Australian opposition leaps ahead in polls

Australia's opposition coalition has increased its lead as support for Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Labor Party wanes ahead of September elections, according to a poll published on Monday.

The Herald-Nielsen poll for Fairfax newspapers found the opposition would win 55 percent of the vote, against 45 percent for the Labor-led government.

As a single party, without minority backers, Labor would win just 30 percent of first preference votes -- a fall of five points since the last Nielsen survey in December.

The coalition climbed four points by the same measure, taking its primary vote to 47 percent.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott overtook Gillard in the preferred prime minister stakes, surging nine points to 49 percent while the prime minister dropped five points to 45 percent.

Gillard sought to downplay the figures, which suggest that her gamble in announcing the election nearly eight months before polling day was not well received by voters.

"We see a lot of opinion polls," Gillard told Seven Network television.

"If I spent time worrying about them and commentating on opinion polls then I wouldn't have the time to get my job done.

"So each and every day I just let that wash through and I focus on what I need to do as prime minister."

Gillard broke with tradition by fixing the September 14 election date well ahead of time, hoping to force the opposition to detail its policies and costings.

However Labor's retreat from a much-vaunted promise to restore the budget to surplus this year, the failure of a controversial mining tax to raise much revenue and corruption scandals have dominated headlines.

The prime minister's approval ratings plunged six points to 40 percent and her disapproval level rose six to 56 percent.

The national poll of 1,400 voters, taken from Thursday to Saturday, found the gap between Gillard and former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd had widened.

Sixty-one percent of respondents favoured Rudd against 35 percent for Gillard. Despite his protests to the contrary, speculation is rife of another Rudd tilt at the Labor leadership either before the polls or after election defeat.

Rudd was deposed by Gillard, then his deputy, in a shock party-room ouster before the 2010 elections. He mounted a challenge last February but lost 71-31 in a secret leadership ballot.

Nielsen pollster John Stirton told the Sydney Morning Herald the results were a bad sign for Labor.

"It confirms that the trend to Labor that ran from May to November last year and appeared to stall over Christmas is now heading in the opposite direction."