Voters unforgiving of Hockey but give government the edge on economics

Treasurer Joe Hockey has faced a blow in the latest opinion poll. AAP/Lukas Coch

With the May 12 budget potentially crucial for Tony Abbott’s future, a Fairfax/Ipsos poll shows the government will go into its testing selling task with Treasurer Joe Hockey at rock bottom popularity.

In a dramatic turnaround from a year ago, only 33% now approve of Hockey’s performance. while 58% disapprove. In March 2014, 55% approved and 35% disapproved.

According to the Ipsos poll, the government has fallen further behind Labor in the two-party vote since February and opposition leader Bill Shorten has widened his lead as preferred prime minister. Labor leads 54 (up 3 points) to the Coalition’s 46% (down 3 points).

Shorten leads as preferred PM 46% (up 2 points) to Abbott’s 38% (down a point) in the national poll of 1404 taken Thursday to Saturday. The Coalition’s primary vote has fallen 3 points since February to 39% while Labor is up 2 points to 38%. The Greens have improved a point, to 13%.

But in Newspoll, out in Monday’s Australian, Labor’s narrow two-party lead of 51-49% is unchanged from three weeks ago. The Coalition’s primary vote is steady on 41%, while Labor fell a point to 36%.

In both polls, but especially Newspoll, Shorten has gone backwards in personal approval. His Newspoll satisfaction rating has fallen 3 points to a 12 month low of 33%; his dissatisfaction is up 4 points to a record 51%. In Ipsos Shorten’s approval is 42% (down a point); his disapproval has risen a point to 44%.

Abbott’s approval improved in both polls. Newspoll has his satisfaction up 4 points to 33%, his best since Christmas, while his dissatisfaction rating fell 2 points to 59%. Ipsos has his approval at 34% (up two), and his disapproval at 60% (down two points).

In Newspoll, Abbott trails Shorten as better prime minister by a whisker, 40% (up 4 points) to 41% (unchanged).

The Ipsos poll finds 41% see the Coalition as having the best policies for managing the economy, compared with 32% who nominate Labor.

As Abbott and Hockey recently have had to embrace a more pragmatic approach in the quest for a surplus, the surplus’s importance seems to have risen rather than diminished in voters’ minds: 58% say returning to surplus should be a high priority – a 4 point rise since March last year – while 34% believe it should be a low priority (a 8 point fall).

With debate about the future of the tax system, including its generous concessions, in full swing, most people are against a rise in the GST, but there has been some shift in opinion: 59% oppose a GST increase (a 7 point fall since May 2014); 37% favour increasing the GST (7 points up). Fifty per cent oppose reducing superannuation tax concessions; 43% support this.

Hockey’s performance is still approved by a majority of Coalition voters (61%) but he has lost ground among them since before last year’s unpopular budget. In March 2014 his net approval rating among Coalition voters was plus 76; now it is plus 29.

The latest polling comes amid a fierce argument about the carve up of the GST revenue, after the Grants Commission recommended a cut in Western Australia’s share. Finance minister Mathias Cormann, from WA, on Sunday bought into the row, urging a freeze in the relativities between the states.

WA is complaining about the recommended cut in its share because its revenue is also being hit by a big fall in iron ore prices.

Cormann told Sky that the Grants Commission was not to blame because it was operating with the system as it was set up. “But I don’t think that the system ever envisaged such massive – and they are massive – swings in revenue, in relation to one particular revenue source.” He said that because of a lag effect, while WA was now on the receiving end of significant falls in the revenue from iron ore, it was still being penalised in effect for the high iron ore prices some years ago.

“It’s essentially something that I think is beyond the Commonwealth Grants Commission to resolve. I think it’s a political issue where really around the country we have got to pull together and say what is happening here is not fair,” Cormann said.

“I think that we should freeze the GST relativities for next year at the same level as this year, so that nothing changes in terms of the relativities.” That would leave every state about 5-6% better off in additional GST revenue next year compared to this year, Cormann said, although some states would get a smaller percentage than under the Grants Commission recommendations.

When state treasurers met Hockey last week they were unsympathetic to the WA argument opposing the Grants Commission recommendation, although Hockey was on WA’s side. There was considerable feeling at the meeting that WA had dragged its feet on economic reform.

Cormann said he had “absolutely no doubt” that the WA government had to do better in pursuing reform, especially in selling government assets.

He rejected the argument of WA Premier Colin Barnett that the issues were not linked. If WA had more sense of urgency in pursuing asset sales it could access potentially billions of dollars in federal incentive payments through the asset recycling fund, Cormann said.

“The fact they don’t seem to have more of a sense of urgency around that in my mind weakens their argument somewhat in relation to GST distribution.” WA should also address other matters such as deregulation of trading hours, he said.

But the NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian was adamant last night: “We have been very clear on this issue. We want our fair share of GST and that’s what we will continue to fight hard for.”

Abbott will discuss the GST row with premiers on Friday.

Listen to the latest Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast, with Senator Sam Dastyari, talking tax avoidance, gay marriage and ALP reform, here.

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