Australian leader blames predecessor for popularity decline

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) " Australia's prime minister on Monday blamed recent criticism from his predecessor for a dip in the government's popularity in a closely watched opinion poll.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said comments by Tony Abbott's in a speech last week that the conservative government risked a "drift to defeat" were aimed at damaging the ruling coalition.

He said the comments were the reason why to the center-left Labor Party opposition had extended its lead over the government in the Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper on Monday.

"We saw an outburst on Thursday and it had its desired impact on the Newspoll," Turnbull told reporters. "It was exactly as predicted and as calculated."

Abbott was prime minister before Turnbull replaced him after a bitter internal challenge in the ruling party in September 2015.

Turnbull justified his challenge by pointing to the government's poor results in a series of Newspoll surveys under Abbott's leadership.

The government's popularity initially surged with the more centrist Turnbull at its helm, but has fallen behind Labor since scraping back into power at July elections.

Abbott remains a government lawmaker but Turnbull has excluded him from his Cabinet. Abbott used a speech and television interview on Thursday to urge the government to adopt more conservative policies, such as reducing Australia's immigration and clean energy targets.

The Newspoll found that the proportion of voters satisfied with Turnbull' performance as prime minister had dropped 4 percentage points to 29 percent in three weeks. Those dissatisfied with his performance had increased 5 percentage points to 59 percent.

Labor extended its lead over the government by 2 percentage points over three weeks ago. Labor is supported by 55 percent of the voters, while 45 percent support the government.

The nationwide survey of 1,682 voters at the weekend had a 2.4 percentage margin of error.

Turnbull dismissed speculation that his party might seek to replace him as leader.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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