Melbourne: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has emerged as the most unpopular leader since former Prime Minister Paul Keating, according to a new poll.

Voter satisfaction with Gillard who sunk below opposition leader Tony Abbott as preferred Prime Minister for the first time dipped to a record low, the latest Newspoll said.

She has suggested her plummeting approval rating with voters may not have bottomed out as she battles to convince the electorate about the benefits of a carbon tax.

Dissatisfaction with Gillard has leapt to a high of 62 per cent, up seven points in the past two weeks.

Based on second-preference flows at the August 2010 election, the coalition has maintained its clear election-winning lead over Labor of 55 per cent to 45 per cent.

Despite the poll slump, Gillard said she is determined to push on with her government's agenda, including a carbon tax.

"This is a tough reform and it may get even tougher, before it gets easier," she said.

When asked about voter preference for Kevin Rudd, the man she toppled to become Prime Minister a year ago, Gillard said, "My eyes are firmly trained on the future and what is right for this country."

An Essential poll showed that Rudd would do better than Gillard against the coalition - lifting Labor's two-party-preferred vote from 45 per cent to an election-winning 53 per cent.

Gillard insists that once carbon pricing is in place, people will see how the system works and its benefits.

"We're a long way from that, that's why I think we're in a tough period now and there may be some further tough periods ahead," she said.

"But ultimately I believe Australians will see the need to price carbon."

Treasurer Wayne Swan said governments always struggle in the opinion polls when they introduce important changes.

"It's never been any different in Australia when governments put in place very significant reforms," he said.

Swan said the government was "losing some paint" during the carbon tax debate partly because it was up against an ocean of negativity and vested interests "all having a go".

"So what we've got to do is stay the course and put in place the big reforms that do the right thing by the country."


(Agencies)