Turnbull talks tough on foreign workers – deer farmers and historians off welcome list


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Whatever the arguments for the changes governing foreign skilled workers announced by Malcolm Turnbull, make no mistake – this is about an embattled government wanting to send a strong political message. The Conversation

One clue was Turnbull’s reference to placing first not just Australian jobs, but “Australian values”. He made mention of “Australian values” both in his Facebook video and his news conference, when announcing the replacement of the 457 visa.

In this context, “Australian values” is itself a value-laden term.

For Turnbull, it was something of a rhetorical juggle, as he acknowledged Australia as an “immigration nation” and noted the many workers “from war-shattered Europe” who helped build the Snowy scheme, while declaring Australian jobs must be filled by Australians wherever possible.

The government has been under pressure over foreign workers from left and right – from Labor (Bill Shorten introduced a private member’s bill to tighten the 457 scheme), as well as from One Nation.

Pauline Hanson was – of course – quick to claim credit for Turnbull’s move.

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A few years ago another federal government on the defensive went to a like place. In 2013, Julia Gillard pledged to “stop foreign workers being put at the front of the queue with Australian workers at the back”.

Labor sources at the time said she was tapping into what they described as the “economic patriotism” embedded in the “battler” view of the world; Labor research had found a strong view among voters that there were available jobs Australians couldn’t get. Attitudes are unlikely to have changed, and the Turnbull government knows it.

For the record, in response to Gillard then-opposition leader Tony Abbott defended the 457 entrants and accused her of “trying to divide Australians”.

It’s unclear precisely how much difference the Turnbull government’s change – cast to sound dramatic but seen by some as mainly a rebadging – will make.

It is scrapping the 457 visa, under which foreign workers are brought in on four-year visas. It will be replaced by a new Temporary Skill Shortage Visa program with two streams. One will provide a two-year visa; the other, a visa for up to four years.

The list of requirements will include applicants having at least two years work experience in their skilled occupation; mandatory criminal history checks; and the capacity for just one on-shore renewal under the short-term stream. The short-term stream won’t provide a path to permanent residency. There will be tightened English language requirements for the medium-term stream.

The government has given no estimate of the expected outcome of the change.

Turnbull said that at present there were about 95,000 457 visa holders. But he could not quantify the likely impact of the new system beyond saying: “Because we are narrowing significantly the number of occupations and we are increasing the qualifications that visa applicants need to have, it is our expectation that all other things being equal you will see a material reduction over time of people working on these temporary visas.”

But “it depends upon all other things being equal … which they are not. It depends on the demands of the economy, emerging skill gaps, changes in the economy.”

It’s worth remembering that 457 visa workers are less than 1% of the workforce.

The present list of 651 eligible occupations has been cut by 216, to 435. Some 268 occupations will be available under the new two-year visa, and only 167 will be eligible for the four-year visa.

The occupations chopped range widely, including jobs as diverse as deer farmer, project builder, betting agency manager, chemical engineer, horse trainer, singer, antique dealer, and bed and breakfast operator.

It’s not clear precisely how judgements were made on some of them, such as commissioned police officer, policy analyst, television presenter, and archivist.

Some of the deletions – such as “historian” and “archaeologist” – are hardly jobs to which an “Australians first” rule should apply. Nor will their exclusion from the list have much impact on the Aussie labour market.

Then again, much of this is definitional. Quite a lot of the deleted occupations could be re-classified to come within the revised lists.

Indeed, Jenny Lambert, from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, pointed out that the 457s were “rarely if ever” applied to many of the deleted occupations. She suggested that the problem with 457s has been one of public perception rather than the scheme’s operation. “The perception of the program is the biggest issue and we need to reset it,” she told Sky.

The Australian Industry Group’s Innes Willox said that “the 457 visa system was a highly valued program but misunderstandings of its use and exaggerations of its misuse led it to become a lightning rod for anti-migration sentiments”.

Supporting the reforms, Willox said: “The temporary skilled visa program should now be considered as settled without the need for further reviews and disruptive policy change”.

In other words, business’ main preoccupation is that the importation of foreign skilled workers should be taken off the political football field.

That may be wishful thinking. Meanwhile, eyes will be on whether the government puts any squeeze in the budget on the general immigration program, which has been coming under attack from some critics in a housing affordability debate that’s run increasingly out of the government’s control.

