Gillard battles to keep hold of Labor seats

By Greg Ansley

Latest polls indicate Government could face a massacre in former western Sydney stronghold.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Photo / NZPA
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Photo / NZPA

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is spending much of this week in western Sydney, trying to win back support in the vast suburbs of two million people that could destroy her Government in September.

She has booked into a hotel in Rooty Hill, one of the outer metropolitan suburbs that form the federal electorate of Chifley, named after reformist Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley and held by the party since its creation in 1969.

Chifley is one of Gillard's key battlegrounds: it recorded an 11.6 per cent swing against Labor in 2010, and is now among a series of former blue-ribbon Labor seats under real threat of falling to the Opposition on September 14.

If polling is accurate, an exodus of voters across western Sydney could alone be sufficient to bring down the Government.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott is already working on the prospect, and swung through the region yesterday to mute Gillard's media circus as the Prime Minister made election pledges costing billions of dollars.

The appearance and glad-handing of both leaders has killed once and for all Gillard's claim that her decision to call the election so early in the year was purely to ensure the business of government could continue without constant and debilitating speculation.

The campaign is now effectively under way, promising long, hard months of trench-fighting that most Australians want to know little about.

What voters are making abundantly clear is that, at this stage at least, anything is better than Gillard: Abbott may also be heartily disliked, but a rush from Labor in the opinion polls points to a landslide for the Coalition..

The latest Morgan poll, reflecting recent findings by Newspoll and Nielsen, said the Opposition held a crushing 9 per cent lead in the two-party preferred vote that determines Australian elections.

New allegations about the depth of corruption involving former Labor ministers, rolling out daily from hearings at the state's Independent Commission Against Corruption, continue to stain the party brand.

A survey in Fairfax newspapers found that at least four Labor seats in western Sydney are at direct risk. Chifley, Blaxland, Werriwa and McMahon have been Labor for decades, but saw major swings as voters deserted Labor in 2010.

- NZ Herald

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