Abbott’s Coalition Trails Labor Amid Indonesia Spat, Poll Shows

Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National government’s poll ratings slipped behind the opposition as a diplomatic row with Indonesia threatens efforts to curb the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat.

The coalition trails Labor 52 percent to 48 percent on a two-party preferred measure, according to the first Fairfax Nielsen poll since the Sept. 7 election. It’s the quickest lead achieved by any opposition after losing an election, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, which published the poll.

Abbott may struggle to meet an election pledge to stem the flow of asylum seekers into his nation after claims Australia spied on Indonesia prompted the government there to halt cooperation on tackling people smugglers. The poll showed 50 percent of respondents disapprove of the coalition’s handling of asylum seeker policy, with 42 percent approving.

Voters “don’t like seeing signs of a deteriorating relationship with Indonesia,” said Haydon Manning, a politics professor at Flinders University in Adelaide. “They want to see a marked improvement in the performance of their government and Abbott’s team may have been a little slow in doing that.”

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s mobile phone activity was tracked for 15 days in August 2009, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said on its website Nov. 18, citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former U.S. intelligence contractor who is wanted in the U.S. for releasing secret information. Abbott has written to Yudhoyono in a bid to repair relations, while his Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has delayed a scheduled visit to the country.

Carbon Tax

Abbott, 56, leads Labor leader Bill Shorten, 46, as preferred prime minister, 49 percent to 41 percent, according to the poll of 1,400 voters, conducted Nov. 21-23 and with a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points.

While the coalition is seeking to repeal Labor’s carbon-pricing mechanism and mining tax this year, it may have to wait until the new Senate sits from July 1, with Labor and the Greens having the numbers in the upper house to block the changes until then.

The poll showed 57 percent of voters agreed that Labor should vote to abolish the carbon tax, with 38 percent against. A breakdown of their preferred climate change policy showed 24 percent wanted an emissions trading program, 16 percent a carbon tax, 12 percent the government’s so-called direct action plan and 29 percent some other policy.

The two-party preferred measure is designed to gauge which party is likely to form a government at the next election, due in 2016.

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