October 28, 2018 / 10:01 PM / 20 days ago

Australian PM's approval ratings slump as minority government looms

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s personal approval ratings have plunged over the past two weeks following a series of policy missteps and as his government looks set to lose its one-seat majority in parliament.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Noble

For the first time since he became prime minister in August, voters who disapprove of his performance outnumbered those that approve, a Newspoll in The Australian newspaper showed on Monday, with 44 percent dissatisfied compared with 41 percent satisfied.

This marked a net decline in his approval rating of 10 percentage points from the previous Newspoll on Oct. 15.

Morrison’s personal approval ratings had until now been a rare bright spot for the conservative government, which is on course for a landside defeat at the next election, according to polls.

“These things will bounce around and that’s the case for all politicians, but it just doesn’t distract me from the job I have,” Morrison told local radio on Monday.

Morrison’s fall in popularity caps a disastrous few weeks for his ruling Liberal Party, which is poised to be plunged into minority government with the results from a recent by-election showing an independent candidate will likely fill the seat vacated by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Counting in the by-election continues with independent Kerryn Phelps ahead of the Liberal Party candidate by nearly 1,800 votes, with just 2,000 ballots to be processed, the Australian Electoral Commission said.

Turnbull quit politics shortly after he was removed from the office of prime minister in August following a party revolt that installed Morrison as leader.

The loss of Turnbull’s affluent Sydney constituency would leave Morrison’s government dependent on the support of five independent lawmakers to pass legislation in the lower house of parliament.

Morrison must call a national election by no later than May 2019.

While several independents have said they may back no-confidence votes in parliament that would trigger an early election, the most recent Newspoll found 58 percent of voters want parliament to run to a full term.

One legislative sticking point for the government could come from its hard-line policies on border control.

Several independent lawmakers last week demanded the removal of more than 50 asylum seeker children from an offshore detention centre as a condition for their support for Morrison.

Under it border controls, Australia detains asylum seekers who are intercepted trying to arrive in the country by boat at two Pacific detention centres where they are held indefinitely, a policy strongly enforced by Morrison while he was immigration minister.

Even if Morrison is able to shore-up support for his government, he faces an uphill task to secure re-election with his government now trailing the opposition Labor Party by a margin of 54-46, the Newspoll showed.

The hit to its approval ratings also follows a shift in the government’s political agenda to the right under Morrison.

This includes a proposal to move Australia’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a suggestion which has angered many in the Muslim world, including neighbouring Indonesia.

Reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney, additional reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Susan Fenton ad Sam Holmes

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