Australia

Scott Morrison narrows polling gap with Labor ahead of first leaders' debate

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The Coalition government has now sliced its margin down to one percentage point behind Labor in the latest Newspoll.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten are preparing to face off in a critical debate as the latest Newspoll shows the Coalition is gaining ground. 

The Newspoll, published by The Australian on Sunday night, puts the government only one percentage point behind the Opposition on a two-party preferred basis after a strong start to the five-week campaign.

Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison will have a leaders' debate in Perth on Monday night.
Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison will have a leaders' debate in Perth on Monday night.
AAP

Mr Morrison goes into the debate with the momentum behind him with many attributing the improvement in the polls to his energetic performance on the campaign trail.

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Mr Morrison has honed his attack on the Opposition, zeroing in on Labor's tax plans and targeting Bill Shorten as a "cranky bear". 

Bill Shorten the
Bill Shorten the "cranky bear".
AAP

But, the Coalition's primary vote has dropped one point to 38 per cent, while Labor's is down to 37 per cent.

Former PM Malcolm Turnbull needed a primary vote of 42 per cent to win a one-seat majority in 2016.

Mr Morrison remains ahead in the preferred prime minister stakes despite dropping one point to 45 per cent, while Mr Shorten improved his standing to 37 per cent. 

The narrowing of the polls puts even more importance on the first debate of the campaign on Monday night in Perth, before another debate in Brisbane on Friday.

It comes as more than 500 early voting centres open with up to five or six million people expected to cast their ballot papers before the May 18 poll. 

Coalition promises three new navy ships

Both leaders are in Western Australia to campaign ahead of the debate with Mr Morrison promising $1 billion to build three Royal Australian Navy ships. 

Mr Morrison will announce the promise to build two mine warfare support vessels and a hydrographic vessel in Perth on Monday.

He will also unveil a $156 million package to protect Australians from cyber-security attacks, and another $300 million to build or expand park-and-ride facilities in Melbourne.

Making his second visit to Perth of the campaign, Mr Shorten is expected to face questions about new policies to boost childcare workers wages and provide dental care for pensioners.

PM wants prime-time third debate 

Another leaders debate is scheduled in Brisbane on Friday, but Mr Morrison has proposed a third leaders' debate be hosted by the ABC in Sydney on prime-time television.

The Liberals earlier in the week criticised Mr Shorten, claiming he was avoiding prime-time scrutiny by seeking to have the third debate at the National Press Club at lunchtime.

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Mr Morrison released a letter on Sunday evening seeking a third debate to be moderated by ABC journalist Leigh Sales and held in the evening of May 7, 8 or 9.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison with daughters Abbey, Lily and wife Jenny at Sunday's campaign rally.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison with daughters Abbey, Lily and wife Jenny at Sunday's campaign rally.
AAP

"A prime-time debate would provide as many Australians as possible, including those who work during the day, the best opportunity to scrutinise the very clear choice on offer at this election," the letter said.

The letter also says the third debate wouldn't prevent the two leaders going head-to-head again and doesn't rule out the Nine Network's proposal to host a debate.

Mr Shorten, who faced questions about his lunchtime debate proposal, said the public has the opportunity to replay the debate if they miss it on platforms such as ABC's iview.

"It's possible to do an interview at one point in the day and replay it," he told the Nine Network on Sunday.

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