Australian leader regrets setting opinion poll benchmark

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (Manish Swarup, AP File)
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (Manish Swarup, AP File)

Australia's prime minister said on Monday he regretted using a lengthy streak of bad opinion polls to justify ousting his predecessor three years ago.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made the admission as his government matched Tony Abbott's former administration in trailing the opposition Labour Party in 30 consecutive Newspoll opinion polls conducted by Sydney-based Galaxy Research.

The Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper showed 48% of respondents supported the single-seat majority conservative coalition government while 52% supported the centre-left Labour Party.

The nationwide weekend poll, conducted online and with automated telephone interviews, surveyed 1 560 voters and had a 2.5 percentage point margin of error. The government has now trailed Labour in the Newspoll series for 564 days and elections are due next year.

"I regret making those remarks at the time — making remarks about 30 Newspolls at the time," Turnbull told reporters.

"But what I promised to do [was] to provide economic leadership and traditional Cabinet government and I've done both," he added.

The 30-poll milestone in 2015 coincided with a majority of lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Party deciding to back Turnbull against Abbott in a leadership ballot that ousted Abbott two years after he was elected to power.

Read: Australian PM: Tony Abbott was once too drunk for Parliament

Turnbull said on Monday his colleagues were not moving against his leadership.

"I do have the confidence of my colleagues ... and no-one, by the way, is suggesting I don't," Turnbull said.

Political instability

There is no obvious candidate in government ranks to replace Turnbull, although Abbott has hinted he still holds leadership ambitions.

Since Prime Minister John Howard was elected out of office after more than 11 years in power in 2007, Australia has had a long period of political instability.

Howard was replaced by Kevin Rudd who was dumped by his Labour Party colleagues in 2010. They installed his deputy Julia Gillard, then dumped her for Rudd in 2013.

Abbott was elected to power in 2013 but spent less time in the job than either Rudd or Gillard before his party moved against him.

Howard used a television interview last week to urge the government to stick with Turnbull or risk a voter backlash at the next election.

Abbott, who remains a government lawmaker, said he had never paid attention to polling.

"It's really, I suppose, something for Malcolm to explain why it applied to me, but shouldn't apply now," Abbott told reporters, referring to the Newspoll benchmark.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Turnbull made a mistake by using an opinion poll to define political success.

"It was Mr Turnbull who said 30 Newspolls was the definition of success — that's his problem," Shorten told reporters.

"I actually think most Australians want to see politics move beyond the polls and the personalities to what are we going to do for the people," he added.

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