A horror Newspoll has reignited speculation about the future of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
His standing with voters has taken a sharp tumble after what senior colleagues admit was a “messy” fortnight dealing with the citizenship saga engulfing federal parliament.
However, Tony Abbott – the man Mr Turnbull rolled to become Liberal leader – still believes the government can win the next election.
With the coalition slipping further behind Labor – 45-55 per cent – Mr Turnbull’s lead as preferred prime minister over Labor’s Bill Shorten dropped five points to 36 per cent.
The gap between the two leaders has narrowed to just two percentage points compared to eight points two weeks ago and 17 points at the end of August.
It is the closest Mr Shorten has ever been to regaining the lead he enjoyed over Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister.
The poll, published on Monday, also shows voters prefer Julie Bishop over Mr Turnbull – 40-27 per cent – as Liberal leader.
But coalition supporters still prefer Mr Turnbull.
Some senior ministers are said to be concerned about the prime minister’s handling of the citizenship saga which could drag the government to an election early next year.
The Newspoll, if repeated at an election now, indicates a 20 seat loss for the coalition.
Turnbull supporter Christopher Pyne noted an election was not due until July 2019.
“Polls come and go and people should remain unfazed by them,” he told ABC radio.
Cabinet colleague Mathias Cormann, who agreed the “messiness” of the past few weeks had hurt the government, insisted Mr Turnbull was providing strong and effective leadership for the coalition.
“Once we get to the next general election we’ll be putting forward our record of achievement as well as our plan for the future,” he said.
“We’ll be pointing out very clearly why a change to a Labor-led socialist government would be bad for the economy, bad for jobs and bad for people’s wages.”
Mr Abbott said there were a lot of factors conspiring to make the prime minister’s job difficult.
“I certainly think the government can win the next election, I think that is what we have got to be focused on,” he told Ray Hadley on 2GB radio.
Mr Shorten noted Ms Bishop had tripled her photo opportunities in recent weeks.
“Cabinet ministers are now briefing out that they no longer trust Mr Turnbull’s judgment,” he told a meeting of opposition senators in Canberra.