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Australia's prime minister starts 2019 with pre-election sales pitch

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Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison started 2019 with a pre-election pitch to voters, hoping his pledge to deliver a budget surplus and build a stronger economy will reverse his government's slumping poll ratings.

[SYDNEY] Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison started 2019 with a pre-election pitch to voters, hoping his pledge to deliver a budget surplus and build a stronger economy will reverse his government's slumping poll ratings.

In a New Year's Day address released on social media, Mr Morrison promised tax cuts, support for drought-affected farmers and record funding for schools and hospitals.

"As we go to this year's election you will see there will be a clear choice to protect what you have and to ensure that you can seize the opportunities of what you want for you and your family," he said.

With elections expected in May, the next few months are critical for Mr Morrison to turn around the fortunes of his Liberal-National coalition government. It trails the main opposition Labor party by 10 percentage points, according to the most recent Newspoll. Should that margin be be replicated at the ballot box, the coalition would lose about 20 seats in parliament and Labor leader Bill Shorten would become prime minister after five years in opposition.

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One of the strongest cards Mr Morrison has to play is his stewardship of the economy. The government says it's on track to return to the black for the first time since the global financial crisis and last month almost doubled the size of its projected surplus in fiscal 2020. The bottom line has been bolstered by higher company profits and commodity prices and falling unemployment.

That may give the government the fiscal firepower to deliver some pre-election sweeteners when it hands down the budget on April 2.

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