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CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is climbing back into contention for the next general election, still about 12 months away, with two new opinion polls showing a boost for her Labor Party government.
Both a Newspoll, in the Australian newspaper, and a Nielsen poll in the Fairfax newspapers show support for Gillard's government has been building since July in a major turn-around for her minority government.
Government lawmakers said the polls reflected a growing acceptance of a controversial carbon tax, introduced in July, and that a heated opposition campaign against the tax was no longer working with voters.
"We always said that once the fear campaign about the climate change changes on July 1 dissipated, our vote would improve," Government Senate Leader Chris Evans told Australian radio.
The opposition has strongly campaigned against the carbon tax, warning it will force factories to close and push up prices, and has promised to scrap it if it wins power.
The polls follow public sympathy for Gillard following the death of her father, heated debate about both Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott's personal integrity before they entered parliament, and as the government reopens an immigration detention centre on the Pacific island of Nauru.
The Newspoll survey shows Gillard's support has hit an 18-month high, with her government and the conservative opposition locked at 50 points each on a two-party basis. The Nielsen poll shows Labor continuing an upward trend to be within reach of the opposition on 47 points to 53 percent for the opposition.
Both polls also show Gillard's personal approval to be above that of conservative opposition leader Abbott.
Gillard replaced former prime minister Kevin Rudd in a party-room coup in June 2010, and then went on to win a dead-heat election, forming a minority government with support from the Greens and three independent members of parliament.
But the Nielsen poll found voters would prefer Rudd to return as Labor Party leader and for former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull to lead the Liberal Party in place of Abbott.
The next election is due in the second half of 2013.
Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Robert Birsel