Reuters International

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (C) listens to a question during a media conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Lukas Coch/AAP

(reuters_tickers)

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Support for Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's conservative government has fallen to its lowest level since he assumed office, undermining expectations he will secure a comfortable election victory later this year.

Support for the ruling Liberal-National coalition is now at 49 percent, a Newspoll found on Tuesday, on a two-party preferred basis where votes for minor parties are redistributed to the two main blocs according to preferences.

With an election expected to be called as early as July, the poll findings give the opposition Australian Labor Party a lead for the first time since Turnbull ousted former conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott in September 2015.

Support for the conservative coalition jumped to as high as 53 percent after Turnbull became prime minister, but Turnbull's popularity has waned amid disappointment that he failed to push through any major policy changes amid internal party bickering.

"The Australian people are incredibly disappointed that they saw a change in [prime minister] but no change in direction from this government," said Richard Di Natale, leader of the opposition Australian Greens.

Turnbull declined to comment on the poll when asked by reporters in Sydney on Tuesday, insisting that his attention was focused on driving economic growth.

He still retains a commanding lead as preferred prime minister over Labor leader Bill Shorten, with the poll showing his personal standing at 48 percent to Shorten's 27 percent.

More socially liberal than Abbott, Turnbull's rise stoked hopes for a change in policies on issues ranging from legalising gay marriage to making the country a republic, but he has stuck with previous government policies.

He has also been at odds over economic policy with his Treasurer Scott Morrison and was rebuffed at a meeting last week with state premiers over a new tax plan.

($1 = 1.3160 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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