SYDNEY (AFP) - The dramatic return of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has delivered his flagging Labor party a six percentage point bounce, according to polls Saturday that also showed him as preferred leader over Tony Abbott.
Mr Rudd, popularly elected to top office in a landslide 2007 election win, seized back the prime ministership on Wednesday in a snap party-room ballot which dislodged Julia Gillard, his former deputy.
Ms Gillard deposed Mr Rudd in a ruthless coup shortly before the 2010 elections after the party lost faith in his ability to win Labor a second term.
It was a fate revisited upon her this week, with a nervous Labor again switching leaders in a bid to boost its hopes ahead of September 14's national elections.
Early signs are that it may pay off, with a survey of 3,018 voters conducted by polling firm ReachTEL for the Seven network rating Labor a competitive 48 per cent to 52 per cent chance against the opposition, six percentage points ahead of Ms Gillard's 42 per cent in May.
Though his party still lags the Liberal-National opposition, Mr Rudd outpolled Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister 51.6 per cent to 48.4 per cent, compared with Ms Gillard's 40.6 per cent.
Those surveyed were divided on whether Labor had done the right thing by axing Ms Gillard - 44.1 per cent agreed, 42.4 per cent disagreed and 13.5 per cent were undecided. A majority, 56.9 per cent, said they still didn't think Labor could win with Mr Rudd in charge.
Separate ReachTEL surveys in four key electorates in Sydney and Melbourne, published Saturday in Fairfax newspapers, gave Labor a 10 percentage point boost from Mr Rudd's return. There were 650 voters polled in each seat.
"We now have a contest," said Fairfax journalist Tim Colebatch.
"It is a contest the (opposition) coalition is still likely to win. But now it will have to work for it."
The reinstalled prime minister hit the hustings Saturday, touring the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with Labor's candidate to meet voters.
He also confirmed that he would travel to Indonesia next week for annual talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in which Gillard had been scheduled to participate.
Seeking to highlight his strengths Mr Rudd, formerly foreign minister, put foreign policy at the centre of his election agenda in his first press conference Friday, highlighting relations with Beijing and Jakarta.
He accused Mr Abbott of risking conflict with Indonesia with his plan to tow back asylum-seeker boats originating in the Southeast Asian nation, a course that has not been welcomed by Mr Yudhoyono's government.