Gillard's ratings slump after carbon tax

HANGING ON: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's approval ratings have fallen to 30 per cent, but she is still the preferred leader over rival Tony Abbott.
HANGING ON: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's approval ratings have fallen to 30 per cent, but she is still the preferred leader over rival Tony Abbott.

Support for Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is now even lower than that of her predecessor whom she ousted almost a year ago, driven down by her government's push to impose a deeply unpopular tax on carbon emissions.

The next scheduled election is not for two years, but media have begun speculating that Gillard could also be dumped by nervous backbenchers unless her Labor Party manages to engineer a rapid turnaround in the next few months.

Her approval rating has shed five points in just a fortnight to 30 per cent, lower than former prime minister Kevin Rudd's rating when Gillard replaced him in a partyroom coup ahead of last year's dead-heat election, a Newspoll in The Australian newspaper showed.

''The poll numbers are dreadful and they are going backwards. There must be a sense of panic,'' Monash University political analyst Nick Economou said.

The crucial question now, Economou said, was whether there was anyone within Labor willing to take Gillard's leadership knowing they would lose the next election.

''The only real prospect would be the return of Rudd. But that won't happen because he does not have support, and it would make the government look like even more of a farce than it is at the moment,'' he said.

Labor wants to set a carbon tax on 1,000 of the biggest polluting companies from July next year to fight global warming, with a move to an emissions trading scheme three to five years later. Legislation underpinning the plan will enter parliament within months.

But Gillard needs to convince a handful of Green and independent MPs, who hold the balance of power, to back the scheme, which opinion surveys say is opposed by 60 per cent of voters, with only 30 per cent in favour.

Mining giants including Xstrata Plc and Anglo-American Plc have warned that the planned carbon pollution reduction scheme could threaten sovereign risk and slash investment, output and cost thousands of jobs.

Gillard's failure to deliver her climate policy would seriously damage her and Labor, despite the distance to the next elections in 2013.

''I am determined and the government is determined to get on with the job of pricing carbon. It's in the national interest and we will pursue that national interest,'' she told parliament on Wednesday.

The conservative opposition coalition, which is against a carbon price, has a 10 point lead over Labor, although its leader Tony Abbott, is also struggling to find approval.

Gillard still leads Abbott as preferred prime minister, with 41 per cent of those surveyed by Newspoll supporting her, while 38 per cent support the combative Abbott, who has been criticised for excess negativity as he tries to force early elections.

But Gillard won support from a group of leading scientists, medical researchers and environmental campaigners, who penned an open letter to Australian newspapers arguing that a carbon tax was essential to combat climate change.

Australians are the top per-capita emitters of carbon dioxide among developed nations, with more than 80 per cent of the country's electricity coming from reliance on ageing coal-fired power stations.

Details of the tax, including a starting price and levels of compensation to business and households, is being worked out by a multi-party committee. The government wants details announced by early July, and laws passed later this year.