CANBERRA, AAP – Prime Minister Scott Morrison will announce a billion-dollar boost to the country’s research sector during an address at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

The $1.6 billion program, called Australia’s Economic Accelerator, will seek to turn early-stage research ideas into commercial successes.

It will form part of a $2.2 billion plan to enhance Australian research, which also includes an expansion of a CSIRO initiative backing start-up companies and investing in 1800 industry-focused PhDs.

Mr Morrison said while Australian research was often classed as world-standard, it was underperforming commercially.

“The fund will allow Australian innovators to access funding opportunities for each stage of their project provided they can continue to prove project viability and commercial potential,” Mr Morrison will say in the speech.

“We need to accelerate the forging of linkages between Australian industry and Australian university researchers, we need to find and develop a new breed of researcher entrepreneurs in Australia.”

The major address comes after growing criticism of the prime minister for his handling of COVID-19 during the summer and poor polling for the government.

The latest Newspoll, published on Monday, gave Labor a 56-44 two-party preferred lead over the government.

The government’s primary vote has fallen to just 34 per cent, while Labor’s has risen to 41 per cent.

The federal election is due to be held by May 21 at the latest.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan brushed off the poll numbers, indicating the pandemic response will be a key issue at the election.

“When the time comes, we will be able to step back and put a very strong case to how Australia as a nation has been able to deal with this pandemic, compared to countries right around the world … (and) what our plan is as we come out of the pandemic,” he told ABC TV.

However, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the poll results sent a clear signal to the government ahead of the election.

“The Australian people are giving us a kick up the rear end at the moment, and you know, we haven’t got everything right, we acknowledge that,” he said.

“There’s no playbook for COVID, and what we’ve done is try to play the cards that have been dealt to us.”

Labor deputy leader Richard Marles said while the poll result showed a large lead to the opposition, he wasn’t taking anything for granted.

“We don’t pay too much attention to the weekly opinion polls,” he told the ABC.

“I feel like there is a close contest out there.”