With the election due by May at the latest, the poll shows Labor heading to the Christmas break as the favourite. It leads the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis by 54 per cent to 46 per cent, which is a 3.5 percentage point swing to the opposition since the last election.
If replicated uniformly on election day, Labor would win in a landslide.
Labor’s primary vote increased 3 points since the last poll a month ago to 37 per cent and the Coalition’s primary vote fell a point to 36 per cent. The greens were unchanged on 13 per cent.
The monthly poll was taken from Thursday night to Saturday night last week as the government made a series of announcements in a bid to rid itself of problematic policies before Christmas.
These included announcing a religious freedom act, a national integrity commission and the recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
‘A most enormous task’
In his keynote speech to the triennial national conference, Mr Shorten played down expectations, warning victory was far from assured.
“When we leave here on Tuesday evening, we have a most enormous task in front of us,” he told delegates.
“Federal Labor has only won government from opposition three times since the Second World War.”
During a meeting of the Left faction on Saturday, sources said deputy leader Tanya Plibersek also warned against hubris by pointing out how John Howard came from a seemingly impossible position to win in 2001.
The poll shows Scott Morrison leading Mr Shorten as preferred prime minister by 46 per cent to 37 per cent, a 3-point narrowing in the gap since the last poll in November.
Mr Morrison’s approval rating was down a point to 47 per cent and his disapproval rating was up 3 points to 39 per cent.
Mr Shorten’s approval rating was up 1 point to 41 per cent and his disapproval rating up 3 points to 50 per cent.
‘No tax reform is universally loved’
Mr Shorten’s big announcement was to spend $6.6 billion over a decade on subsidies for investors who build new houses and then rent them to people on low and middle incomes at 20 per cent below the market rate. Each investor would receive $8500 a year for 15 years.
Under building pressure to dump negative gearing plans as the housing market tumbles, Mr Shorten defiantly stood by the policy in the name of housing affordability.
“No tax reform is universally loved. I get that. But for us, governing is about choices, it’s about priorities,” he said.
“I would rather see more young couples buy their first home, than spend billions subsidising investors acquiring multiple properties.”
Split down party lines
The poll finds attitudes on negative gearing and CGT are split along party lines, suggesting neither policy is a vote changer.
For example, on negative gearing, 61 per cent of Coalition voters are opposed and 26 per cent are in support.
On the capital gains tax deductions, 67 per cent of Coalition voters are against and 27 per cent are in favour of the changes.
Among Labor voters, 30 per cent oppose the negative gearing changes and 60 per cent are in support. On capital gains tax, 32 per cent oppose the CGT changes and 60 per cent support them.
Last week, The Australian Financial Review revealed Labor will struggle to get its negative gearing and other tax increases through the Senate if it wins the election.
There is next to no support for the measures among the crossbenchers who will be in the Senate both before and after July 1.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said he would expect Labor’s mandate to be respected, especially as it had announced the plans years in advance, unlike the Abbott government, which unveiled a 2014 budget full of broken promises.
“We will be going to them saying ‘look you were perfectly entitled in 2014 to say to the incoming government they didn’t have a mandate for their 2014 budget, for cuts to health, education, pensions’,” he said.
“We’ll be saying to the Senate we have a mandate to do this, the moral authority of having announced these policies very early.”
Mr Bowen said the housing market had softened because of constraints on investor lending and that meant the negative gearing policy would have little additional impact.
Why pay refunds to people ‘who didn’t pay any’ tax
Mr Shorten also defended his plans to abolish cash refunds for excess franking credits.
“I would rather help older Australians get more speedy elective surgery, and the aged care package they need, than spend $5 billion on an income tax refund for people who didn’t pay any income tax that year,” he said.
With Labor placing a strong emphasis on equity and addressing disadvantage, Mr Shorten said Labor’s task in winning power was beyond prevailing over its political opponents.
“Our opponents at the next election are not just the Liberals and the Nationals, One Nation or the Greens,” he said. “Our deeper opponents are distrust, disengagement, scepticism and cynicism.
“Our Labor mission is not just to win back government; it is to rebuild trust in our very democracy, to restore meaning to the fair go.”