Australia: Electorate finally wakening up to PM Howard's Pinocchio/Ronald Reagan syndromes Print E-mail

Sydney Morning Herald -- Monday April 24 2006

Howard's halo dims as AWB row bites


By Louise Dodson Chief Political Correspondent

THE AWB oil-for-food scandal has hit the Federal Government's standing, sparking a sharp drop in John Howard's approval rating and lifting Labor above the Coalition in two-party votes, the latest Herald/ACNielsen poll reveals.

In the first opinion poll taken after ministers and Mr Howard appeared before the Cole inquiry into the scandal, the Prime Minister's approval rating fell to its lowest level this year.

Labor has now moved ahead of the Coalition by 51 per cent to 49 per cent in two-party-preferred terms.

Mr Howard's rating as preferred prime minister fell by seven percentage points to 49 per cent. His disapproval rating leapt by nine points to 44 per cent.

But while Labor will welcome the poll as a sign that the AWB scandal is beginning to bite, it is not good news for its leader, Kim Beazley.

Despite almost a month of intense national focus on the affair, his approval rating continued to drop and at 30 per cent is his lowest ever as Opposition leader.

At 57 per cent (up three points) a record number of respondents now disapprove of Mr Beazley. He no longer enjoys majority support even among Labor voters.

The Coalition's primary vote has remained steady at 43 per cent, while Labor's has risen by one point to 38 per cent - the same level reached at the 2004 election, which Labor lost.

The ACNielsen pollster John Stirton concluded that "following a month of political focus on the AWB inquiry, the Prime Minister's approval has dropped and Kim Beazley has narrowed the gap as preferred PM. On the other hand, Mr Beazley's approval is at an all-time low, his support among ALP voters is falling and Labor's primary vote remains below 40 per cent".

The national poll of 1189 respondents taken between Thursday and yesterday showed the AWB scandal is having a strong impact on the Government's credibility. It found a strong majority of those who were aware of the Cole inquiry did not believe the Government's line that it did not know of AWB's kickbacks.

Seventy-two per cent of those aware of the inquiry thought the Government knew about kickbacks paid by AWB to the Saddam regime, with 48 per cent - up eight points - saying they have a less favourable view of the Government as a result.

Almost one in five Coalition supporters (23 per cent) has a less favourable opinion of the Government because of the Cole inquiry.

Two months ago more than a majority (55 per cent) said the row had not changed their attitude to the Government, but this has now dropped to 46 per cent.

Eighty-five per cent of respondents said they were aware of the Cole inquiry.

While the AWB affair has damaged the Government's position in the electorate, the decision to introduce new laws to process asylum seekers has attracted majority support.

The poll reveals 50 per cent support the new system, while 40 per cent oppose it.

The poll also showed that 46 per cent of those polled approved of the way the Government has managed Australia's relationship with Indonesia, while 39 per cent disapproved.

The premiers of NSW and Queensland have defended Mr Beazley over speculation his health is failing. Several newspapers have reported that he might be suffering from a relapse of a brain illness, after he forgot on radio last week the names of Labor senators. Peter Beattie said everyone had lapses, and Morris Iemma said: "I support Beazley without any qualification."