Australian PM gains, but ex-leader Rudd could win: poll

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's personal rating has risen but her Labor Party's best chance of winning an election is under ex-leader Kevin Rudd, a key poll showed Tuesday.

Speculation continues to swirl that Gillard, the nation's first woman prime minister, will be removed before the election she has called for September 14, possibly for a switch back to Rudd, the man she brutally deposed in 2010.

The Newspoll taken over the weekend and published in The Australian newspaper gave a glimmer of hope to Gillard, putting her ahead as preferred prime minister over conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott by 42 to 38 percent.

Twenty percent of voters were uncommitted.

Centre-left Labor's share of the vote, excluding the impact of minor parties, also rose from 45 to 48 percent but did not surpass Abbott's Liberal-National coalition's 52 percent, it found.

And while the poll found Gillard would be unlikely to lead Labor to victory, it suggested Rudd could keep the party in government.

The poll of 1,143 voters found that if Rudd were leader, Labor would win 56 percent of the vote, with minor parties stripped out, compared with the opposition's 44 percent.

"The lift in Labor's primary vote and return as preferred prime minister will help the embattled Ms Gillard fend off continuing concern and complaints about her leadership and political strategy," wrote the newspaper's political editor Dennis Shanahan.

"But the Newspoll survey also showed that former prime minister Kevin Rudd would be a far more popular leader than Ms Gillard, potentially delivering a significant lift for support for Labor."

Speculation about a change of Labor leader has been rife in Canberra for weeks, and the poll comes hard on the heels of Labor's poor showing in Western Australia's state election at the weekend.

Rudd, who led Labor to a landslide election victory in a 2007 which ended more than a decade of conservative rule, remains popular with voters.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten has also been touted as a possible Gillard replacement.

Finance Minister Penny Wong refused to comment on the speculation, but told the ABC: "This is going to be a very tough election for the Labor Party and these are difficult circumstances we face."

The Mandarin-speaking Rudd challenged Gillard for the Labor leadership in early 2012 but was comprehensively beaten in a party room vote.