Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Harsh verdict: Mr Abbott has suffered an unprecedented collapse in personal standing. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The harshest and most unpopular federal budget in nearly two
decades has slashed support for Tony Abbott's Coalition government
before it has even reached its first anniversary, plunging it into a
potential poll trough from which it might never recover.

Australians have passed a severe judgment on the Abbott-Joe
Hockey formula, branding it unfair, bad for the country and based on
broken promises.

The findings suggest the government has made a potentially
catastrophic error in gambling that voters would overlook harsh
treatment of welfare recipients and lower paid families if it led to a
balanced budget - even if it meant breaking promises.

Two-party vote: Coalition is down 4 per cent. Photo: Fairfax Graphics

That decision has instead trashed Mr Abbott's standing and
relationship of trust with voters and energised opponents across the
political divide, and potentially within his own party.

The harsh verdict has propelled the ALP to a massive 12
percentage point lead at 56/44 (based on preference flows at the last
election), according to the monthly Fairfax-Nielsen nationwide phone
poll taken from Thursday to Saturday last week.

It has also catapulted Labor leader Bill Shorten to an 11
point advantage as preferred prime minister, 51 per cent to 40 - his
first lead of any kind over Mr Abbott.

Key findings: Comparing budgets. Photo: Fairfax Graphics

The Prime Minister by contrast has suffered an unprecedented
collapse in personal standing after delivering a budget featuring broken
promises on taxes, health, education and welfare, with his approval
rating dropping by 21 points.

His net approval rating - those who approve of his
performance minus those who do not - now sits at minus-28 compared to Mr
Shorten who has surged into positive territory on plus 8 per cent.

"Mr Abbott trails the Opposition Leader as preferred

prime minister after just eight months in office, faster than
any of his predecessors with the exception of Paul Keating, who started
out behind," said Nielsen pollster John Stirton.

Labor moved on Sunday to capitalise on the resentment by
airing prime-time television advertisements branding Mr Abbott a liar
who was hurting those who could least afford it.

There was also a war council of premiers in Sydney, incensed
by the budget's projected withdrawal of $80 billion over the decade for
health and education, and by a series of "bust the budget" rallies
around the country. At one, Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt revealed
his party would try to force a new election, arguing Mr Abbott has
breached his mandate.

Mr Abbott said on Sunday that he had let voters know what was coming before the election.

''You might remember the mantra - it was stop the boats,
repeal the carbon tax, build the roads of the 21st century, and get the
budget back under control,'' he told the ABC's Insiders program.

''So people, I think, were on notice that we were going to do
what was necessary to ensure that we were not being a burden on our
children and grandchildren.''

Concerns over broken promises and a lack of fairness have
been vindicated by an independent analysis of the impact of budget
decisions by the Australian National University. It found high income
earners can largely escape the so-called "heavy lifting" of fiscal
repair, with some well-paid couples worse off by just 0.9 per cent
compared to a single parent on payments with a child aged six, who could
lose more than 10 per cent of their income.

Voters agree, with nearly two thirds calling it unfair - 63 per cent, compared to 33 per cent who marked it ''fair''.

Leadership poll

More tellingly, 53 per cent said it would not be good for
Australia - the first time in the history of the poll that the budget
is regarded as actually bad for the country.

The poll result threatens to elevate internal Coalition
tensions from anger to outright panic after some MPs spoke out and many
more warned privately in recent weeks that destroying voter trust would
haunt the Abbott government.

Despite being hounded from office less than a year ago after
two terms of bickering and policy chaos, Labor's support from voters has
rebounded as a result of the Coalition slump. Voters are no longer
just parking their votes with third parties but are shifting all the

At 14 per cent, the Greens vote remains well above its 2013
election outcome of 9 per cent but is down on the 17 per cent recorded
last month in the same poll series.

A 9.5 per cent swing to Labor would have seen the Abbott
government bundled out with Labor recording its highest support since
August 2010 when Julia Gillard was at her most popular, and the
Coalition recording its lowest vote since the final months of the
Howard government in March 2007.

Labor's primary support now sits at 40 - up 6 points - while
the Coalition languishes at just 35 - down a statistically significant 5

Mr Abbott's personal descent suggests voters feel aggrieved
by the decisions to impose new and increased taxes, while also freezing
indexation of a range of pensions and benefits, increasing the
retirement age and bringing in new charges for GP visits.

Mr Abbott's negative rating of minus 28 per cent rivals his
lowest ever - the minus 29 reading he recorded in December 2012. It is
also as bad as any recorded by Ms Gillard at her weakest point.

The only plus for the government is that half of all
respondents (49 per cent) said it was economically responsible, even
though they had concerns about its fairness.

Asked if the budget would make them better or worse off,
three out of four, or 74 per cent, said it would make them worse off and
just 8 per cent said it would help them.

In another surprisingly weak result for the government,
nearly six out of 10 voters, or 56 per cent, said they were opposed to
scrapping the mining tax and nearly half, or 46 per cent, were opposed
to dumping the carbon tax.

Half of all respondents also backed the deficit levy on high
income earners, suggesting voters want the rich to contribute but will
still blame the government for breaking its word on tax.

In another tax finding, it is clear that opposition to
lifting and or broadening the GST has weakened markedly in the last 18
months, dropping from 86 per cent opposition in December 2012 to 66 per
cent now.