Party infighting and controversies affecting both the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and Liberal Parties have highlighted week two of the Australian election campaign.
Following last Sunday’s televised Leaders Debate which produced no advantage to Prime Minister Julia Gillard or Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Ms. Gillard has experienced a fall in her approval ratings, accredited to both the debate and a series of media leaks regarding her opposition to former leader Kevin Rudd’s decisions while serving as deputy leader.
The Prime Minister cited concerns over affordability as her reason for opposing increases to the age pension, welfare payments, and a paid parental leave scheme. The Age newspaper reported on July 29 that Prime Minister Gillard, then ALP deputy leader, privately told colleagues that “old people never vote for us”.
Although no person has been identified as being responsible for passing on the information to the press, claims and counterclaims over whether Mr. Rudd was the source of the leaks have received considerable media coverage. A report in today’s Age says that “Mr. Rudd is threatening to take legal action over claims he leaked damaging information about his own [Labor] party – fed to him by the Liberal Party – while in opposition. The claims, attributed to Alexander Downer [who served as Foreign Affairs Minister in the Howard Government], were carried in News Limited newspapers.”
Mr. Rudd served as opposition spokesman for Foreign Affairs, a position he held from 2001 until 2007 when he became Prime Minister following the ALP’s defeat of the Liberal-National Party.
Former Labor Party leader Mark Latham, who lost the 2004 election, also criticised Mr. Rudd. He told The Age midweek that Mr. Rudd was the source of leaking statements to the media, referring to the former Prime Minister as “unmanly” and “a snake”.
The issue has piled more pressure on the ALP, whose initial support has now eroded. Opinion polls released have seen them lose the initial advantage. Newspoll rates each party’s vote as 50 per cent based on a two-party preferred vote, while figures released in The Age/Neilsen poll published on July 31 give the opposition Liberal-National coalition a 52 to 48 per cent victory over the government if an election were to be held this week. Ms. Gillard remains the preferred Prime Minister over Tony Abbott, 50 per cent to 35.
Last week’s Roy Morgan Research Poll provided some good news for the ALP, with respondents rating them as better managers of health services and hospitals (51 per cent to the Liberal-National Party’s 26 per cent), meeting the needs of families (45 per cent to 31 per cent) and delivering fair workplace and employment regulations (59 per cent to 26 per cent). However, the Liberal-National Party were considered more capable of reducing income tax reductions (39 per cent to the ALP’s 34 per cent), improving business (54 per cent to 29 per cent), keeping interest rates low (41 per cent to 27 per cent), reducing the number of illegal boatpeople coming to Australia (50 per cent to 20 per cent), and managing immigration and population growth (43 per cent to 32 per cent).
The polls were released following controversies affecting both major parties, when the Liberal Party disendorsed David Barker, its candidate for the outer-western Sydney seat of Chifley, after he posted comments on his Facebook page degrading Muslims. The ALP’s candidate for the seat, Ed Husic, a union official, is a non-practising Muslim.
Mr. Barker’s comments, posted on the website of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper before his profile was closed, implied that Muslims worshipped false gods and warned that an ALP election victory will bring Australia “closer to the hands of a Muslim nation.” Mr. Barker defended his views on camera, telling Channel Ten news that while he had no problems with Muslim individuals, he didn’t believe “[their] beliefs have a place in Australia.” Following his removal from the Liberal Party, Mr. Barker will now run as an independent candidate for a seat in the Senate, or Upper House, at the federal election.
Mr. Barker’s delisting is the second forced departure after Adrian Schonfelder stepped aside as the ALP’s candidate for the Victorian seat of Flinders. Early in the first week, Mr. Schonfelder linked the conservative social stances of Liberal leader Tony Abbott to an increase in suicide. He apologised and resigned.
 The Age, (2010), Rudd denies being leaker, Friday 30 July, http://www.theage.com.au/federal-election/rudd-denies-being-leaker-20100728-10ura.html
 The Age, (2010), Rudd considers legal action over leak claims, Sunday August 1 http://www.theage.com.au/federal-election/rudd-considers-legal-action-on-leak-claim-20100801-110yd.html
 The Age, (2010), Rudd is unmanly, like a snake: Latham, Thursday 29 July, http://www.theage.com.au/polls/federal-election/leaks-damage-labor/20100728-10up4.html
 Grattan, M., (2010), Abbott slips up while decrying waffle, The Age, Monday August 2, http://www.theage.com.au/federal-election/abbott-slips-up-while-decrying-waffle-20100801-111h4.html
 Roy Morgan Polls – Finding Number 4544, July 29, 2010, http://www.roymorgan.com/news/polls/2010/4544/
 The Daily Telegraph (2010), “David Barker on Facebook http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/gallery/gallery-e6frewxi-1225896487608?page=8
 Nicholls, S., (2010), How Did David Barker Become a Liberal Candidate?, The Age, Monday July 26, http://www.theage.com.au/federal-election/how-did-david-barker-become-a-liberal-candidate-20100726-10rqy.html
 Australian Electoral Commission (2010), List of Candidates for 2010 Federal Election – Senate of New South Wales http://www.aec.gov.au/election/nsw/chifley.htm
 Crikey Electorate Form Guide – Flinders, http://www.crikey.com.au/fed2010-flinders