Australian PM admits 'rough patch' as voters flee

SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott admitted Monday he was going through "a rough patch" as voters desert him over tough spending cuts and perceived broken promises.

A poll in Fairfax Media showed Abbott's personal approval rating is down to 38 per cent from the last survey five weeks ago, while Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten has jumped to 46 per cent.

They were previously level-pegging.

The same poll of 1,400 respondents showed 47 per cent prefer Shorten as prime minister to 39 per cent for Abbott.

On a two-party basis, Labor holds 52 per cent of the vote to the conservative coalition's 48 per cent.

"We are not the first government that has had a rough patch in the polls," Abbott told the Seven Network, comparing himself to late conservative leaders Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

"The (John) Howard government, the Thatcher government, the Reagan government all had rough patches in the polls and I guess I'm not the first leader to be subjected to a bit of speculation."

Since coming to power in September 2013, the government has announced savings across the board to rein in a growing budget deficit.

But critics have slammed some of the measures, which include slashing health and education spending while tightening welfare benefits, as broken pre-election promises and too harsh.

There has also been criticism of the government's ability to adequately explain why the cuts were needed, sparking growing calls for a cabinet reshuffle, with Treasurer Joe Hockey under particular fire.

In a separate interview with ABC radio, Abbott defended his government's performance and said it was achieving goals "step by often difficult and contentious step".

"I don't say everything's been perfect, and obviously there are some things that I would wish otherwise, but I believe we've kept faith with the people and delivered on our commitments," he said.

"Yes, it's difficult, but step-by-step it's getting done and I think the public in the end will focus on the substance and not on the soap opera."

Abbott listed as some of his government's major achievements its success at largely stopping the flow of asylum-seeker boats, sealing free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea, and scrapping carbon and mining taxes.

In an opinion piece, the Sydney Morning Herald's political editor Peter Hartcher said "this is about you, prime minister".

"Abbott, seen by the people to be incompetent and untrustworthy, is a liability for his government and an asset for the Labor Party," he said.

Opposition treasurer Chris Bowen said the coalition had "lied about their intentions", but added there was a long way to go before the next federal election in 2016.