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Coalition rebounds in Newspoll following Snowy announcement, but Essential moves to Labor


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted 16-19 March from a sample of 1820, has Labor leading 52-48, but this is a 3 point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes are 37% for the Coalition (up 3), 35% for Labor (down 2), 10% for One Nation (steady) and 9% for the Greens (down 1). The Conversation

Despite the relatively strong result for the Coalition, Turnbull’s ratings only improved slightly: 30% (up 1) were satisfied, and 57% (down 2) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -27. Shorten’s net approval was -28, down two points.

On Thursday, the first day of Newspoll’s fieldwork, Turnbull announced an extension of the Snowy River hydro-electric plan, and it appears that this announcement has given the Coalition at least a temporary boost. The public likes infrastructure policies that appear to offer solutions to Australia’s energy crisis.

Labor may also have been damaged by the furore over new ACTU secretary Sally McManus’ comments that workers could break “unjust” laws.

An additional Newspoll question found 47% in favour of a proposed change to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, while 39% were opposed. Kevin Bonham thinks the long preamble to this question is skewed towards supporting the proposed change.

Essential at 55-45 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1800, had Labor gaining two points to lead 55-45. Primary votes were Labor 37%, Coalition 34%, One Nation 10%, Greens 9% and Nick Xenophon Team 3%.

Newspoll and Essential disagree markedly this week, but Newspoll has performed well when measured against election results, so I trust it more than Essential.

Additional Essential questions are based on one week’s sample. On attributes of the political parties, Labor was up since June 2016 on positive attributes and down on negative ones, with the exception of being too close to the big corporate and financial interests (up 5). For the Liberals, the perception that they are divided was up 16 points, and “has a good team of leaders” down 9 points. Labor led on all positive attributes and trailed on all negative ones, with some differences of well over 10 points.

77% thought their gas and electricity costs had increased over the last few years, with only 2% thinking prices had decreased. 75% would approve of a reservation policy where a percentage of gas is reserved for domestic use, and only 6% would disapprove. 68% approved of the SA government’s energy plan, and only 11% disapproved. 31% thought coal seam gas mining on farming land should be restricted, 25% thought it should be banned altogether, and only 14% thought there was already sufficient regulation of coal seam gas mining.

In last week’s Essential, Turnbull’s net approval was -17, down two points since February. Shorten’s net approval was -19, also down two points.

Proposed tax increases that were aimed at the wealthy and multinational corporations polled strongly, but removing GST exemptions or increasing the GST rate did not have much support. 46% disapproved of the $50 billion in tax cuts for medium and large businesses, while 24% approved. 43% thought the company tax cuts would deliver business bigger profits, and that this money should be used for schools, hospitals, etc. 25% thought the company tax cuts would bring our tax into line with other countries, and deliver more jobs through greater business investment.

Trust in various media has taken an across the board hit since February 2016, but the ABC and SBS are the most trusted media.

Essential’s polling on penalty rates from two weeks ago found 56% disapproving of the Fair Work Commission’s decision to reduce Sunday penalty rates, with 32% approving. 34% strongly disapproved with just 9% strongly approving. 57% thought the penalty rate reduction would result in business making bigger profits, while 24% thought business would employ more workers. 51% thought the government should legislate to protect penalty rates, while 31% thought the government should accept the decision.

WA election late counting: Labor wins 41 of 59 lower house seats

At the WA election held 11 March, Labor won a massive landslide in the lower house, winning 41 of the 59 seats (up 20 since the 2013 election), to 13 for the Liberals (down 18) and 5 for the Nationals (down 2). According to Antony Green, Labor’s percentage of lower house seats (69.5%) is the highest it has ever won at WA lower house elections.

In the upper house, Labor and the Greens are likely to win a combined 18 of the 36 seats. Below the line votes have not yet been added to the count. The Greens and micro parties tend to perform well on below the line votes at the expense of the major parties. The Greens will be hoping that a below the line surge allows them to defeat the Liberals for the final seat in South Metro region. Below the line votes in that region may also give the Daylight Saving party a seat at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.

If Labor and the Greens combined win 18 of the 36 upper house seats, Labor could attempt to persuade a non-Labor/Greens member to be the upper house President. The President of the WA upper house can only vote when the votes are tied, so such a manoeuvre would give Labor and the Greens 18 of the 35 floor votes.

