Abbott Sees Popularity Decline as Australian Budget Cuts Loom

Support for Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s coalition dropped to the lowest level in four years as the government prepares to raise the pension age and cut welfare benefits to curb Australia’s deficit in next week’s budget.

The Liberal-National coalition is trailing on 47 percent to Labor’s 53 percent on a two-party preferred basis, according to a Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper today. Voter satisfaction with Abbott fell five points from the previous poll to 35 percent, the lowest level since he won office in September.

Abbott, who pledged not to increase taxes in the election campaign, is reportedly considering a temporary levy as the government seeks to create a surplus of 1 percent of gross domestic product within a decade. Treasurer Joe Hockey announced last week the retirement age will rise to 70 from 65 by 2035, as he tackles a A$123 billion ($114 billion) projected shortfall for the four years through June 2017 in the May 13 budget.

“The government has backed itself into a tight political corner,” said Nick Economou, a political analyst at Monash University in Melbourne. “Abbott made the mistake of promising too much. The voters are more concerned about higher taxes or their benefits taken away than they are about a deficit.”

A government-commissioned report released May 1 recommended cuts to family benefits, making people pay more to visit public doctors and the privatization of rail and postal assets.

Older Voters

The survey showed a significant drop in support for the coalition among older voters, the Australian reported, citing Newspoll Chief Executive Officer Martin O’Shannessy.

The government is considering a deficit-reduction levy that would temporarily increase the top tax rate, the Australian reported. The coalition blames the previous Labor government for creating a “budget emergency” that would see Australia’s net debt peak at 16.2 percent of gross domestic product by mid-2019 without policy changes.

“You’ve just got to make hard decisions at a time like this,” Abbott, 56, said in a television interview yesterday. “Otherwise our country is doomed to years of economic stagnation. In the long run, the voters will thank us for doing what is absolutely necessary if Labor’s debt and deficit disaster is to be tackled.”

Today’s Newspoll, conducted May 2-4 among 1,143 voters and with a margin of error of 3 percentage points, shows the coalition’s primary support at 38 percent, its lowest since March 2010. Abbott leads Labor leader Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister, 40 percent to 38 percent. The two-party preferred measure is designed to gauge which party is likely to form a government at the next election, due to be called by 2016.

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