* Greens Party vows to force early election
* Consumer confidence figures expected to take hit
* 48 per cent of voters say budget bad for Australia
* Labor Party preferred to government, 56-44 percent
By Matt Siegel
SYDNEY, May 19 Support for Australian Prime
Minister Tony Abbott's conservative government has collapsed
following the release of an austerity budget that has emboldened
opponents and even sparked calls for early elections.
The government last week released a contentious budget
packed with deregulation moves, new levies and spending cuts
aimed at overcoming what it calls unsustainable deficits
totalling A$60 billion ($56 billion) over the next four years.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Australia's
biggest cities at the weekend to rail against the changes to
welfare, healthcare, education and pensions that they say
outstrip the mandate Abbott won in elections last year.
"Within a very short period of time he has effectively
turned around to the people who voted for him and said 'Stuff
you'," Greens Party deputy leader Adam Bandt told Reuters.
"The polls suggest that is not going down at all well with
voters. There is only so long an already unpopular prime
minister can suffer further blows, not just to his popularity,
but to his government's support."
Two polls released on Monday in the wake of the budget, one
by Nielsen and the other by Newspoll, showed a precipitous drop
in the popularity of Abbott and the Liberal-National coalition
Both showed that Labor would handily win fresh elections, a
sharp reversal for a party that was only recently turfed from
office after six tumultuous years in power.
Perhaps most worrying for the government, however, is the
perception that it has stumbled badly in framing a budget the
polls say is seen as both disproportionately punishing the poor
and bad for the economy.
"I think people don't like the medicine, and the government
has stoked up the bad reaction for themselves almost
amateurishly and now are copping it," John Wanna, a professor of
politics at the Australian National University, told Reuters.
The Greens have now publicly called for early elections, and
Bandt says he is hopeful that both Labor and mining magnate
Clive Palmer, whose Palmer United Party will have the balance of
power in the incoming Senate, will help to bring that about.
Abbott had raised as recently as last week the prospect of
an election if his budget was blocked, but he seemed to rule
that out in the wake of the polls.
"My job is not necessarily to win a popularity contest. My
job is to run the country effectively, and that's what I'm going
to do my best to do," Abbott told the Australian Broadcasting
Australia has fared better than most developed nations in
the past decade, having avoided the implosions of the finance
and housing sectors suffered by the United States and Europe,
while Chinese demand for resources fuelled a boom in its terms
Its debt pales in comparison to most developed nations,
spurring criticism that many of the mooted measures are
unnecessary and might actually damage the AAA-rated economy.
The government argues that 22 years of unbroken economic
growth have been squandered on a bloated bureaucracy and tax
breaks for the wealthy, rather than investing in infrastructure
now so badly needed in many regions.
The budget is likely to further dent consumer confidence,
which could be reflected in consumer sentiment data due on
Wednesday, said Stephen Walters, an analyst with JP Morgan.
"Consumer confidence, already low and fragile, will likely
decline further after the announced income tax rises, welfare
cuts, and resumption of petrol tax indexation," he said.
"The drag on consumer confidence will make the rotation in
the sources of growth in the economy away from mining investment
($1=1.0680 Australian Dollars)
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)