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Australia's new Labor PM is bolting to the polls

Christian Kerr is a reporter with The Australian.

Kerr-Christian No one has ever doubted Julia Gillard's popularity, but pollsters and market researchers agree her continued standing – and survival – depends on policy.

That’s why no one should be surprised Australians have headed off to an election just four weeks after she became PM.

The day after Kevin Rudd fell on his sword Rod Cameron, Labor’s one-time pollster, told me the new Prime Minister would do ``superbly'' in the next few polls, but warned she had  ``some ticklish work to do.'' "She's nominated three policy areas; asylum seekers, the emissions trading scheme and resource tax, and she's going to have to kick a couple of goals in at least two of those,'' he said.

Newspoll boss Martin O'Shaughnessy agreed. "It's going to come down to what she does,'' he warned back then. "In five weeks we'll see how she's really regarded.'' O'Shaughnessy’s deadline is almost here, yet the Prime Minister has only passed one of three tests she set herself.

The big miners appear to be happy with the new resources tax proposal, although the small and medium sized companies are still poring over the details. Her asylum seeker policy began to unravel within 24 hours and now looks ragged indeed. And it is hard to see what she can do on climate change without a price on carbon that does not involve heading down the "direct action'' road already travelled by Tony Abbott.

The Climate Institute, scarcely Liberal cheerleaders, even issued a media statement on the election eve saying their analysis found the opposition’s policies offered more scope for emissions reduction than anything on the table from the ALP.

At the end of June, Rebecca Huntley of IPSOS Mackay said her research from recent years indicated voters regarded a Gillard prime ministership as an inevitability. "There was always a sense it was going to happen to her,'' Dr Huntley said. That, she believed, meant Julia Gillard was only going to have a very short honeymoon. "She was often singled out in my groups as the exception amongst politicians, as someone who was reasonably straight talking, who came across as comparatively genuine, authentic,'' Dr Huntley said. But she added ``I don't necessarily think any of this stuff will help her unless she manages to do a range of things very quickly, very directly.'' Dr Huntley warned voters would only give the new Prime Minister ``a little window'' to act.

Ms Gillard has seen the window closing and is bolting to the polls. The length of the campaign could not be any shorter.

Time is tight for the Prime Minister. The result could be even tighter.


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