Australian PM’s support falls to new lows amid citizenship crisis

Australia's Prime Minister Turnbull takes part in a dialogue during the APEC CEO Summit in Danang
Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull takes part in a dialogue during the APEC CEO Summit, ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders summit in Danang, Vietnam, 10 November 2017. REUTERS/Nyein Chan Naing/Pool

November 13, 2017

By Alana Schetzer

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull slumped to a new low in a poll released on Monday as his government cobbled together a deal with the main opposition party to stem a citizenship crisis that has left his government hanging precariously to power.

Turnbull has been heavily criticized for failing to act decisively in a crisis that has so far seen his deputy, along with six other lawmakers, ejected from parliament because they were dual citizens, leaving Turnbull presiding over a minority government.

In the latest twist in a drama that has played out over several months, independent lawmakers threatened over the weekend to use their new-found power in the lower house to push through controversial legislation that has been blocked by the government, including a Royal Commission into the banking sector.

The latest Newspoll, published by The Australian, showed the main opposition Labor Party leading Turnbull’s Liberal-National party coalition on a two-party basis, marking a 23rd consecutive loss since Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott to become prime minister in September 2015. Turnbull, then riding high in the polls, cited the fact that Abbott lost 30 consecutive Newspolls to justify the spill.

On a personal basis, Turnbull’s support crumbled from 41 percent to 36 percent. At the time of becoming prime minister, his support was at an all-time high of 55 percent.

“He’s probably had one of the fastest falls in personal standing in our history,” former Liberal Party leader John Hewson told Australian Broadcasting Corp television. “And worse still, no outcomes that really matter to the average voter.”

The citizenship saga has overshadowed Turnbull’s attempts to turn the domestic agenda to voter-friendly issues like tax reform, infrastructure and housing affordability. A contentious national survey on same-sex marriage and a checkered rollout of a multibillion dollar broadband network have added to perceptions of chaos in the country’s leadership.

With Turnbull in Vietnam for a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders, his foreign minister and acting prime minister Julie Bishop told reporters the polls were “not surprising” and the government had a plan to resolve the dual citizenship issue.

Dual citizenship is banned for members of parliament under Australia’s constitution in a bid to prevent split allegiances. But adherence to that rule has only come under the spotlight in the current crisis, with the High Court confirming a strict interpretation of the law.

With both sides of politics threatening to out lawmakers from the other side as dual citizens, the government and opposition agreed on Monday to a deadline of Dec. 1 for all politicians to disclose the birthplace of their parents and grandparents.

(Reporting by Alana Schetzer. Editing by Jane Wardell and Richard Pullin)