Australian PM Abbott's tough stance on MH17 paying off: poll

SYDNEY Mon Jul 28, 2014 8:55pm EDT

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers his keynote speech during the B20 Summit in Sydney, July 17, 2014. REUTERS/Lisa Maree Williams/Pool

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers his keynote speech during the B20 Summit in Sydney, July 17, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Lisa Maree Williams/Pool

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Embattled Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's forthright handling of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 appears to have paid off, a poll released on Tuesday showed, although his government has not enjoyed a similar spike in popularity.

The Newspoll polling agency recorded a 12-point jump in Abbot's net satisfaction rating in a poll conducted at the weekend to deliver his best results since April, before the handing down in May of a hugely unpopular budget.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Australia's biggest cities to rail against the budget's changes to welfare, healthcare, education and pensions that they say go beyond the mandate Abbott won in elections last year.

His approval ratings, and those of his conservative Liberal-National coalition government, slumped to record lows in the wake of the budget uproar and have remained in the doldrums despite recent policy victories, such as the repeal of the unpopular carbon tax.

But the five-point rise in his satisfaction rating, together with a seven-point plunge in dissatisfaction, takes his net approval from minus 29 points to minus 17, reversing the damage caused by the budget.

The survey is based on 1,157 interviews conducted with voters and has a maximum margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, which puts the changes well outside the range of error for the poll.

The bump was the second-highest in approval for an Australian prime minister outside an election campaign, The Australian newspaper reported, behind an 18-point surge enjoyed by Abbott's conservative mentor, John Howard, following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Abbott has struck perhaps the toughest line of any Western leader against the Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine, accused by Western countries and intelligence agencies of shooting down the jetliner with a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile.

Australia circulated a successful U.N. Security Council resolution demanding safe access to the crash site for international investigators and has been instrumental in the creation of a Dutch-led security force to secure the area.

The Boeing 777 was shot down this month in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board. Twenty-eight Australians were killed.

Allegations that Russia was involved in the disaster have sparked widespread anger in Australia, which is due to host Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders at a G20 summit in November.

(Editing by Ron Popeski)