Prime Minister Scott Morrison has brusquely cut off a journalist who quizzed him about whether he is “damaged goods” in the run-up to next month’s election.
Mr Morrison was on the campaign trail in western Sydney on Tuesday, joined by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and the Liberals’ Parramatta candidate Maria Kovacic.
Parramatta is held by Labor on a margin of 3.5 per cent.
Mr Morrison was asked whether the large group with him on Tuesday was a sign of his sinking popularity, following a recent wave of personal criticism from within the Coalition.
“You talk consistently about how Australians know you. They don’t appear to like you,” the journalist said.
“At the last campaign, you campaigned on your own. Today you have campaigned here with Marise Payne and Josh Frydenberg. Is it a sign your popularity is on the nose, you are damaged goods across Australia?”
But Mr Morrison shrugged off the question, saying the election was “not a popularity test”.
“When you go to the dentist, it doesn’t matter whether you like him or her. You want to know they’re good at their job,” he said.
“This is about whether people are good at managing the economy and have a strong economic plan. I have a great team. I’m happy to showcase my team every single day.”
But when the journalist tried to ask another question, Mr Morrison cut them off quickly.
“You had your question, thanks for your ongoing contribution,” he said.
He also used Tuesday’s briefing to seize on Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s bungle on interest rates and jobless figures from Monday.
“Leaders will not get every single figure right, and that’s not really the issue here. The issue is there’s something Anthony Albanese should be apologising for, it should be that he doesn’t have an economic plan,” he said.
“His working assumptions about our economy and what Australians are achieving in our economy he doesn’t know and he doesn’t understand.”
The government used the second full day of the campaign to spruik its pledge to create 1.3 million jobs over the next five years and drive the unemployment rate down below 4 per cent.
Mr Morrison said the Coalition’s new jobs promise covered multiple sectors of the economy, particularly defence and food and beverage manufacturing.
His pledge is roughly in line with expected population growth. It is also similar to his January 2019 pledge to create 1.25 million jobs over five years and make Australia net debt-free by 2030.
Total employment, however, is up only 513,000 since May 2019. Last month’s federal budget forecast net debt to reach $900 billion in 2024-2025.
Campaigning again in Tasmania on Tuesday, Mr Albanese sought to move on from his economic figure gaffe, saying he would shake off the incident.
In the Labor-held seat of Lyons in northern Tasmania, Mr Albanese sought to shift debate back towards policy, unveiling a plan to reinstate a 50 per cent regional loading for bulk-billed telehealth psychiatric consultations.
“The Labor Party is actually the only party that’s released comprehensive and detailed policies around supporting economic growth and the jobs that that will create,” he said.
“When you make a mistake with a number, and I was concentrating on something else, it shouldn’t have happened, you own up to it and move on … I wish it hadn’t had occurred, I am usually very good with numbers.”
Mr Albanese said the government could not be trusted on job predictions.
“This is a government that don’t have a plan for the economy. That’s why from this government what you’re seeing … support, these one-offs that disappears as soon as people have cast their vote,” he said.
“[The budget] was all about an election, what we need is a plan for the economy.”
It came as a new opinion poll showed Labor maintaining its lead over the government.
The Roy Morgan poll showed Labor ahead 57-43 on two-party preferred, while Labor was also ahead in all six states.
Elsewhere, Mr Morrison also faced more questions on Tuesday about a reported $500,000 payment to a former staffer of embattled Liberal MP Alan Tudge.
Mr Tudge stood down from cabinet last year amid allegations of an abusive relationship with Rachelle Miller. He has strenuously denied the allegations, with both parties maintaining their affair was consensual.
Mr Morrison insists he had no knowledge of whether the amount was paid out.
“I know it’s taxpayers’ money, and those matters are handled by the Department of Finance and at arm’s length from politicians,” he told Adelaide radio 5AA on Tuesday.
“I have no visibility on that at all. I can’t confirm to you if a payment has even been made.”
Mr Morrison cited a report that examined the allegations, which found there was insufficient evidence Mr Tudge breached the ministerial code.
While Mr Tudge stepped aside from his ministry position, Mr Morrison said he would be welcome back in the cabinet.