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Prime Minister Scott Morrison concedes he and his colleagues have “a mountain to climb” if they are to head off a Labor victory at the next election.

The former Tourism Australia executive is pegging his hopes on sharpening the party’s messaging.

“We’ve been very good at the what … but the why, the why, people want to know,” Mr Morrison told Sydney’s 2GB radio on Tuesday.

What is proving particularly difficult to explain is why he replaced Malcolm Turnbull in the first place.

“Because the parliamentary party elected me to do that job,” Mr Morrison told Perth radio station 6PR.

“Whatever the reasons individual members had, one thing is very clear, they have given me that responsibility to lead them to the next election and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Australia has enjoyed strong jobs and economic growth under coalition rule.

And yet, the government has lost its 40th consecutive Newspoll and would shed 30 lower house seats if the results were replicated at the next federal poll.

Mr Morrison told a joint coalition partyroom meeting Labor leader Bill Shorten thinks he’s home and hosed.

“The Australian people are coming quickly to the realisation of what a Shorten government would look like and they recoil,” he told colleagues at Parliament House.

“The events of the past few weeks have been very difficult for us all, that’s done, we all know that. We have a mountain to climb together.”

A federal election is due by May 18.

The latest Essential poll shows Mr Morrison’s net approval rating as prime minister has risen 6.33 per cent in the past fortnight.

Two in five respondents believed he would make a better prime minister than Mr Shorten, compared to 27 per cent support for the Labor leader.

One third of the 1050 people surveyed between Thursday and Sunday did not know who would be better.

The prime minister has singled out energy policy as a key election battleground.

“Bill Shorten wants to have an ideological debate about climate. I want to have a practical debate about reducing electricity prices,” he said.

Some 69 per cent of respondents to the Essential poll think it is important for the federal government to agree to a policy for reducing carbon emissions to address climate change, while 23 per cent think it is not important.

The prime minister said he was comfortable reducing carbon emissions by 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, in line with the Paris climate accord.