Australian PM extends lead in election race

An opinion poll shows voters overwhelmingly preferred Julia as Australian PM.

Updated: Jul 19, 2010, 11:00 AM IST

Sydney: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard`s chances of winning an August 21 election were boosted on Monday with an opinion poll showing voters overwhelmingly preferred her as prime minister.

The country`s first woman prime minister, appointed in a Labor party coup last month, held a commanding 57-27 lead over conservative leader Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister, according to the Newspoll survey in The Australian newspaper.

The Labor government held a 55-45 lead over the Liberal-National opposition, the survey showed. This compared with weekend Galaxy polls putting Labor just ahead or neck and neck.

"There will be many, many polls between now and election day. What I know is that this election is genuinely on a knife-edge," Gillard told radio on Monday, the second day of the campaign.

The opposition only needs nine more seats from its current strength to form a government with four independents, or 13 to take office outright.

The election is being fought over the government`s plans for a new 30 percent mining tax, its promise of a carbon price to tackle climate change, management of Australia`s robust economy and asylum seeker/border protection issues.

Financial markets did not react to the fresh poll numbers, but there are some market risks.

"Because both parties are close to the centre of the political spectrum, the economy is in good shape and there are no defining issues, the risk is that minor parties and independents will pick up ground. That creates the risk of a very tight result, a hung parliament or a minority government," Craig James, chief economist at CommSec, said in an election analysis.

A conservative win is expected to see mining stocks jump.

The opposition has vowed to dump the government`s mining tax, which is estimated to raise AUD 10.5 billion from 2012 and has been signed off on by global miners BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata.

The opposition is also opposed to a carbon price, saying it would be a burden on consumers and business. But business has warned the lack of a climate policy and carbon price is having a negative impact on investment, especially in the power sector.

Gillard has yet to announce her climate policy.

Fund managers said aside from mining tax, some uncertainties had been cleared after an AUD 11 billion agreement with Telstra Corp to help build a national broadband network.

"The government`s done a fair bit to remove some of those uncertainties already as we go into an election. Those are the sort of things that catch the market to some degree," said George Clapham, head of equities at Arnhem Investment Management.

Bureau Report