Further poll slump for Australia PM Howard

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Canberra, Mar 12: Character attacks by Australia's conservative government have failed to dent support for the opposition, with a new poll today showing Labor in a strong position to win elections due in late 2007.

Labor's support under new leader Kevin Rudd surged to 61 per cent in March compared to 39 per cent for Prime Minister John Howard's conservatives, who have held power for 11 years and will push for a fifth election victory in the second half of 2007.

The AC Nielsen poll in the Fairfax newspapers came after the government launched character attacks over Rudd's meetings with a disgraced lobbyist, and as Labor lost a senior member for writing a personal reference for Australia's most wanted drug criminal.

''The AC Nielsen poll will be deeply worrying for the Howard government, not just for the size of the numbers, but because they are holding despite the federal coalition onslaught on Rudd's judgment and character,'' Age political editor Michelle Grattan wrote today.

The personal attacks on Rudd's character have also made no impact on his personal standing, with Rudd's personal approval hitting 67 per cent, the highest level for an opposition leader since Howard's approval before he won power in 1996.

Both Labor and the government played down the significance of the polls today, saying the election was still some time off.

''People are out there, if you like, doing some window shopping. They're having a very good look at the ALP (Australian Labor Party) and they're interested in what they see but they haven't bought any tickets yet,'' Labor's treasury spokesman Wayne Swan told Australian television.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said the election was still eight months away and the polls would rebound when Australians focused on who would best secure Australia's future.


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