Poll points to Labor victory against lacklustre Howard

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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIA'S OPPOSITION, the Labor Party, has edged ahead in the race to win the general election on 3 October, says a new opinion poll.

The poll in The Australian newspaper gave Labor 44 per cent against 42 per cent for the ruling Liberal-National coalition. When people's second preference votes to minor parties were distributed, under the preferential voting system, Labor came out with 53 per cent, while the coalition took 47 per cent.

The poll has given a jolt to a lacklustre campaign, in which Prime Minister John Howard and the leader of the opposition, Kim Beazley, have travelled through marginal constituencies, trying to convince voters to support their respective remedies for the economy. Their biggest problem has been in persuading people to take the election seriously.

Australians have been diverted over the past week by their national obsession - sport. The Commonwealth Games, the US Open tennis tournament, and various football finals - to say nothing of the Washington sex scandal - have wiped domestic politics off the front pages and left the two leaders looking like also-rans.

However, the latest poll must be disturbing for Mr Howard. Among the forces driving Labor's revival since the campaign started a fortnight ago seem to be Mr Beazley's emergence as a credible leader, with a warmer image than the dry, stilted Mr Howard.

The poll could also reflect widespread disappointment with Mr Howard's leadership, and the fact that people are wary of the main pledge in his manifesto - a sweeping tax reform plan that includes the introduction of a VAT-style tax of 10 per cent on almost everything, including food.

The biggest loser so far, though, seems to be Pauline Hanson, the right- wing Independent MP renowned for her attacks on Asian immigration, multiculturalism and welfare spending on Aborigines. In yesterday's poll, support for her party, One Nation, fell to 7 per cent from 11 per cent in early August. This may mean that people who were attracted to Mrs Hanson as a protest vote are now drifting back to the main political parties.

Even more alarming for Mrs Hanson is the fact that she may lose her seat in the election.

In the contest for Blair, the rural constituency she holds in southern Queensland, the three main parties, Liberal, National and Labor, have agreed to put her last in the order that they advise their supporters to place their preference votes.