There has been a huge swing to the Tony Abbott-led [conservative] Coalition on who is best to handle the issue of asylum-seekers arriving in Australia, with the Liberals holding almost a two-to-one advantage over the Rudd government.
The swing to the opposition came despite the government’s suspension of refugee applications from Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum-seekers and the reopening of the notorious Curtin detention centre in remote Western Australia.
The results, in a Newspoll taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, came as a six-month asylum-seeker deadlock at the Indonesian port of Merak was finally broken yesterday, but at least 18 of the Sri Lankans involved have already reached Christmas Island.
During the past three weeks of political debate, dominated by Kevin Rudd’s plan to take over 60 per cent of state health funding and the government’s suspension of refugee applications from Sri Lankans and Afghans, Labor’s primary vote has remained unchanged on 43 per cent while the Coalition’s has gone from 38 to 40 per cent. Based on preference flows at the last election, Labor leads the Coalition with an election-winning two-party-preferred vote of 54 to 46 per cent.
Under the Opposition Leader, the Coalition’s position on asylum-seekers is that the Howard government’s policy of issuing temporary protection visas “stopped the boats”. This has not only greatly attracted support among Coalition supporters but is also winning over Labor voters. Support for the Coalition on handling asylum-seekers has doubled from 23 per cent in November last year to 44 per cent last weekend.
Since Mr Abbott became Liberal leader last December, there have been more than 100 illegal boat arrivals and Christmas Island is filled to overflowing with refugees. During the same period, support for the Rudd government’s ability to handle asylum-seekers has risen from 20 per cent to 26 per cent.
Voters who were undecided about which party to trust on border protection have shifted overwhelmingly in Mr Abbott’s favour.
The Newspoll shows that Mr Abbott’s demands for a tougher line on illegal boat arrivals have attracted stronger support among Coalition voters than when Malcolm Turnbull was Liberal leader. In November last year, 54 per cent of Coalition supporters said they preferred the Coalition to handle the issue but last weekend that jumped 27 percentage points to 81 per cent.
Mr Abbott also picked up a large number of Labor supporters, almost tripling his support among them. In November, 8 per cent of ALP supporters backed the Coalition but last weekend the figure jumped 15 points to 23 per cent.