in a clear, election-winning position.
Government MPs have been unsettled by Ms Gillard's surprise decision to name September 14 as the election date - a move that was immediately overshadowed last week by charges against former Labor MP Craig Thomson and the resignation of two ministers that some inside government believe could herald more senior departures. It was revealed last night that the Victorian branch of the ALP is expected to delay the search for a replacement for former attorney-general Nicola Roxon in the Melbourne seat of Gellibrand in case other ministers or backbenchers also resign.
The latest Newspoll survey, which was slightly affected by the number of voters in flood and bushfire-affected areas, is a complete reversal of fortune for the ALP from the summer-holiday affected January poll, and a much-needed personal boost for the Opposition Leader.
The poll puts Labor's primary support at 32 per cent - a wipeout of the six-point gain recorded between December and January - as the Coalition's support rose four percentage points to 48 per cent in the past three weeks.
With the Greens steady on 9 per cent and "others" going from 9 per cent to 11 per cent since the poll in January, the two-party-preferred figure has the Coalition back with a huge election-winning lead of 56 per cent to 44 per cent.
Labor's primary vote is back to the level it was at the end of the parliamentary year in December, and the Coalition's primary support is the highest since July last year. On a two-party-preferred basis, using preference flows at the 2010 election, the Coalition has its biggest lead since July.
A Galaxy poll published in News Limited newspapers today puts Labor's support at 35 per cent and the Coalition's at 48 per cent. That gives a two-party-preferred lead for the Coalition of 54 per cent to 46 per cent.
Apart from the party votes, the Newspoll reveals the biggest shift in sentiment in the past three weeks has occurred on the question of who would be the better prime minister, with Ms Gillard's clear, six-month lead over Mr Abbott coming to end as she announced the election.
Ms Gillard's support as preferred prime minister fell four percentage points from 45 per cent to 41 per cent, while Mr Abbott's support rose six points from 33 per cent to 39 per cent.
The two-point lead in Ms Gillard's favour is the closest the two leaders have been since September last year. Ms Gillard's 41 per cent is the lowest since August last year and Mr Abbott's 39 per cent is the highest he has had since July last year.
There were also real shifts in personal standing of the individual leaders, with dissatisfaction rising from 49 per cent to 52 per cent for Ms Gillard while satisfaction with the job she is doing dropped from 38 to 36 per cent - the same level as at the end of last year.
Satisfaction with Mr Abbott's job as Opposition Leader jumped to a four-month high of 33 per cent, up from 29 per cent in January and 28 per cent in December, while dissatisfaction went down from 58 to 56 per cent.
Yesterday, senior ministers rallied around Ms Gillard and her weekend cabinet reshuffle amid simmering discontent in caucus about her judgment after news of the election date was overshadowed by Mr Thomson's arrest and the resignations of Ms Roxon and Chris Evans.
Disquiet is being fanned by Ms Gillard's "captain's pick" of Nova Peris as the Northern Territory's No 1 Senate candidate after the Prime Minister revealed on Saturday she had known for 12 months that Senator Evans was considering leaving. MPs have asked why she did not ask the Western Australian branch to pre-select a female indigenous candidate rather than dump sitting senator Trish Crossin.
Senior sources said yesterday Communication Minister Stephen Conroy would be elected as ALP Senate leader to replace Senator Evans, and Finance Minister Penny Wong would be elected deputy. Both would be unopposed.
Senator Evans will retire on a pension of $259,000 a year, with Ms Roxon on $235,000.
There was also disquiet about the naming of the election day for Yom Kippur, which had caused a backlash from the Jewish community. But the opposition was on the backfoot with the Jewish community yesterday after frontbencher Christopher Pyne said the government resembled a scene from Downfall, a movie about the decline of Adolf Hitler.
News of Senator Evans and Ms Roxon's resignations leaked on Friday night. On Saturday, Ms Gillard confirmed their departures at the September 14 election, saying the resulting reshuffle had been "planned". Senior ministers including Anthony Albanese, Bill Shorten and Peter Garrett yesterday backed the timing of the reshuffle before parliament resumed and denied that the government appeared unstable.
Mr Albanese said the reshuffle was "an orderly transition to a new team with a bit of renewal, with outstanding people being promoted, people like Mark Dreyfus and Mike Kelly, on to the frontbench team". It was in "stark contrast" to Tony Abbott, who had not reshuffled his frontbench since taking the leadership in 2009.
Ms Gillard said the latest ministerial line up was the team she "intended" to take to the election but she could not rule out other changes brought by health issues or changes in personal circumstances of ministers.
A supporter of former prime minister Kevin Rudd, while backing the "content" of the reshuffle, said the timing was poor. Rudd backers were critical of Ms Gillard's performance, but said there was no canvassing of MPs on Mr Rudd's behalf. One MP said Ms Gillard was "making silly mistakes when she is not under pressure. What's she going to do when it gets messy?" A Gillard supporter also described the start to the year as "disastrous".
The naming of the election date early was "illogical" and the departures of two senior ministers created a sense "that people have no confidence" in the government. Other senior Labor figures said that caucus members were "scratching their heads" over the Prime Minister's strategy.
Some of the appointments, including the rise of Dr Kelly to the ministry, were seen as attempts to shore up support among those who previously backed Mr Rudd.
Ministers talked down expectations of further resignations, but the party has not set a timetable to preselect Ms Roxon's replacement. While nominations to replace former attorney-general Robert McClelland in the NSW seat of Barton are expected to open this Friday, Victorian ALP secretary Noah Carroll said the ballot in Gellibrand would be delayed to enable the party to talk to other MPs. This would avoid having to hold byelections on different weekends in the event of further resignations.