Julia Gillard has got what it takes to win, writes Sue Regan

The Australian federal election campaign is already proving to be a hard fought contest. Australian elections tend to be volatile and unpredictable and it is far from certain who will come out on top on 21st August. But it does look increasingly promising that the current Labor government could be returned to power – a prospect highly unlikely less than a month ago. So what’s changed? Two bold moves have pushed Labor’s poll ratings from the doldrums to an election winning (just) lead.

The first move was a change of leader. On 24th June, Kevin Rudd, the then Prime Minister resigned in the knowledge that he had fatally lost the support of the parliamentary Labor party, the Labor caucus. Julia Gillard, the then deputy prime minister, stepped up and became Australia’s first female prime minister. It was the first time the Labor caucus had removed a leader in their first term as prime minister. The move was rapid, certainly ruthless and many would say premature. Polling released the day after the coup suggest Rudd could have won the coming election. But most commentators agree that the poll lead now enjoyed by Labor is the result of the Gillard-factor.

Julia Gillard (born in Wales and citing Nye Bevan as one of her political heroes) commands wide public support. Tony Abbot (most famously known for his choice of swimwear) is the leader of the opposition (a coalition between the Liberals and the smaller National Party) and consistently lags in double figures behind Gillard in ‘preferred prime minister’ polling. 

 As well as riding high above her main political opponent, Gillard is also proving able to distance herself from some of the failings of the sitting Labor government, despite being Education Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister during that time. The Labor election slogan, Moving Forward, is already much lambasted, but clearly designed to reinforce this break with the past.

The second move which may contribute to a Labor victory was to call the election early. Julia Gillard had until October before an election had to be held.  In grasping the nettle so soon after her ascendancy, Gillard should be able to capitalise on her honey moon period. It gives the public less time to reach a conclusion that a Gillard-government is little different to the Rudd one. And it also minimises the ongoing risks associated (and resentment felt) with governing without a mandate from the Australian public.

Sue Regan was chief executive of the Resolution Foundation and was a Labour special adviser. She now works in Canberra.

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