Enjoying voter support: Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Steven Siewert
Voters have indicated they would support Tony Abbott in making crucial changes to Medicare to rein in burgeoning costs and pare back its free universal health care provision to only the most needy.
The latest Fairfax Nielsen poll has revealed a higher proportion of voters than previously thought would back the idea of mutual financial obligation for GP visits and more than half would even accept the introduction of a means test for access to bulk billing.
Half of voters said the government should try to curb the cost of the Medicare system.
Opinion polls: Coalition maintains a narrow lead. Photo: Fairfax Graphics
The poll shows the Coalition government has maintained a narrow lead over the Labor opposition despite a spate of high-profile job losses in the past month, talk of a Medicare co-payment, a tough budget approaching, and, the decision to deny a credit guarantee to Qantas.
The outcome is likely to further steel the government's resolve to pursue policies previously believed to be unpopular yet necessary to help rebalance the budget.
Among those are potentially fundamental changes to Medicare - a system previously regarded as politically untouchable.
Voters appear to have taken in their stride reports of changes to the pension age and to Medicare, including government speculation of a $6 co-payment for GP visits. In a surprise outcome, 52 per cent of voters would support means testing to limit bulk billing only to those who need it.
Forty-nine per cent back the co-payment initiative, and 5 out of 10 voters agree the government should take action to curb the cost of Medicare.
Federal spending on healthcare cost more than $62 billion in 2011-12.
The Fairfax Nielsen poll - taken over the same weekend in which voters in Tasmania and South Australia voted in state elections - has revealed that 51 per cent of those polled support the Abbott government compared with 49 per cent opting for Labor.
Underpinning that result was a strong Coalition lead on primary voting intention at 44-35 although that was a two-point improvement on Labor's 33 per cent last month.
Fairfax-Nielsen pollster John Stirton said the poll showed the government might struggle were an election held now.
However, the two state elections confirmed voters have turned to the conservative side of politics in sufficient numbers to end the 16-year reign of Labor in Tasmania.
A bungled marginal seat campaign by the state Liberals in South Australia looks to have failed to unseat the 12-year old Labor government there despite the Liberals winning about 53 per cent of the two-party vote.
With a margin of error plus or minus of 2.6 per cent, the 52-48 result in favour of the government in the Fairfax Nielsen poll represents a statistically insignificant change from last month's survey.
The March 13-15 poll of 977 voters suggested voters nationally may have now accepted Mr Abbott's oft-stated line that the country is indeed under new management, after a period of post-election volatility in which the Coalition was denied the usual voter honeymoon.
Mr Abbott also enjoys a solid five-point lead as preferred prime minister at 48 per cent (down one) to Bill Shorten on 43.
However Mr Shorten can take comfort from the fact his rating is up 4 points.
Mr Shorten's approval rating as Opposition Leader remained at a net figure of zero with 42 per cent approving and 42 per cent disapproving of his performance.
Mr Abbott returned a net rating of minus four with 45 per cent approving of his performance but 49 per cent disapproving.