Australian government set to lose

SYDNEY, Australia, AP

Voter support for Prime Minister John Howard’s government in tightly contested seats has slumped, leaving it open to overwhelming defeat in federal elections later this year, according to a new poll Saturday.

The poll in The Australian newspaper shows that in electorates requiring a swing of less than 4 percent, support for Howard’s government has dropped from 36 percent to 32 percent in three months. In contrast, support for the opposition Labor Party has remained steady at 44 percent, the poll showed. No margin of error was published with the poll.

The Newspoll survey is worrying for the Howard government, which relied heavily on the marginal seats for victory in the 1998 election.

It also comes as a senior member of the government’s coalition partner, the National Party, is expected to announce his decision to run as an independent in federal elections to be held in November or December.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said dissident National Bob Katter would make a formal announcement Sunday that he is to resign from his party.

“I was elected as a National, and I have served as a National, but I can no longer attend party meetings with any conscience,” Katter was quoted as saying in Saturday’s edition of the Herald.

However, the news was not all bad for Howard, who is seeking a third term in government. Another survey conducted by the Australian found evidence of deep reservations about opposition leader Kim Beazley and Labor’s policies.

The informal study of 160 voters in 20 mostly marginal seats found that voters do not believe some of Beazley’s most important policy promises, and would vote against him to avoid change, the newspaper said.

Support for Howard’s government plummeted earlier this year as voters registered their anger over a new 10 percent sales tax and paperwork linked to it, high fuel prices and economic liberalization.

Voters in two state elections in February inflicted stinging defeats on Howard’s coalition, and in March Howard’s Liberal Party lost a by-election in a seat it had held for 52 years.