Australian PM Tony Abbott plays down slump in polls after budget

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 3:45am

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott shrugged off opinion polls yesterday that show his government's popularity had plummeted since the release of its tough first budget.

Two separate polls taken since Abbott's government last week released a cost-cutting blueprint for the next fiscal year show the ruling conservative coalition's popularity now trailing the centre-left Labor Party opposition by a double-digit margin.

The government plans to raise taxes, reduce welfare and shed public service jobs to reduce a deficit set to reach A$49.9 billion (HK$523 billion) in the current fiscal year ending June 30.

The government also plans to strip A$80 billion from hospitals and schools over a decade, shifting the costs to the states and raising the prospect of an increase in Australia's 10 per cent consumption tax.

"There are some very tough decisions in this budget, but we're not doing them to make ourselves popular; we're doing them to get our country back on track," Abbott (pictured) said. "Every government that brings in a tough budget suffers a hit in the polls."

The Newspoll and Nielsen surveys are likely to harden opposition to some of the budget measures by Labor and minor parties who have the power to block them in the Senate.

Critics say many of the cuts directly contradict pledges made by Abbott and his party ahead of their election last year.

The Newspoll found Abbott's government, which came to power in a landslide victory in September, was now trailing the opposition 45 per cent to 55 per cent on the question of who respondents would vote for at the next election. Nielsen put the gap wider at 44 per cent to 56 per cent.

Newspoll found 48 per cent of respondents believe the budget was bad for Australia. Nielsen found 74 per cent thought they would be worse off and 63 per cent branded the budget unfair.

Nielsen pollster John Stirton said the result was the first budget response in which a majority condemned a budget as unfair.

"That's the thing the government is really going to struggle with because ... people will say they had a mandate to fix the budget, but … maybe he [Abbott] didn't have a mandate to do it unfairly," Stirton said.