SYDNEY — Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has suffered a voter backlash after a budget described as the worst in 20 years with two polls on Monday showing support for his government plunging.
The conservative leader's first budget since coming to office last September – handed down a week ago – took the axe to health and education spending in an attempt to slash the country's deficit.
Anger boiled over during the weekend with street marches through major cities and a meeting of the nation's premiers, including from Abbott's own Liberal Party, vowing to fight A$80 billion (US$75 billion) in school and hospital funding cuts.
The budget's unpopularity and perceived broken promises by Abbott were reflected in two polls that showed a sharp drop in support.
One in the Sydney Morning Herald, under a front page headline "Abandoned", showed the Labor opposition now has a 12 point lead on a two-party basis, reversing a seven point deficit ahead of the September election.
It showed that 74 per cent of the 1,400 people questioned by phone last week felt they would be worse off under the spending cuts.
A poll of 1,216 voters in The Australian newspaper, which called the budget the worst in 20 years, gave Labor a 10 point advantage while its leader Bill Shorten was preferred as prime minister by 44 per cent to Abbott's 34 per cent. The rest were undecided.
This was a sharp reversal from the last poll it conducted earlier this month when Abbott had the lead.
Abbott, who has blamed Labor for the "mess" it left him, is aiming to bring the deficit down from its current A$49.9 billion to A$29.8 billion next year and to reach a surplus around the end of the decade.
"We never said it was going to be easy and I think the last government which brought down a very tough budget – the Howard government in 1996 – took a big hit in the polls too," he said in reaction to the polls.
"But in the end, we were elected not to take the easy decisions but to take the hard, necessary decisions and that is what we have done."
Despite the backlash, he said there would be no budget rethink.
"We have put forward a very carefully thought through, sensible, reasonable, moderate way forward, and we're just going to push on with it," he said.
As well as federal cuts of A$50 billion to health and A
$30 billion to education over the next decade, a new tax will be levied on high earners, and welfare and family benefits tightened.
The pension age will rise to 70 by 2035 and people will have to pay a modest fee to visit the doctor. — AFP