Dutch election: far right flops again

The Dutch election was held last Wednesday. The 150 members of the Dutch Parliament are elected by proportional representation. Geert Wilders’ far right Party of Freedom had a large lead in the polls in December, but that lead fell as the election approached, and they ended the campaign predicted to win a few seats less than the conservative/liberal VVD.

In the event, the VVD won 33 seats, to 20 for the Party of Freedom. It is likely that the VVD will head the new Dutch government, after negotiations with other parties are completed.

The WA and Dutch elections have both featured far right parties slumping as election day approached. Many supporters of such parties are against established parties, but not in favour of the far right’s policies. As these policies receive more exposure closer to the election, these supporters can desert.

The main reason Donald Trump won the US Presidency is that he won the Republican party’s nomination. Had Trump run a third party campaign, he would not have come close to winning. The US Republican party is already very right wing, and most Republicans utterly detest the Democrats and Hillary Clinton. Many Republicans probably had reservations about voting for Trump, but hated the alternative more.

French Presidential election: 23 April and 7 May

The French Presidential election will be held in two rounds, with the top two vote winners from the first round on 23 April proceeding to a runoff on 7 May, barring a very unlikely majority vote victory for one candidate in the first round.

Current polls have the far right Marine Le Pen leading the first round with 26%, followed by centrist Emmanuel Macron on 25%, conservative Francois Fillon on 18%, Socialist Benoit Hamon on 13% and the hard left Jean-Luc Melenchon on 12%. Other candidates have negligible vote shares.

While Le Pen is narrowly ahead in the first round, second round polling has Macron trouncing her by over 60-40, while Fillon defeats Le Pen by about 56-44.

With the Socialists discredited by Francois Hollande’s ineffectual Presidency (he did not run for re-election), a conservative was the clear favourite to win this election. However, Fillon has been dogged by allegations that he paid his wife and children government money for fake jobs, causing his poll ratings to slide. Last Tuesday, Fillon was placed under formal investigation over these allegations, the closest French equivalent to being charged.

Despite the allegations, Fillon has refused to quit. He won his party’s US style primary in November 2016, and his party has had no legal means to replace him. Nominations closed on Friday, so it is now too late to replace a candidate.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull unveils Snowy plan for pumped hydro, costing billions



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The Snowy Hydro scheme already provides back-up energy to NSW and Victoria.
AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In its latest move on energy policy, the Turnbull government has unveiled a plan to boost generation from the Snowy Hydro scheme by 50%. The Conversation

The government says the expansion, which it has labelled the Snowy Mountains Scheme 2.0, would add 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy to the National Electricity Market. This would be enough to power 500,000 homes.

Claiming the upgrading would be an “electricity game-changer”, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that in one hour it would be able to produce 20 times the 100 megawatt-hours expected from the battery proposed this week by the South Australian government, but would deliver it constantly for almost a week.

Turnbull flew to the Snowy early Thursday to formally announce the plan. The commonwealth is a minority shareholder in the Snowy Hydro, with a 13% stake. New South Wales and Victoria have 58% and 29% stakes respectively.

The government, through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), would examine several sites that could support large-scale pumped hydroelectric energy storage in the area, Turnbull said.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the cost would run into “billions of dollars”. It is being suggested it would be around A$2 billion. Frydenberg avoided being tied down on when it would be completed.

He said three new tunnels were being looked at, stretching 27 kilometres for the pumped hydro-facility. It would not involve new dams, but connect existing reservoirs and recycle water.

The plan had the potential to ensure there would be the needed renewable energy supply for those on the east coast at times of peak demand, Frydenberg said.

Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute, cautioned that the plan would involve technical and economic issues, including whether it could make money, and to what extent it could contribute to solving the short-term power crisis.

“This isn’t some sort of magic panacea,” Wood told the ABC. Some hard-headed thinking was needed on what it would do and how it would work.

Turnbull said: “The unprecedented expansion will help make renewables reliable, filling in holes caused by intermittent supply and generator outages.

“It will enable greater energy efficiency and help stabilise electricity supply into the future,” he said – adding that this would ultimately mean cheaper power prices.

He said successive governments at all levels had failed to put in place the needed storage to ensure reliable supply.

“We are making energy storage infrastructure a critical priority to ensure better integration of wind and solar into the energy market and more efficient use of conventional power.”

