Australia’s Julia Gillard and Labor Party lose ground in polls

Chivalry may not be dead, but can the same be said for Julia Gillard … politically speaking.

"Julia Gillard and Labor flatlining with voters," "Gillard support slips as Opposition keeps lead," and "Bounce in polls but sting in tail for Labor," are some of the headlines as the Australian news media digests the latest "Newspoll" results.

Needless to say, they spell trouble for a government that by all rights should have experienced a bump in popularity after Gillard's display of cool-headedness and what looked remarkably like concern for the wellbeing of a rival politician during an Australia Day security scare.

(A recap: Gillard, upon being told that she needed to be moved for security reasons from a Canberra restaurant being besieged by demonstrators on Jan. 26, first sought assurances that Abbott — also in attendance — would be rescued from the angry mob.)

Instead, Gillard starts 2012 with support for her ruling minority Labor Party at the lowest level on record for the start of a new parliamentary year.

According to the Newspoll, reported by the Australian newspaper, Labor's primary vote fell one percentage point to 30 percent, behind the Liberal-National coalition’s 45 percent.

As well, satisfaction with Gillard as Prime Minister dropped from 36 percent last month to 33 percent last weekend. 

According to the paper:

The poll caps a challenging start to 2012 for Gillard, who after parliament opens Feb. 7 plans to implement a price on carbon emissions and pass laws to create a new tax on miners ahead of national elections due in 2013. 

Newspoll’s chief executive Martin O’Shannessy cited the Prime Minister's dumping of an agreement with Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie on poker machine reforms, and speculation over Labor's role in the Australia Day protest, as contributing to the drop.

(Incidentally, Wilkie — who helped Labor form a minority government in 2010 — withdrew his support over Gillard's "broken promise" on pokies, leaving the government with a razor-thin one-seat majority in parliament.)

Abbott's coalition, meantime, called this week for federal police investigation into revelations that one of Gillard's staffed passed information about Abbott to protesters at the Aboriginal tent embassy just before things got ugly. Press play:

(Down Under reports: Tony Abbott pushes for federal police inquiry into Australia Day security breach)

Perhaps Australia's first female leader just got off on the wrong foot. She came to power in September 2010, three months after replacing the popularly elected Kevin Rudd as leader in a late-night party coup.

Add to Gillard's troubles sustained speculation that Rudd, the Mandarin-speaking former diplomat and now Foreign Minister, is plotting a comeback to the leadership and you have one worried leader, right?

Seemingly not. Gillard herself maintains that Rudd is just what the country needs in terms of a high profile representative who speaks on behalf of all Australians.

"It's very important for a nation our size that we do have our voice heard around the world," Gillard told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday. "Kevin Rudd as foreign minister is doing a good job in making sure our voice is heard."

That's right — Rudd had Gillard's vote, 100 percent, no question about it … as foreign minister.

Gillard — if she took any notice of the numbers, and she claims not to have, can perhaps take — could take heart from O’Shannessy's assessment of the polling.   

 "Labor is very good at fighting from behind in the underdog position," he told Bloomberg. "Gillard’s challenge is to get Labor’s primary vote up to 35 percent, which is contestable" to win an election.

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