SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is nearing the end of his first full year in office hobbled by missteps and a souring economy that have plunged his approval ratings to historic lows, increasing speculation he may not survive to a second term.
Faced with a collapse in commodities prices and an unruly upper house Senate that has held Abbott’s first budget hostage since May, voters have abandoned his conservative government more quickly than any other in three decades.
The drum beat of bad news, most recently the thrashing handed to Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition in state elections in Victoria on Saturday, has sparked calls for Treasurer Joe Hockey and Defence Minister David Johnston to be thrown out.
However, even a cabinet reshuffle may be too little, too late, with the opposition Labor Party increasingly painting Abbott as a hypocrite over policy shifts that include deep cuts to the popular Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Abbott was a ruthlessly effective opposition leader against Labor Prime Ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, but those qualities are less desirable in a prime minister, Dr Andrew Hughes of the Australian National University told Reuters.
“Tony Abbott’s brand is so hard and it’s so negative. It makes you wonder whether he was a one-use only brand,” he said.
Abbott has had significant accomplishments this year, concluding free trade deals with Japan, South Korea and China, and hosting the G20 leaders summit last month.
Still, Labor has surged ahead to lead the government by a margin of 55 per cent to 45 per cent in the latest Newspoll released on Nov 18.
A cabinet reshuffle is likely after the Victorian election, Hughes said, but a leadership swap may already be unavoidable.