Turnbull said an “all-of-the-above” approach, including hydro, solar, coal and gas, was critical to future energy supplies.

Snowy Hydro already provided back-up energy to NSW and Victoria and could extend to South Australia when expanded, he said. The expansion would have no impact on the supply of irrigation water to NSW, South Australia and Queensland.

The feasibility study for the expansion is expected to be completed before the end of this year, with construction starting soon after, he said.

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull’s refusal to rule out preferencing Hanson raises questions about the ‘real Malcolm’



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Malcolm Turnbull will have to work out how best to handle Pauline Hanson and One Nation before the next federal election.
AAP/Brendan Esposito

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

For the national narrative, perhaps the most notable story out of the Western Australian election revolves around Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Turnbull. The Conversation

Despite the backlash from WA Liberal voters over the now-infamous preference deal the party did with her, Turnbull on Sunday wouldn’t rule out the Liberals playing footsie on preferences federally, deflecting questions by saying it was a matter for the party organisation.

Turnbull surely must be uncomfortable with his line. This would seem to be yet another area where he is not being true to his personal values. It must add to the confusion of voters wondering about the “real Malcolm”.

Hanson has come out of the WA election with her very ragged petticoats on display.

One Nation did much worse than it was polling early in the campaign. Expectations were high. On Saturday night Hanson was lamenting the preference deal, while trying to wriggle out of blame for the likely impact of her irresponsible comments on vaccination.

This was a polarising election – people were about changing the government, not just registering a protest.

While Hanson’s WA vote was very low in aggregate, in the three non-metropolitan regions for the upper house One Nation polled (on the count so far) between 9% and 14%.

In the Legislative Assembly seats with One Nation candidates, it polled about 8%; in the lower house seats it contested outside Perth it polled 9.6%.

ABC election analyst Antony Green says the preference deal delivered nothing to the Liberals, but has brought One Nation an upper house seat in the south-west region and potentially a second seat, in the mining and pastoral region.

Regardless of her poor performance, Hanson continues to present a challenge for the conservative parties.

The WA result cut her down to size, and the campaign shows how such a party is likely eventually to blow itself up (as it did before). But that could take a while, and in the meantime the damage Hanson can do in the coming Queensland election and – depending on what happens there – the federal election means the debate over how to handle her will continue to rend the conservatives.

It took some time for John Howard to muscle up against Hanson two decades ago. Now we see Turnbull remaining equivocal – denouncing some of her stands but courting her as the leader of a Senate bloc and keeping options open on preferences.

Any preference deal in Queensland or federally would be quite different from the WA one. It would not disadvantage the Nationals. There is a combined party in Queensland and a coalition nationally (as distinct from the “alliance” that operated in WA).

It would be a matter of putting One Nation ahead of Labor.

The debate ahead involves not just how the Liberals see their electoral advantage, but a question of principle: given what Hanson represents, shouldn’t the major parties form a united front to try to squeeze her out of existence – which means placing her last or, for the Liberals and Nationals, at least behind Labor?

The Nationals are clear-eyed about Hanson because she is such a direct threat to them. But they are divided on the best approach to the danger she represents, and are likely to be pragmatic about preferences.

It is notable that the Nationals vote in WA held up relatively well (though the fate of their leader Brendon Grylls is uncertain). The same happened at last year’s federal election; the Nationals are often closer to feeling on the ground than the Liberals.

Turnbull is right that the thumping WA loss is overwhelmingly about the local scene. If the federal government was doing well, the main impact of the result would be having to deal with another state ALP government. But when you are in deep trouble, it’s another matter.

The WA defeat will add to the jitters on the backbench; it is an object lesson in how fierce the voters can be when they turn against a government. You can be sure also that Turnbull’s enemies within his own ranks will find ways to turn this latest Liberal bad news against him.

Meanwhile Bill Shorten is seeking – without the slightest evidence – to segue from the state result to the federal battlefield by claiming that a reaction to Turnbull’s “absolute refusal to stop the cuts to penalty rates” was one factor.

Morale is vital in politics, and just as the federal Liberals will be discombobulated by the WA result, so federal Labor will be encouraged. In Labor there is confidence the tide is moving its way. Strategists believe Queensland can be held at the state election.

For Shorten the message from WA is that a steady leader, albeit without charisma but with a united team and an acceptable message, can win when the electorate has become disenchanted with the government.

