SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia's conservative government is on course for a heavy defeat at the coming election, a widely watched opinion poll showed on Monday (Feb 25), as Prime Minister Scott Morrison fails to woo voters with an aggressive national security pitch.
A Newspoll poll for The Australian newspaper showed that the opposition Labor Party retained a lead of 53 per cent to 47 per cent over the Liberal-National government led by Mr Morrison, unchanged from the previous poll earlier this month.
The poll findings come despite Mr Morrison's attempt to cast the election, due by May, as a referendum on immigration - a hot-button topic in several previous elections.
Labor and independents in February combined to amend the country's hard-line immigration laws against the wishes of the government.
Under the changes, doctors are now able to evacuate asylum seekers held on Australia's remote Pacific detention centres if refugees are deemed as needing medical treatment they are unable to get on either Papua New Guinea or Nauru.
Mr Morrison dismissed the findings that indicate his government is poised for an inevitable defeat.
"What we are saying on the economy and national security is resonating," Mr Morrison told Sky News. "The election is in May, we are behind at half-time only."
The poll of 1,582 people was conducted from last Thursday to Sunday and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
TAX CUTS, CLIMATE CHANGE
With Mr Morrison's security pitch seemingly failing to resonate with voters, his government is expected in April to promise tax cuts and sweeteners in the final budget ahead of the election.
Armed with a pre-election war chest, Mr Morrison said on Monday his government will spend A$2 billion (S$1.93 billion) to reduce greenhouse emissions.
The government has fractured badly in recent years over how to reconcile its support for the country’s coal industry, a major exporter and power generator, while meeting commitments to lower emissions by 26 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Mr Morrison’s perceived muted response to the issue was widely seen as a key factor in his government losing a critical by-election late last year, leaving the prime minister presiding over a minority government.
Australia’s absence of a stable carbon policy over the past decade has resulted in under investment in energy generation, which has led to soaring power prices and hurt energy-intensive manufacturers such as aluminium, steel and packaging makers.
“We will continue to play our part in meeting the global challenge of climate change in the 21st century and we can hold our heads high,” said Mr Morrison in rejecting claims Australia was not doing enough to tackle climate change.