Shorten's poll boost
Bill Shorten opens a lead as preferred Prime Minister as the government is hammered in the opinion polls. Nielsen's John Stirton puts the poll in context.PT8M55S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-38ivp 620 349 May 19, 2014
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The harshest and most unpopular federal budget in nearly two decades has slashed support for Tony Abbott's Coalition government before it has even reached its first anniversary, plunging it into a potential poll trough from which it might never recover.
Australians have passed a severe judgment on the Abbott-Joe Hockey formula, branding it unfair, bad for the country and based on broken promises.
Harsh verdict: Mr Abbott has suffered an unprecedented collapse in personal standing. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The findings suggest the government has made a potentially catastrophic error in gambling that voters would overlook harsh treatment of welfare recipients and lower-paid families if it led to a balanced budget - even if it meant breaking promises.
That decision has instead trashed Mr Abbott's standing and relationship of trust with voters and energised opponents across the political divide, and potentially within his own party.
The harsh verdict has propelled the ALP to a massive 12 percentage point lead at 56/44 (based on preference flows at the last election), according to the monthly Fairfax-Nielsen nationwide phone poll taken from Thursday to Saturday last week.
Two-party vote: Coalition is down 4 per cent. Photo: Fairfax Graphics
It has also catapulted Labor leader Bill Shorten to an 11-point advantage as preferred prime minister, 51 per cent to 40 - his first lead of any kind over Mr Abbott.
The Prime Minister by contrast has suffered an unprecedented collapse in personal standing after delivering a budget featuring broken promises on taxes, health, education and welfare, with his approval rating dropping by 21 points.
His net approval rating - those who approve of his performance minus those who do not - now sits at minus-28 compared to Mr Shorten who has surged into positive territory on plus 8 per cent.
Key findings: Comparing budgets. Photo: Fairfax Graphics
"Mr Abbott trails the Opposition Leader as preferred prime minister after just eight months in office, faster than any of his predecessors with the exception of Paul Keating, who started out behind," said Nielsen pollster John Stirton.
Labor moved on Sunday to capitalise on the resentment by airing prime-time television advertisements branding Mr Abbott a liar who was hurting those who could least afford it.
There was also a war council of premiers in Sydney, incensed by the budget's projected withdrawal of $80 billion over the decade for health and education, and by a series of "bust the budget" rallies around the country. At one, Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt revealed his party would try to force a new election, arguing Mr Abbott has breached his mandate.
Mr Abbott said on Sunday that he had let voters know what was coming before the election.
''You might remember the mantra - it was stop the boats, repeal the carbon tax, build the roads of the 21st century, and get the budget back under control,'' he told the ABC's Insiders program.
''So people, I think, were on notice that we were going to do what was necessary to ensure that we were not being a burden on our children and grandchildren.''
Concerns over broken promises and a lack of fairness have been vindicated by an independent analysis of the impact of budget decisions by the Australian National University. It found high-income earners can largely escape the so-called "heavy lifting" of fiscal repair, with some well-paid couples worse off by just 0.9 per cent compared to a single parent on payments with a child aged six, who could lose more than 10 per cent of their income.
Voters agree, with nearly two thirds calling it unfair - 63 per cent, compared to 33 per cent who marked it ''fair''.
More tellingly, 53 per cent said it would not be good for Australia - the first time in the history of the poll that the budget is regarded as actually bad for the country.
The poll result threatens to elevate internal Coalition tensions from anger to outright panic after some MPs spoke out and many more warned privately in recent weeks that destroying voter trust would haunt the Abbott government.
Despite being hounded from office less than a year ago after two terms of bickering and policy chaos, Labor's support from voters has rebounded as a result of the Coalition slump. Voters are no longer just parking their votes with third parties but are shifting all the way.
At 14 per cent, the Greens vote remains well above its 2013 election outcome of 9 per cent but is down on the 17 per cent recorded last month in the same poll series.
A 9.5 per cent swing to Labor would have seen the Abbott government bundled out with Labor recording its highest support since August 2010 when Julia Gillard was at her most popular, and the Coalition recording its lowest vote since the final months of the Howard government in March 2007.
Labor's primary support now sits at 40 - up 6 points - while the Coalition languishes at just 35 - down a statistically significant 5 points.
Mr Abbott's personal descent suggests voters feel aggrieved by the decisions to impose new and increased taxes, while also freezing indexation of a range of pensions and benefits, increasing the retirement age and bringing in new charges for GP visits.
Mr Abbott's negative rating of minus 28 per cent rivals his lowest ever - the minus-29 reading he recorded in December 2012. It is also as bad as any recorded by Ms Gillard at her weakest point.
The only plus for the government is that half of all respondents (49 per cent) said it was economically responsible, even though they had concerns about its fairness.
Asked if the budget would make them better or worse off, three out of four, or 74 per cent, said it would make them worse off and just 8 per cent said it would help them.
In another surprisingly weak result for the government, nearly six out of 10 voters, or 56 per cent, said they were opposed to scrapping the mining tax and nearly half, or 46 per cent, were opposed to dumping the carbon tax.
Half of all respondents also backed the deficit levy on high-income earners, suggesting voters want the rich to contribute but will still blame the government for breaking its word on tax.
In another tax finding, it is clear that opposition to lifting and or broadening the GST has weakened markedly in the last 18 months, dropping from 86 per cent opposition in December 2012 to 66 per cent now.