Circumstances are different federally from WA, where the economy and the electorate are suffering from the post-mining boom shocks. But what’s common is a struggling government, a budget in the red, and a leader who has become unpopular.

Going for Turnbull is that he has time – two years – before the voters get a chance to declare “time’s up”. The question for him is how to best use that time.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As the Liberal Party continues to fracture, we may be watching its demise


James Walter, Monash University

The Liberal Party is riven by internal bickering, with various camps claiming to speak for its “true” values and traditions. The contest is leading not to any prospect of unity or discipline, but to the party’s fragmentation. The war is fought in the guise of a contest over leadership appropriate to the party’s soul and to the national interest. The Conversation

In the process, the party is incrementally diverging from popular opinion on issues essential to future electoral success. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is currently in the crosshairs. But whether or not he survives to fight another election, whoever leads the party next time is unlikely to be the saviour of the party or Coalition government.

The predicament is best understood by analysing what is at the heart of this struggle: the pragmatic liberalism that was the Liberal Party’s foundation; the divergence of the party base from majority opinion; and the contemporary obsession with “the leader” as solely responsible for the party’s fortunes.

All exponents of Liberal Party values lay claim to the “Menzies” tradition. The most vehement contemporary claimants are on the party’s right wing. Their plaint is that the commitment to individualism, private enterprise, small government, lower taxes and free trade has been forgotten. Cory Bernardi split with the Liberals to establish his own party, Australian Conservatives, “to reconnect with voters and restore traditional Menzies-era values”.

Others of like mind remain in the fold — and threaten Turnbull’s leadership. The most prominent is his predecessor, Tony Abbott. Abbott continues to advocate more extreme budget austerity, climate change scepticism, immigration restriction, market fundamentalism and regressive taxation reform than even Turnbull (who has compromised on everything he once promised in an attempt to mollify the right) has yet conceded.

Such claims depart from Menzies’ principles in two core texts. The first is his famous “Forgotten People” broadcast in 1943. The second is his essay on “The revival of Liberalism in Australia” in Afternoon Light.

Menzies championed thrift, self-reliance, private enterprise, individual responsibility and freedom, and the family as the bastion of our best instincts. He warned of the danger of an “all powerful” state. But he pitched his appeal to the middle class, excluding the rich and powerful (who did not need his help) and the “unskilled people” (protected by unions and with wages safeguarded by common law). Thus he mobilised an election-winning constituency between what he saw as the extremes of exploitative financial power and the incipient socialism of the organised working class.

Yet Menzies insisted:

There is no room in Australia for a party of reaction. There is no useful place for a policy of negation.

He never claimed that his was a conservative party. On the contrary:

We took the name ‘Liberal’ because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary, but believing in the individual, his rights and his enterprise, and rejecting the Socialist panacea.

Still, the state had its part to play. Menzies supported protection, not free trade. He “did not … [believe] that private enterprise should have an ‘open go’. Not at all.”

He identified the state’s obligation to address unemployment, and secure economic security and material well-being through social legislation. He advocated fierce independence, but the difficulties of those who fell through the cracks were to be ameliorated:

… we have nothing but the warmest human compassion … towards those compelled to live upon the bounty of the state.

This philosophy served Menzies well. Not until the late 1980s did the party change, when it “torched its traditions” as it sacrificed ameliorative liberalism in the interests of economic reform. Only then did the split between “wets” and “drys” lead to liberal moderates being increasingly marginalised. And only then party did hardliners begin to assert their claims as “conservatives”, a term that had never been indigenous to Australian anti-Labor politics, but was appropriated from the US culture wars of the time to serve the same purpose.

The bipartisan commitment to neo-liberal reform did what was intended. It increased prosperity, but at the cost of increasing employment uncertainty and astonishing inequity in the distribution of rewards. Inflation was defeated, but some communities were devastated as industry disappeared.

By the early 2000s, surveys revealed that the “new consensus” had not won popular acceptance. By 2016, there was pervasive distrust in the institutions of the new order and an unprecedented loss of confidence in the leaders who had brought this about.

It is a collapse that has impacted both major parties. Pointedly, for the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, after election, reverted to policies that mirrored the party’s base — now increasingly divergent from majority opinion on social issues, especially climate change.

Unable to garner public support, Abbott was supplanted by Turnbull, whose initial popularity depended on a progressive liberalism akin to a contemporary adaptation of Menzies’ stipulations.

