Labor takes small lead on national security amid AUKUS subs deal

Voters have backed federal Labor on national security and almost every other major policy amid last week’s AUKUS deal on nuclear submarines, while giving the party a lead of 39 to 30 per cent over the Coalition in core political support.

Labor has confirmed its lead on policies ranging from education to health while gaining a small advantage on national security and defence, with 35 per cent of voters backing the government on the issue compared to 32 per cent who favour the Coalition.

Anthony Albanese has a lead of 51 to 22 per cent over Opposition Leader Peter Dutton when voters are asked to name their preferred prime minister, but his rating has slipped from 55 per cent last month.

Alex Ellinghausen

But voters have cooled slightly on whether Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his party are the best for the country and have a vision for the nation’s future, continuing a gradual decline from a surge in support after the May election.

An exclusive survey shows Albanese has a lead of 51 to 22 per cent over Opposition Leader Peter Dutton when voters are asked to name their preferred prime minister, but his rating has slipped from 55 per cent last month.

While Dutton’s rating also fell marginally – from 23 to 22 per cent, which is within the margin of error – the number of undecided respondents widened from 22 to 27 per cent.

The survey, conducted by Resolve Strategic for this masthead, found the Greens increased their primary vote from 10 to 13 per cent at a time when party leader Adam Bandt warned against the AUKUS agreement to buy US nuclear-powered submarines before building its own fleet at a cost of up to $368 billion by 2055, while both major parties acclaimed the deal.

Labor’s support fell from 40 to 39 per cent and the Coalition slipped from 31 to 30 per cent, but both these changes were within the margin of error for the survey. Support was unchanged for other parties and independent candidates.

“Albanese is still well in front of Dutton as preferred prime minister but he drops to his lowest level since the election, in another confirmation that the honeymoon highs have come to an end,” Resolve director Jim Reed said.

“Dutton does not benefit from this directly, so this is more about some voters reassessing the prime minister, not defecting entirely.”

The Resolve Political Monitor surveyed 1600 eligible voters from Sunday to Thursday last week, a period of intense coverage of the AUKUS agreement before and after it was announced on Tuesday. The bulk of the voters responded before former prime minister Paul Keating savaged the agreement at the National Press Club on Wednesday. The results have a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.

Asked to name the party and leader they thought best to manage national security and defence, 35 per cent chose Labor and Albanese, up from 32 per cent last month. Another 32 per cent chose the Coalition and Dutton, down from 35 per cent last month, while 7 per cent preferred someone else and 26 per cent were undecided.

There was no change on foreign affairs, however, with 41 per cent naming Labor and Albanese while 28 per cent chose the Coalition and Dutton.

Reed said the government’s lead on national security was small and the net change was not statistically significant, suggesting that many voters were absorbing the AUKUS news and reserving judgement.

“Despite the massive investment in submarines, the government has received no significant improvement in its handling of national defence,” he said.

“This may partly reflect the bipartisan nature of the policy and it starting under the previous government, but the cautious support we’ve measured for it also indicates voters are still assessing the deal.”

In the months after the May election, the survey showed voters favoured Labor and Albanese to manage almost every major policy.

The latest survey is the first this year in which Labor and Albanese have held the lead on national security and defence, but it also found the Coalition and Dutton took the lead on managing the nation’s finances.

With the news about the AUKUS deal dominated by the $368 billion estimated cost over three decades, the survey found that 34 per cent considered the Coalition and Dutton to be best at managing finances while 31 per cent favoured Labor and Albanese. This compared to 34 and 35 per cent one month ago.

The government held a double-digit lead on healthcare, education, industrial relations, environment and climate, jobs and wages, welfare and benefits, responding to natural disasters and issues affecting women.

It held smaller leads on economic management, transport, managing COVID-19 and keeping the cost of living down.

Asked about immigration and refugees, 34 per cent said Labor and Albanese were best to manage the issue while 27 per cent named the Coalition and Dutton. Another 14 per cent said others were better to manage the issue and 25 per cent were undecided.

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