Australian prime minister's approval rating slumps as bushfires rage

 Australian prime ministers approval rating slumps as bushfires rage

By Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's approval rating has declined sharply in the face of horrendous bushfires that have killed 28 people and destroyed 2,000 homes, a closely watched poll showed on Monday.

Morrison has come under attack for being slow to respond to an unprecedented crisis, even taking a family holiday to Hawaii while fires were burning, and acknowledged on Sunday he had made some mistakes.

"There are things I could have handled on the ground much better," he said in an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corp on Sunday.

After months of raging bushfires that have ravaged more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land, an area roughly the size of South Korea, Morrison in early January announced a A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) bushfire recovery fund and called out 3,000 army reservists to back up state emergency workers.

The response was seen as too slow. The Newspoll, conducted from Wednesday to Saturday after those announcements, showed Morrison's approval rating dropped 8 points to the lowest level since he took over leadership of the Liberal Party in August 2018.

His approval rating was overtaken by opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese in the poll, which surveyed 1,505 voters.

Labor also overtook Morrison's Liberal-National Coalition on a two-party preferred basis, where votes for minor parties are distributed between the major parties, for the first time since Australia's election last May. No margin of error was provided, although it was about 2.5 percentage points in previous Newspolls.

The same poll last year, however, incorrectly predicted Labor would win the election.

Morrison said on Sunday he would take a proposal to Cabinet to hold a Royal Commission national inquiry into the bushfires, including examining the response to the crisis, the role and powers of the federal government and the impact of climate change.

While some fires came under control over the weekend, thanks to cooler conditions and some light rain, the state of Victoria had two emergency warnings on Monday, urging residents in the eastern part of the state to evacuate.

Here are key events in the crisis:

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Updated Date: Jan 13, 2020 05:14:11 IST