Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s bounce in popularity after handing tax breaks to small businesses has proved short-lived with his conservative government again trailing the opposition Labor Party in opinion polls.
The Liberal-National coalition, which drew level with Labor after last month’s federal budget, is now six percentage points behind on a two-party preferred basis on 47 percent, according to a Fairfax-Ipsos poll published Monday.
Abbott has sought to shore up his leadership after surviving a February challenge from his own party lawmakers, promoting his small business package, a A$4.4 billion ($3.4 billion) boost for families and plans to introduce tougher anti-terrorism laws. The policies haven’t gained lasting traction with the electorate amid lingering voter concern about housing affordability, an economic slowdown and the government’s lack of support for gay marriage.
“The last couple of weeks have seen the gloss of the budget fall away and the government is back to a position where it’s struggling to get its message out,” said Zareh Ghazarian, a Melbourne-based professor at Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry. “There’s policy spot fires breaking out and there’s still a lot of concern about the state of the economy.”
Signs of a weakening economic outlook include stagnant wages, slowing growth and falling commodity prices. Consumer sentiment slumped in June, indicating the budget and the central bank’s interest-rate cut last month provided only a temporary confidence boost.
Out of Touch
Record low interest rates have contributed to a surge in home prices, with Sydney’s housing market rising 15 percent in May from a year earlier. Treasurer Joe Hockey triggered headlines that he was out of touch after he told reporters last week homes were affordable because people were buying them and that the starting point to getting on the property ladder was securing a “good job.”
Sixty-nine percent of respondents said in today’s poll that property was unaffordable for first-home buyers in capital cities. The poll also showed 68 percent of voters support same-sex marriage, even as Abbott refuses to support legislation introduced this month aimed at legalizing it.
Abbott’s own ratings fell, with opposition leader Bill Shorten overtaking him as preferred prime minister on 42 percent to 41 percent. The poll, which surveyed 1,401 voters between June 11-13, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
A more immediate concern for Abbott is the prospect of renewed tensions with northern neighbor Indonesia after reports that Australian border patrol officials paid people smugglers to turn back a boat carrying asylum seekers.
Indonesia’s foreign minister has asked Abbott’s government for an explanation following the Australian Broadcasting Corp. report, which Abbott has declined to confirm or deny.