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Australian government fails to woo voters with tough security pitch: poll

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s conservative government is on course for a heavy defeat at the coming election, a widely watched opinion poll showed on Monday, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison fails to woo voters with an aggressive national security pitch.

FILE PHOTO – Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison arrives for APEC CEO Summit 2018 at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 17 November 2018. Fazry Ismail/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

A Newspoll for The Australian newspaper showed the opposition Labor party retained a lead of 53 percent to 47 percent over the Liberal-National government, unchanged from the previous poll earlier this month.

The poll findings come despite Morrison’s attempt to cast the election, due by May, as a referendum on border security and asylum seekers — hot-button topics in previous elections.

Labor and independents in February combined to amend the country’s hardline border security laws against the wishes of the government.

Under the changes, doctors are now able to evacuate asylum seekers requiring medical treatment from Australia’s remote Pacific detention centers on Papua New Guinea or Nauru.

Morrison dismissed the opinion poll findings that his government is poised for an inevitable defeat.

“What we are saying on the economy and national security is resonating,” Morrison told Sky News. “The election is in May, we are behind at half-time only.”

The poll of 1,582 people was conducted from Feb. 21 to 24 and had a margin of error of three percentage points.

TAX CUTS, CLIMATE CHANGE

With Morrison’s security pitch seemingly failing to resonate with voters, his government is expected in April to promise tax cuts and sweeteners in the final budget ahead of the election.

Armed with a pre-election war chest, Morrison said on Monday his government will spend A$2 billion ($1.43 billion) to reduce greenhouse emissions.

The government has fractured badly in recent years over how to reconcile its support for the country’s coal industry, a major exporter and power generator, while meeting commitments to lower emissions by 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Morrison’s perceived muted response to the issue was widely seen as a key factor in his government losing a critical by-election late last year, leaving the prime minister presiding over a minority government.

Australia’s absence of a stable carbon policy over the past decade has resulted in underinvestment in energy generation, which has led to soaring power prices and hurt energy-intensive manufacturers such as aluminum, steel and packaging makers.

“We will continue to play our part in meeting the global challenge of climate change in the 21st century and we can hold our heads high,” said Morrison in rejecting claims Australia was not doing enough to tackle climate change.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Peter Cooney and Michael Perry

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