By Colin Packham
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, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison fails to woo voters with an aggressive national security pitch.
A Newspoll for The Australian newspaper showed the opposition Labor Party retained a lead of 53 percent to 47 percent over the Liberal-National government led by Morrison, unchanged from the previous poll earlier this month.
The poll findings come despite 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 hardline immigration laws against the wishes of the government.
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.
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,” 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 Feb. 21 to 24 and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
With Morrison’s immigration pitch seemingly failing to resonate with voters, Australia’s conservative government must now hope its economic record wins support.
Morrison’s 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, Morrison is expected on Monday to announce it will spend A$2 billion (£1.1 billion) to reduce greenhouse emissions.
The ruling conservative government has fractured badly in recent years over how to reconcile its support for the coal industry while meeting its commitment to decrease emissions by 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
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.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Peter Cooney)