World News

Labor has big poll lead before Australia election

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s Labor government has pulled ahead of the conservative opposition, according to a poll published on Saturday, a week away from an election expected to be the closest in years.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard listens a question from the community as part of her election campaign in Sydney August 11, 2010. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

The August 21 election will decide the fate of the government’s planned 30 percent mining tax on big iron ore and coal projects, and the future of government plans for a $33 billion national broadband network. The opposition has vowed to abandon both.

“I think we are heading toward one of the closest, tightest races in Australia’s history. I think this will be a photo finish,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard told journalists during campaigning at the weekend.

Other polls have shown the race too close to call, with analysts saying the next government could well be decided by marginal seats where voters are likely to be swayed by the major policy differences between the two sides.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott declared himself the underdog on Saturday, but said the opposition could still win.

The Nielsen poll results, published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, showed Labor leading the opposition 53 percent to 47 percent on a ‘two-party’ basis, eliminating minor parties under Australia’s system of transferable voting. This represents a swing of four percentage points to Labor in a week.

The government’s primary vote was at 40 percent, up four percentage points, with the opposition on 41 percent and the Greens on 12 percent. As preferred prime minister, Gillard led Abbott by 52 percent to 38 percent.

It follows a strong week of campaigning for Australia’s first female prime minister and a public reconciliation a week ago with former prime minister Kevin Rudd, whom she ousted in an internal party coup in June.

On Wednesday, the latest Reuters Poll Trend showed Gillard’s Labor marginally ahead with 50.1 percent support, compared to 49.9 percent for the opposition, as the tightest race since 1998 pointed to the possibility no single party will form government after next Saturday’s election.

Abbott was in resources-rich Western Australia on Saturday, where he launched a new policy on mining and resources, saying government plans to increase taxation on mining had badly damaged Australia’s status among international investors.

Despite the government’s rebound, government plans to increase taxation on mining and the dumping of Rudd as leader have damaged its standing in some key areas, including his home state, resources-rich Queensland, where there are several Labor marginal seats.

A separate poll by Newspoll in marginal seats, published in The Australian newspaper on Saturday, suggested the government might lose several, but might also win enough marginals from the opposition to stay in power.

Editing by Jonathan Thatcher