Australian prime minister shrugs off poor polls

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Prime Minister Tony Abbott shrugged off opinion polls on Monday 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 center-left Labor Party opposition.

The government plans to raise taxes, reduce welfare and shed public service jobs to reduce a deficit forecast to reach 49.9 billion Australian dollars ($46.7 billion) in the current fiscal year ending June 30.

The government also plans to strip AU$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 percent 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 told reporters. "Every government that brings in a tough budget suffers a hit in the polls."

The results of the respected 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.

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

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

Both polls were based on random nationwide telephone surveys over the weekend. Newspoll surveyed 1,216 voters and Nielsen, 1,400 voters. Both polls had a margin of error less than 3 percent.

The budget is the toughest since former conservative Prime Minister John Howard's first budget in 1996.

Nielsen pollster John Stirton said the result was the first budget response in which a majority of respondents 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 they're also saying maybe he (Abbott) didn't have a mandate to do it unfairly," Stirton told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.