Positive poll results give Gillard breathing space

Politics looked sweet to Julia Gillard when she woke up on Monday to face the penultimate week of the full Parliament.Her white paper on Australia in the Asian Century has received a generally benign reception. And, most importantly Newspoll, which can change political moods with the alacrity of some mind-bending drug, has come out with a 50-50 two-party rating.

Labor will be encouraged that its primary vote is up three points to a competitive 36 per cent; the Coalition's primary has fallen a solid four points to 41. 

Gillard, who enjoys a spot of boxing to keep fit, might have been tempted to throw a couple of punches at the air — one for Kevin Rudd, another for Tony Abbott.

Better polling and an altered political climate mean Gillard can shrug off questions about Maxine McKew’s allegations. Photo: Peter Rae

The Rudd forces had been working up to these last parliamentary weeks. (The final one in which both houses are sitting is late November.)

Maxine McKew's book, arguing that Gillard had greater involvement in the 2010 coup than she's admitted, chimed in with the timetable. Rudd has recently increased his visibility, with speeches and other appearances, at home and abroad. Arriving in Canberra for Parliament today, he had a prod at Gillard saying, "It is important for all of us to be honest about what happened at the time [of the coup] and that is the best way for us all to move forward."

But, with the polls consistently better for Labor and the PM, the caucus ''swinging voters'' are not in the mood to play. This is especially so because the Newspoll — while looking over-optimistic for Labor — can't be dismissed as a ''rogue''. Newspoll was 50-50 a few weeks back. And the Nielsen poll, which has not been nearly that good for Labor, narrowed to 48-52 per cent on a two-party basis a week ago.

Better polling and an altered political climate mean Gillard can shrug off questions about McKew's allegations. Also, the events of 2010, although causing Gillard lasting damage, have now receded into the past. Each time they are revived they have less political bite.

Abbott, meanwhile, will be trying to avoid falling into a funk. There is mounting evidence that he is losing traction. He always wanted a sprint to the election; now he's reached the two thirds mark of this 2010-13 marathon and finds the going tougher.

A combination of the receding of the carbon issue and the elevation of the gender war is causing him all sorts of trouble. Gillard predicted that the carbon tax would become less potent. Her Scottish adviser, John McTernan, who worked for Tony Blair, is credited with much of the ferocity of the gender attack.

Abbott has problems with his strategy, his tactics and his mouth. How he deals with each of them remains to be seen, but that will be exercising his mind and those of his advisers. The last few months have tested Gillard's renowned tenacity. Now it is Abbott's considerable grit that is being challenged.