Labor dives as ministers go

Julia Gillard's strategy of calling an election for September has delivered only negatives for her so far.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Photo / Getty Images
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Photo / Getty Images

Australia's federal Parliament resumes today as Prime Minister Julia Gillard tries to pull together the shards of an election strategy blasted apart within days of announcing September 14 as the date of the poll.

Gillard last week took the extraordinary step of launching what was in effect an eight-month campaign, the longest in the country's history, in a bid to reclaim the political agenda from Opposition leader Tony Abbott.

But within hours former Labor and independent MP Craig Thomson, a key vote for Labor, had been arrested on 150 charges of fraud, followed by the resignation of two of the Government's most senior ministers.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Government Senate Leader Chris Evans announced their surprise move late on Friday.

Yesterday, as Gillard headed for Government House for the swearing-in of her hastily reshuffled ministry, two polls reported a sharp dive from last month's surge in support.

Made after the election was announced, both Newspoll in the Australian and Galaxy reported that Abbott and the Coalition had regained a crushing lead, and that Gillard's personal standing had taken a heavy blow. Gillard now has to recover from these beatings and shore up what credibility she retains before she can pursue her aim of thrusting her policy agenda to the fore, keeping the business of government running while turning the heat on Abbott to release fully costed policies.

She also faces the possibility of bruising byelections, although the Speaker of the House, who determines these, could decide that the election is too close to bother.

The possibility of byelections lies with Thomson, embattled former Speaker Peter Slipper, and former Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

Thomson faces not only criminal charges relating to his time as national secretary of the Health Services Union, but possible bankruptcy (which could disqualify him from Parliament) as a result of legal costs.

He told reporters he would not decide his future "in the emotion of the moment".

Slipper, accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer, also faces charges relating to the alleged improper use of parliamentary taxi vouchers.

McClelland, dumped as Attorney-General to make way for Roxon, had intended to quit at the next election, but there are reports he intends to leave earlier.

The series of blows has delighted the Opposition, which is portraying the Government as a chaotic shipwreck rapidly being abandoned by its officers.

Gillard said Roxon and Evans had been considering resigning for some time, and the timing was now right for the move.

But voters have again turned on Labor.

The Australian's Newspoll showed that Labor had fallen from last month's high, with the Opposition leading 56-44 per cent in the two-party vote that decides Australian elections.

Gillard is now just two points ahead of Abbott as preferred prime minister.

The Galaxy poll put the Opposition ahead by 54-41 per cent.

In the reshuffle, Chris Bowen replaces Evans in higher education, science and research and Mark Dreyfus is now Attorney-General.

- NZ Herald

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