Scott Morrison will kick off a four-day Queensland electoral sortie with a pledge to oversee the creation of 1.25m jobs over the next five years, as he attempts to claw back support for the Coalition ahead of the 2019 election.
But the government will be hit with a fresh political challenge as it attempts to steady its fortunes ahead of the election, with another high-profile independent, Oliver Yates, the former chief executive of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, preparing to run against the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, in the Melbourne seat of Kooyong.
Yates, a member of the Liberal party who has become a vocal critic of the government’s policies, particularly on climate change, is expected to confirm his intentions to contest Kooyong as an independent on Wednesday.
There is also speculation that the former Liberal Julia Banks, who quit the government for the crossbench last year, will run against Greg Hunt, the health minister, in the Victorian seat of Flinders.
The prime minister will outline the new jobs pledge during a speech on the economy in Brisbane on Tuesday ahead of campaigning in Queensland’s south-east, where he will unveil new infrastructure commitments. The sweep of vulnerable seats will include Dickson, held by the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton.
With a federal election expected in May, and with voter sentiment in Queensland critical to the outcome, Bill Shorten opened the new political year with a nine-day bus tour through the state’s marginal seats, and Morrison has also campaigned already in the far north.
Morrison and the Coalition are entering a critical political year on the back foot. The Coalition has trailed Labor consistently in the polls since the last federal election, and the government’s political position deteriorated further after the decision to dump Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister and install Morrison in the top job.
The first Guardian Essential poll of 2019 had Labor maintaining an election-winning position, ahead of the government on the two-party preferred measure 53% to 47%. Another survey is due Wednesday.
Morrison has endured a choppy start to the political year, with three ministers revealing they will not contest the coming election, and with controversy erupting over the prime minister’s decision to parachute the Indigenous leader and former Labor president Warren Mundine in to contest the New South Wales marginal seat of Gilmore.
With last year’s Victorian election rout suggesting the Liberals are facing a major backlash in their electoral heartland, high-profile independents are also targeting Coalition seats.
The barrister and former Olympian Zali Steggall is taking on the former prime minister Tony Abbott in Warringah, and Frydenberg and Hunt are expected to face competition from independents.
The prime minister will use Tuesday’s speech to set out broad themes about the economy, and declare a re-elected Morrison government will create the conditions for 1.25m jobs to be created in five years.
Morrison will argue the government has the track record to make the pledge – 1.2m jobs created during the Coalition’s time in office, and unemployment now standing at 5%, the lowest level in seven years.
Morrison has been ramping up the negative rhetoric against his political opponents as the political cycle reaches the business end, and the Coalition has spent the summer campaigning against Labor tax measures, including changes to negative gearing.
The prime minister will contend on Tuesday that a vote for Labor will imperil economic recovery.
“At this next election, you’ll be deciding more than the government,” Morrison will say in Tuesday’s speech.
“You’ll be deciding the economy you and your families – your children and grandchildren – will live in for the next decade. And the consequences will be real.
“Labor and Mr Shorten are offering you a weaker economy to live in, held back by higher taxes.”
On Tuesday the finance minister Mathias Cormann responded to Yates’s run as an independent by remarking that he “had not been a Liberal for a very long time”.
“[Yates] was appointed to a very senior role by the Gillard Labor government, he has been that way inclined for a very long time,” Cormann told Radio National.
“Good luck to him, it’s a free world. I’m very confident Josh Frydenberg is not only an outstanding treasurer but also an outstanding local member for Kooyong.”
On Monday, Shorten blasted “fresh chaos and continuing disunity in the government”.
“If it’s not members of the government walking out the door, it’s other Liberal supporters running against the government as independents,” the Labor leader said.
“This is a government that’s lurching from crisis to crisis, and in the meantime the big issues are just not getting addressed”.