Turnbull Gets Poll Boost After Vow to Improve Energy Security

  • Australian leader’s coalition cuts Labor’s lead in Newspoll
  • Plan to boost Snowy Hydro capacity welcomed by industry groups

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government has narrowed the gap with the Labor opposition in an opinion poll after moving to bolster energy security amid shortfalls in Australia’s electricity grid.

The Liberal-National coalition now trails Labor by four percentage points -- 48 percent to 52 percent -- compared with a 10-point deficit last month, according to a Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper on Monday.

Read More: Why resource-rich Australia is grappling with an energy crisis

The fillip to Turnbull comes after he announced plans last week to boost capacity at Australia’s largest hydro-electric power project by 50 percent as he attempts to counter surging electricity prices and supply constraints. The poll bounce is a relief for the prime minister, who’s seen support for his government wither amid the nation’s mixed economic performance and questions over his capacity to push the government’s legislative agenda through a hostile Senate.

Turnbull extracted a pledge from companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp. last week to increase gas production amid concerns that blackouts that have plagued South Australia may impact other states due to pressures on the national energy grid. His promised A$2 billion ($1.5 billion) expansion of the Snowy Hydro -- seen as an iconic nation-building project on its completion in 1974 -- has been welcomed by industry groups.

Turnbull pulled further ahead of Labor leader Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister, 43 percent to 29 percent -- double the lead he held last month. The survey of 1,819 voters, conducted March 16-19, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

Australian unemployment unexpectedly climbed to a 13-month high of 5.9 percent in February as the economy shed jobs, indicating spare capacity remains a problem in the labor market and wages and inflation are likely to remain subdued. The central bank has kept interest rates at a record low as overheating risks from Sydney’s soaring property prices outweigh concerns about subdued inflation.

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