The Coalition and opposition are tied on 50-50% in the latest Newspoll despite Malcolm Turnbull having an overwhelming 57-19% lead as preferred prime minister.
The government has slipped a point in the two-party vote since the previous poll three weeks ago. The change of leader had taken it into a 51-49% lead after being behind for 30 consecutive polls under Tony Abbott.
The results comes as parliament resumes after a three-week break, when much focus will be on whether the ructions of the leadership change have settled.
Turnbull on Sunday dismissed jeering during his speech to the New South Wales Liberal Council on Saturday in response to his claim that the Liberal partyroom in Canberra was not run by factions.
“It’s good to get some constructive feedback – I think it’s very important for all of us,” he said on Sunday. He said there were factions in all parties but the point he had been making was that the parliamentary Liberal Party itself was a much more independent group of individuals. Abbott was at the council meeting.
On Sunday Turnbull reversed Abbott’s refusal to fund the second stage of a light rail project on Queensland’s Gold Coast, reiterating his view that public transport is as deserving of support as roads.
The poll, in Monday’s Australian, and coming a day before Shorten’s second anniversary as opposition leader, has Turnbull on a net satisfaction of plus 25 while Shorten is on minus 25.
More than six in ten voters (62%) believed the Liberals did the right thing in replacing Abbott with Turnbull – 27% disagreed. Among Coalition voters, 56% backed the switch, compared with 36% who opposed.
The Coalition’s primary vote was down a point to 43% in three weeks; Labor was steady on 35%, while the Greens were up a point to 12%.
Turnbull’s satisfaction rating was 50%, up from 42% and a four-year high for a prime minister; his dissatisfaction was 25%, up a point. His net satisfaction rating went from plus 18 to plus 25. Shorten has a dissatisfaction rating of 53% (down a point) and a satisfaction rating of 28% (down a point). This left his net rating unchanged at minus 25. The poll was of 1631 voters.
Turnbull gained two points as better prime minister while Shorten lost two points, taking him to his lowest level. Turnbull increased his previous 34-point lead as better prime minister to 38 points.
The federal government has announced A$95 million for the Gold Coast light rail project, soon after Abbott, who did not want the Commonwealth funding public transport, wrote to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to say that the only way it would be funded was under the assets recycling program which Queensland has not joined.
Turnbull and Palaszczuk held a joint news conference on Sunday. The funding did not have to go to Infrastructure Australia because it is less than $100 million – this speeds up the process.
Palaszczuk said “it is refreshing to have a prime minister that is prepared to commit to public transport”.
Abbott used to describe himself as an infrastructure prime minister. Turnbull told Sunday’s news conference: “I will be an infrastructure prime minister, an infrastructure prime minister that supports all infrastructure on the basis of its merits. So, we will support public transport where that’s the best outcome, the best value for money, the best outcome in terms of the Commonwealth’s investment and the same goes with roads, as well.
"There is no reason to discriminate between one mode of transport or another. You need everything.”
Turnbull said that federal governments over the years had been reluctant to invest in public transport infrastructure.
“There is a range of reasons for that, but they are essentially historical. The reality is that you should assess the merit of infrastructure on its merits and not favour one road over rail or rail over road,” he said.
“As cities become more densely settled, public transport infrastructure is of greater and greater importance. So, if you can’t have a roads-only solution, you can’t obviously have a rail-only solution either. So I think it’s just a question of taking a pragmatic, business-like, practical approach to it, no ideology involved. This is just business-like.”
Abbott will take his place for the first time on the backbench. Deposed at the start of the last sitting week, he did not appear in the House of Representatives for the subsequent days of that week.
Eyes will be on the attitudes of disgruntled former ministers from the right who were dropped by Turnbull. The Nationals will also be watching closely for any signs of Turnbull straying from the policy commitments he gave them.
Former treasurer Joe Hockey will announce his resignation from parliament this parliamentary fortnight. He is to become ambassador to the United States.
This week Labor will put forward “complementary safeguards” on labour market arrangements in relation to the China-Australia free trade agreement.