Bill Shorten has made the strongest debut of any Australian opposition leader since Kevin Rudd in 2006-07, propelling Labor into the lead over a government weighed down by its secretive asylum-seeker response and an unconvincing commitment to action on global warming.
The first Fairfax Nielsen poll since the September 7 election has charted a rapid recovery for the ALP, with the opposition shooting to a 52-48 per cent lead over the government on the preferences of respondents - the quickest poll lead achieved by any federal opposition after losing an election.
It is also the first time Labor has led on the two-party-preferred vote in more than three years.
The result will be seen as a wake-up call to the Abbott government as it struggles to maintain public confidence in its tough stop-the-boats policy while refusing to reveal the most basic details on the grounds of operational security.
Labor's primary vote has recovered to 37 per cent, up 4 percentage points since the election, while the Coalition's primary support has fallen by 5 points to 41 per cent.
The Greens also picked up support, rising from 9 per cent to 11 per cent.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has declared the government's Operation Sovereign Borders was proceeding "unaffected" by the withdrawal of co-operation by Indonesia - a claim apparently at odds with views coming from Jakarta, where military and police assistance on people smuggling has been suspended.
The government is also struggling to explain to voters why it campaigned against spending - declaring the answer to debt is never more debt - but is now seeking an unprecedented A $200 billion hike in the national credit card limit.
The poll of 1400 respondents across the country was taken from Thursday to Saturday and has a margin of error of 2.6 per cent.
The drift away from the Coalition comes despite voters backing its attempts to abolish the carbon tax, with 57 per cent wanting Labor to get out of the way.
However, respondents also expressed overwhelming belief in the reality of climate change, with nearly 87 per cent judging the 2020 target of a 5 per cent emissions reduction as either about right (46 per cent) or too low (41 per cent).
Prime Minister Tony Abbott recorded his first net positive approval rating since August 2010, although only just with a statistically unreliable plus 1 per cent. This was made up of an approval rating of 47 per cent - up 4 points since he was in opposition - and a disapproval rating of 46 per cent. And while he leads Shorten convincingly as preferred prime minister - 49 per cent to 41 per cent - the Labor leader has a far greater net approval rating of plus 21 points. That was made up of a strong 51 per cent approval rating and a 30 per cent disapproval rating.
Pollster John Stirton said this was the best debut rating for an opposition leader since Kevin Rudd was first judged by voters in February 2007 with a huge net approval rating of 50 per cent. Stirton said the opposition had taken the lead within three months of an election, compared with the 2½ years it had taken the Coalition to hit the front after the 2007 "Ruddslide" election.
The poor result for the government is likely to cool its double-dissolution "hawks". It may also have implications for the upcoming byelection in Rudd's seat of Griffith, with Queensland showing the largest Labor primary vote of all states at 42 per cent.
Abbott has kept the double-dissolution option alive as Labor and the Greens prepare to vote down the carbon tax repeal bills in the Senate next month.
The Prime Minister took to YouTube on Sunday night in a bid to ratchet up the pressure on Shorten to allow the repeal, telling voters that "you voted to scrap the carbon tax, the House of Representatives has voted to scrap the carbon tax, and now it's up to the Senate to do the same, and I want this done by Christmas".
Equally worrying for Abbott is the low standing of his signature stop-the-boats policy, already under a cloud because of the breakdown of co-operation with Indonesia. Less than half of all voters, 42 per cent, approve of the way the government is handling its policy and 50 per cent disapprove.
That is sure to add to growing discontent within the Coalition at the performance of Morrison.
- Sydney Morning Herald