The Liberal/Country party coalition government in Australia faces an election in November. Opinion polls taken?
The Liberal/Country party coalition government in Australia faces an election in November. Opinion polls taken recently indicate that if the election were held now, the Labour Party opposition would sweep into office. One poll showed a 55-38 per cent advantage to Labour. In addition, Prime Minister William McMahon is confronted with threats to his leadership of the coalition. Supporters of former Prime Minister John Gorton have been campaigning actively for his re-instatement and Mr McMahon could face a party-room crisis. Mr McMahon replaced Mr Gorton as Prime Minister 12 months age when backing wanted for the elected head of government. Even so, Mr Gorton was able to take the leadership issue to a split vote in the party room and finally stepped down on his own casting vote. Mr Gorton led the coalition to victory in the last election, but the majority was slashed. Now, public acceptance of the coalition, after more than 20 years in power, is at its lowest ebb, according to the polls, The inflation spiral and an unemployment figure running over the 100,000 mark have contributed to the fall in support for the coalition. In a state election in Tasmania, Labour rode back to power on a six per cent swing against the ruling Liberal/Centre coalition, bearing out claims made by the opinion polls.
A Powerful parliamentary lobby has been active in rallying new support for Mr Gorton. And outside the House there is a Victorian-based "Get Gorton Back" committee, fostering demands that Mr Gorton either be returned to the leadership or given a key Ministerial post. The committee has issued statements claiming that the coalition cannot win the next election with Mr McMahon at the helm. Another Country wing has been promoting the claims of Mr Douglas Anthony, Leader of the Country Party, to the federal coalition leadership. Federal Treasurer Mr Billy Snedden, has also come in for a barrage of criticism for his handling of the economy. Labour has derided new steps taken, such as halving a taxation surcharge, as panic-button measures which should have been implemented months ago. The cost index continues to show the equivalent of a six percent annual increase. Labour has been attacking the coalition attitude to the cost-wage spiral and has pledged to reduce unemployment.
An interesting figure in the Canberra scene is Mr Malcolm Fraser, Minister for Education and Science, who led a movement against Mr Gorton when he was Prime Minister. Mr Fraser is regarded as a "dark horse" for the leadership should their be a spill.
Mr Gough Whitlam, leader of the Labour Party opposition, has managed to weld together left and right factions which, over the past two decades, have clashed repeatedly and prevented Labour from putting up a united front to the electors. There is little chance of a split on the party line this year as Labour scents its best chance of electoral victory since 1949. Mr Whitlam is backed by a strong union element led by Mr Robert Hawke, head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and tipped as a potential top politician.