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Turnbull warns of tougher times for Aussies as popularity wanes
[CANBERRA] Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is warning that tougher economic times loom for the nation, even as voters signal their discontent with his government.
"We have had a good run over the last 25 years of continued economic growth," Mr Turnbull will say in a speech in Canberra Wednesday, according to excerpts e-mailed from his office.
"But the truth is that there are many parts of Australia where times are not so good, where jobs are scarce and prospects look less promising than they were."
Just seven months after leading his Liberal-National coalition government to a razor-thin election victory, Mr Turnbull's bid to gain political momentum is being hampered by mounting signs of fiscal weakness. Third-quarter gross domestic product fell 0.5 per cent in the first decline in more than five years, jobless figures are on the rise and a budget deficit that's threatening the nation's AAA rating is proving hard to budge.
That's taking a toll on his popularity. A poll published in December showed the main opposition Labor party leading the coalition by 52 per cent to 48 per cent on a two-party preferred basis. Mr Turnbull's rating as preferred prime minister was down 2 points to 41 per cent, still ahead of Labor leader Bill Shorten at 32 per cent.
The tougher economic climate for Mr Turnbull, who campaigned in the July election on his ability to produce "jobs and growth," comes as questions emerge about his political judgment and ability to push his legislative agenda through a Senate where cross-benchers collectively hold the balance of power.
"Voters don't seem convinced that the government has the capacity to create an agenda that will genuinely assist the economy and job creation," said Haydon Manning, a political analyst at Flinders University in Adelaide. "There's a growing opinion among average Australians that Turnbull doesn't have a strong vision for the nation and there's question marks over whether he will survive the year as leader."
With parliament resuming next week after a two-month hiatus, Mr Turnbull will use Wednesday's speech to highlight his government's plan to cut company taxes, which he says will give average full-time workers an extra A$750 (S$801) a year. The former banker will also outline a bid to overhaul funding of schools amid concern over declining student performances, and make electricity more affordable.
"This isn't an abstract issue," Mr Turnbull will say, according to the excerpts. "Higher electricity prices mean more pressure on household budgets and businesses. That's why energy will be a defining debate in this parliament."
Mr Turnbull will also promote the benefits of free trade, even after US President Donald Trump ditched his nation's plan to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
"That is why, although disappointed by America's withdrawal from the TPP, we continue to work to open more markets for our exports with negotiations underway with India, Indonesia, the EU and in due course the United Kingdom," Mr Turnbull says.