By Dow Jones Business News, March 18, 2013, 03:45:00 AM EDT
--Twice as many voters back Rudd over Gillard
--Weak result comes as industry hits back at media law reforms
(Adds remarks on media law reforms from seventh paragraph)
By Enda Curran and James Glynn
SYDNEY--Twice as many of Australia's voters prefer former leader Kevin Rudd over embattled Prime Minister Julia
Gillard, an opinion poll showed Monday, adding to speculation her ruling Labor party could look to replace her in an
effort to avoid defeat in the coming general election.
A Nielsen poll published in Fairfax newspapers Monday showed 62% of those surveyed chose Mr. Rudd as preferred leader
of the center-left party, compared with 31% support for Ms. Gillard. The same survey showed the Labor party trailed the
main opposition Liberal-National coalition by 44% to 56%, once support for smaller parties was stripped out.
Ms. Gillard called a Sept. 14 general election in January, setting the country up for an unprecedented eight-month
election campaign. In doing so, she had hoped to seize the political initiative, relaunching her party after a series of
mishaps that have plagued her administration. The strategy has so far failed to reverse Labor's fortunes. Her party has
trailed the opposition coalition, led by Tony Abbott, in voter polls for most of the past two years.
Mr. Rudd, once one of the country's most popular leaders, was ousted by his own party in a swift and surprising change
in 2010. It followed an angry backlash from the country's powerful resources industry over proposed taxes on mining
company profits and carbon emissions that divided party ranks and led Labor's popularity among voters to sag sharply. He
unsuccessfully sought to regain the Labor party leadership from Ms. Gillard in February last year and has repeatedly
denied media speculation he is considering another leadership tilt.
Still, support for Labor on a primary vote basis-which shows voters' preferences among all parties-has fallen to the
level that triggered Mr. Rudd's ouster, looming over Ms. Gillard's leadership. The government was forced in December to
back down on an election pledge to return the budget to surplus this fiscal year because of lower revenue from company
and resources taxes as a mining boom fueled by China's demand for raw materials slows.
Ms. Gillard watered down Mr. Rudd's controversial resources levy as one of her first acts in office. It remains
unpopular with industry, however, despite raising far less than the government originally estimated. Ms. Gillard also
angered some voters by reversing a 2010 election promise not to introduce a tax on carbon emissions.
The prime minister came under renewed pressure this week as her administration attempts to push through a
controversial overhaul of the country's media laws before Parliament breaks for a two-month recess. The reforms include
plans for a new regulator, appointed by the government, to apply a public interest test to any mergers between major
media companies, adding a layer of scrutiny that could make it difficult for deals to take place.
Kim Williams, the Sydney-based chief executive of News Ltd., has said the proposal is "nothing more than a political
interest test which governments will use to punish outlets they don't like." On Monday he promised a High Court
challenge if the proposals are passed into law. News Ltd. is owned by News Corp. ( NWS ), which publishes Dow Jones
Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.
At a parliamentary hearing into the proposals Monday, Kerry Stokes, the billionaire chairman of newspaper and
television network owner Seven West Media Ltd. (SWM.AU) said that in his 40 years in the industry he had "never seen
anything so intrusive."
"I'm yet to see anybody explain to me any problem that warrants these laws," Mr. Stokes said.
Ms. Gillard's minority government relies on the support of a handful of nonparty lawmakers to pass any new laws. One
such lawmaker, Andrew Wilkie, said Monday the proposed media laws were "shoddy". Another independent lawmaker, Robert
Oakeshott, said he would likely vote against the proposals, though he added that the debate was moving "very fast." The
government has said it won't proceed to a vote on the media bills unless it gains the support of enough lawmakers to
secure their passage.
Critics of the prime minister have sought to blame the federal government for the party's woes at a state government
level, where the conservative Liberal party this month defeated Labor by a landslide to win a second-straight term in
office in Western Australia state.
Nielsen polled 1,400 voters over the telephone between Mar. 14 and Mar. 16. The poll has a margin for error of 2.6
-Write to Enda Curran at email@example.com and James Glynn at firstname.lastname@example.org
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