Support for Australian government edges higher but voter anger remains

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Support for Australia’s center-right government edged higher over the past fortnight, a widely watched opinion poll showed on Monday, but voter anger over a leadership coup suggests the government still faces a heavy defeat at elections due by May.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, September 10, 2018. AAP/Mick Tsikas/via REUTERS

The Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper showed the Liberal-National coalition government trails the main opposition Labor party by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent on a two-party preferred basis under Australia’s preferential voting system, where votes from minor parties are redistributed.

Despite the prospect of a landslide election defeat, Australia’s pre-eminent political poll showed at least some voters had forgiven the Liberal party, the senior coalition partner, for the ousting of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in a party-room vote in August.

Newly installed Prime Minister Scott Morrison became Australia’s sixth leader in less than 10 years after that vote.

His government trailed Labor by 12 percentage points earlier this month as voters, angry over the revolving door of political leadership, abandoned the coalition in the immediate aftermath of the latest change.

Morrison must return to the polls by May 2019, an election that is poised to be fought over inequality.

Labor has pledged to cut capital gains tax discounts and scrap a favorable tax scheme for owners of multiple properties, known as negative gearing, amid soaring house prices.

Morrison opposes both moves. Despite the modest uptick in support, his first major test will come in the Sydney seat recently vacated by Turnbull, whose decision to quit politics left Morrison presiding over a minority government.

Turnbull’s affluent harbourside electorate is normally a safe seat for the government but a looming by-election triggered by his departure is now likely to be a tight race.

A loss would force Morrison to strike an agreement with independent lawmakers to continue in minority government.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Paul Tait