Even as it tightened its noose on Mohammed Haneef to investigate his alleged role in failed UK terror bombings, the Australian government has slipped ground on the issue of national security, according to a poll.
Deprived of a political boost ahead of elections, the Prime Minister John Howard's government lost five percentage points to 45 per cent on national security, as per the latest Newspoll survey, conducted exclusively for The Australian last weekend.
Meanwhile, opposition Labour gained three points to reach 33 per cent before the expected penultimate sitting of the Parliament, ahead of polls expected to change the regime.
However, a majority 49 per cent of those surveyed approved Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews' handling of the Haneef matter, while 36 per cent disapproved, including 17 per cent of coalition supporters.
Of the opposition Australia Labour Party supporters, 38 per cent supported Andrews' decision to cancel Haneef's visa, a position Rudd has consistently supported.
Howard yesterday had ruled out giving Haneef the honourary Australian citizenship the Indian doctor suggested he receive and said it was clear the coalition was struggling.
Ever since the detention of Haneef by the Australian Police for his links with Glasgow airport bomber Kafeel Ahmed, the Howard Government has been accused of running scare tactics and racist "dog whistle" politics to lift its flagging results.
Despite the continued poor polling for the coalition, and leaked Liberal Party research showing the difficulty the Government is in, senior Liberals insist there is no sense of a leadership change before the election, expected in October-November. The Prime Minister faces Rudd in parliament today ahead of a two-week sitting before the APEC meeting in Sydney in September and another two-week sitting that is expected to be the last of the fourth-term Howard Government.
But according to Newspoll, the coalition has not received a bounce out of the withdrawal of Haneef's work visa.
On the other hand, Rudd, who supported government's actions, has had a lift in his personal standing over the Prime Minister.
The Coalition's primary vote went from 40 to 39 per cent, while Labour's went from 47 to 48 per cent -- effectively no change in the past two weeks.
On a two-party-preferred basis, based on preference flows at the last election, Labour's election-winning lead was 56 per cent to the Coalition's 44 per cent, back to where it was in June and early July.
One-point changes -- within the margin of polling error -- combined to give Rudd a nine-point lead over Howard as preferred prime minister.
Howard, yesterday on 2UE's John Laws programme, conceded that "we have been struggling this year politically, there is no doubt about that".
"I think our position has improved since then," he said.
The latest Newspoll showed satisfaction with Howard at 46 per cent and dissatisfaction at 43 per cent, his best rating in that category since January -- only a few weeks after Rudd became Opposition Leader. Rudd said he believed Howard had lost touch with the electorate.
"I think what we've seen ... Is working families concluding that Howard has lost touch with their circumstances and, therefore, the Liberal Party panicking about that reality and as a consequence, saying 'what else can we do', and the poll-driven political advice to Howard is ... Attack the states," the Labour leader told the Nine Network's Today show yesterday.
Satisfaction with the way Rudd is doing his job as Opposition Leader was unchanged on a near-record level of 62 per cent while dissatisfaction fell three points to 19 per cent, his best satisfaction rating since the week after the budget when he endorsed the Government's tax cuts.
On the question of preferred prime minister, Rudd edged up one per cent after support for Howard fell from 40 to 39 per cent and Rudd's rose to 44 per cent.
On the overall issue of national security, one of the key Coalition advantages over the ALP, support for the government has fallen since mid-July from 50 to 45 per cent.
During the same time, Labour's support has risen three points to 33 per cent, a recovery from the overwhelming support the Coalition had in July.
On the question of the cancellation of Haneef's visa, the strongest support for Andrews's action was among Coalition supporters (70 per cent), older voters (53 per cent) and men (50 per cent).