Treasurer Wayne Swan has labelled Tony Abbott a ''thug'' and a policy ''weakling'' as the Opposition Leader recorded the second highest disapproval rating for an opposition leader in 40 years.
In the last Fairfax/ Nielsen poll of the year, Mr Abbott's disapproval rating has risen three points to 63 per cent - the second highest for an opposition leader in the poll's 40-year history - while nearly two-thirds of those aware of the issue were critical of how he handled the AWU slush fund affair.
''We've got an opposition leader who is a policy weakling and of course a thug when it comes to personal attacks,'' Mr Swan told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
The Nielsen poll comes in the wake of the Coalition's sustained attack on Prime Minister Julia Gillard over her involvement in the AWU affair.
''[Mr Abbott's] handling of the AWU matter has not helped his position and may be part of the reason his approval has further declined,'' said Nielsen director John Stirton.
The last Fairfax/Nielsen poll also found that the Coalition would still easily win a federal election. The poll shows Labor holding, but not building on, its end-of-year political recovery - trailing the Coalition 52 per cent to 48 in two party-preferred terms.
Tony Abbott Photo: John Woudstra
But Mr Swan said that he was ''very confident'' Labor could win the next federal election.
''We've got a prime minister who's tough as teeth,'' he said.
Environment Minister Tony Burke said he shared Mr Swan's confidence about Labor's electoral chances.
''As long as we are doing the job that people elect us to do and we're delivering in that way, we have a job interview next year, I'm relatively confident at how we will go,'' Mr Burke told ABC TV.
Coalition frontbencher and former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull said that Mr Abbott had the support of Coalition MPs.
"There is no dissent in the party room and Tony has the complete support of the Coalition party room," he told the National Times on Monday.
Liberal MP Simon Birmingham dismissed Monday's poll result for Mr Abbott, telling Sky News that the Coalition had recorded a clear lead in the vast majority of the major polls taken since the 2010 election.
''I'd much rather be in our position than the government's position,'' he said.
The highest disapproval rating recorded in Nielsen polling was 72 per cent by Andrew Peacock in October 1984 against Bob Hawke, whose approval rating was about 75 per cent. Ms Gillard's approval rating is 46 per cent.
Last week, the last Newspoll of the year, saw Labor's primary vote fall to its lowest level in six months. In the poll, published last Tuesday, Labor's primary vote sat at 32 per cent, down from 36 per cent two weeks ago. The Coalition's primary vote was up from 43 per cent to 46 per cent. The Greens were steady at 11 per cent. Two-party-preferred, the Coalition trumped Labor, 46 per cent to 54 per cent.
With Lenore Taylor, Michelle Grattan