News & Current Affairs
13 April 2015
Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey lead Coalition poll dive
Budget woes leave Abbott vulnerable: Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey.
The question of the Liberal leadership could be revisited in months as support for Tony Abbott's government drifts south again, with Australians signalling they are not convinced by the sudden switch to "fairness" and the promise of a routine second budget.
With that budget just 4 weeks away and attention in national politics focused squarely on the economic sphere, Mr Abbott's woes appear linked to the sinking popularity of his Treasurer Joe Hockey, who as architect of the first politically toxic blueprint, has suffered a massive 45 per cent reversal in his approval rating over the last 13 months from plus 20 per cent in March 2014 to minus 25 now.
The morale blow for the government comes as the Fairfax-Ipsos poll for April, found 6 out of 10 voters (58 per cent) say they still want the budget deficit addressed as a "high priority" and a growing number favour an increase in the 10 per cent goods and services tax to help balance the books.
And while half of those polled said they wanted superannuation tax rules left alone, 43 per cent now back changes that could see the generous concessional taxation rate of 15 per cent on superannuation contributions for middle and higher income earners doubled.
More than a third of respondents, at 37 per cent, say they support an increase to the rate of the GST - up 7 percentage points in a year despite neither party proposing it.
The result is a repudiation of Mr Abbott's barnacle-scraping efforts to rid the government of tough policies seen as "unfair" and his rhetorical switch from fiscal hardliner to a softly-softly approach to budget repair. Voters appear to have taken a second look since the Prime Minister narrowly saw off a spill motion in February, and decided they still do not like what they see.
Bill Shorten's Labor opposition has opened up an eight-point buffer on two-party-preferred voting intention of 54 per cent to the Coalition on 46 per cent - a three-point deterioration for the government since last month's survey, which suggested Mr Abbott's government was making a comeback and was almost level-pegging with Labor at 49-51.
The eight-point gap in the nationwide telephone poll of 1404 people taken between April 9-11, is based on preference allocations from the last federal election. However, it widens further to 10 points (55/45) when respondents were asked where they would direct their second preference if an election were held now.
The government's primary vote - where voters would place their first preference - has again fallen below 40 to be on 39 per cent with Labor on 38. That's a two-point gain for Labor and three-point drop for the Coalition in the poll, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.6 per cent. The Coalition's primary vote had been at 44 per cent in March of 2014 and was an extremely healthy 46 per cent at the last election.
Based on its share of the vote at the election in 2013 of 46.5 per cent, Labor's current rating of 54 per cent (two-party preferred) represents a swing of 7.5 per cent which, if carried through to the election, and applied uniformly, would see an electoral wipe-out of the government, with as many as 36 seats falling.
Mr Abbott's approval rating has improved marginally to be minus-26 per cent but it has come off a very low base having been minus-28 in March. The figure comes from the percentage approving of his performance (34 per cent), minus those who disapprove (60 per cent).
Despite his party's rise, Mr Shorten's net approval rating has dropped fractionally to be minus 2 per cent - it had been at zero last month (43/43).
On the head-to-head comparison of which leader is the preferred prime minister, Mr Shorten leads Mr Abbott comfortably at 46 per cent (up 2 since March) to 38 per cent (down 1 since March).
The government's downturn also follows a series of announcements on national security, the release of the long-awaited Inter-generational Report into the budget over the next four decades, and the commencement of a new white paper process on tax reform.
Yet for all Mr Hockey's unpopularity and the apparent negative impact on Mr Abbott's standing, voters still say the Coalition is the better economic manager at 41 per cent to Labor's 32 and the Greens' share of just 3 per cent.
Even among Coalition voters, Mr Hockey is given a fail mark by a third of respondents at 32 per cent although 60 per cent approve of his performance.
Pollster Jessica Elgood noted that more than half of Greens supporters believe returning the budget to surplus is a low priority and 39 per cent rate it as a high priority but Labor voters are more evenly split at 47/46.
However, Coalition voters are more bullish on fiscal repair with 8 out of 10 (78 per cent) rating the priority as high.
At approval ratings of minus 26 and minus 25 respectively, Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey are equally unpopular, reinforcing a view within the Liberal party-room that a change in leadership would be a 2-for-1 deal resulting in Mr Hockey's removal as well. Proponents of that move say that would clear the way for a new economic narrative and a new advocate in the crucial treasury post, most likely, the current social Services Minister, Scott Morrison.