But the “broad church” was gone. Progressive liberals have given up; the hard right has claimed Menzies’ mantle and threatens retribution if Turnbull “offends” against the much diminished and now atypical membership base. He is besieged on both sides: an uprising if he confronts those who claim to speak for the party; and a loss of popularity (and electorate support) as he compromises on the more progressive liberalism he promised the public.

It is not, finally, an argument about who is more and less Liberal, but a manifestation of the unravelling of the party. Who could break the impasse that looks likely to defeat Turnbull? Schisms between liberals and self-proclaimed conservatives will continue within, potentially with more splintering of populist, libertarian and hard-right fringe parties.

Any new leader would need to be a master tactician and negotiator without peer to achieve consensus across this morass. No-one currently in the ranks demonstrates such skills. And a return to Abbott or any of his ilk guarantees electoral oblivion. We may be witnessing the end of a once great party.

James Walter, Professor of Political Science, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Coalition trails 45-55% and Turnbull’s ratings sink in Newspoll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A disastrous Newspoll showing the Coalition trailing Labor 45-55%, One Nation gaining ground and Malcolm Turnbull’s ratings falling will fuel the alarm and anger in the Coalition as it returns to parliament in the wake of Tony Abbott’s outburst. The Conversation

Abbott will cop much blame for the result. But the worsening in Turnbull’s personal numbers also suggests his recent more aggressive performance hasn’t impressed the public as much as it did his colleagues.

The poll, in Monday’s Australian, showed a further deterioration from the 46-54% two-party vote of three weeks ago, which had been the worst result of Turnbull’s prime ministership. One Nation has increased its support from 8% to 10% over the three weeks.

The poll was taken Thursday to Sunday, so Abbott’s provocative Thursday evening speech and TV interview – warning of the risk of a “drift to defeat” and setting out his alternative agenda including a call for lower immigration – would have fed straight into it.

Turnbull’s net satisfaction has plummeted by nine points, from minus 21 to minus 30; Shorten’s net satisfaction has dipped by four points, from minus 22 to minus 26. Turnbull has also lost ground in his lead over Shorten as better prime minister – 40% (down two points) to 33% (up three points).

The Coalition’s primary vote has fallen one point to 34%, with Labor increasing one point to 37%. The Greens are on 10% and “others” are on 9%.

Parliament resumes not only with the government’s division on display but with Labor having ammunition after last week’s decision by the Fair Work Commission cutting Sunday penalty rates for the hospitality, retail, fast-food and pharmacy sectors.

Abbott’s intervention has been condemned by colleagues, but his former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin defended him at the weekend.

She said that as a former prime minister he had every right to make a speech “outlining what he thinks the Coalition needs to do to win back its supporters and govern in Australia’s national interest”, although she was critical of his also doing a media interview.

“Of course, it would have been easier for everyone if he’d given his counsel in private, but the PM has made it clear he doesn’t want Abbott’s advice so it is hard to criticise him for speaking publicly,” she wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

She said Abbott had come back from a large number of marginal seat visits “so he has no illusions about the anger among Coalition supporters and party members”.

Credlin wrote that despite what Turnbull said, Coalition supporters didn’t believe he “has a conservative bone in his body”.

“Regardless of his promises, Turnbull’s problem has always been a lack of authenticity,” she wrote.

“It comes down to this: Malcolm Turnbull is desperate to hold on to power and Tony Abbott is desperate to hold the Liberal Party together. It’s not necessarily the same thing.”

On Sky Credlin said “there is absolutely no relationship” between Abbott and Turnbull: “it was manufactured to get everybody through the campaign so no one could accuse Abbott of being a wrecker”.

Credlin also said she did not believe Abbott wanted the prime ministerial job again: “I think he would have a hard time reconciling around that cabinet table with people like Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop and others who would very likely stay in the senior ranks.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, an Abbott loyalist to the end of his prime ministership, who on Friday strongly criticised Thursday’s intervention, told Sky he had “thought it was important to send a very clear message … to essentially signal that enough is enough”. He said that “obviously private messages hadn’t been heeded”.

His Friday criticism of Abbott was not co-ordinated with Turnbull’s office, Cormann said. “It was off my own bat … I made the judgement it was necessary and appropriate to say what I said.”

Shorten on Monday will give notice of a private member’s bill to protect penalty rates. The bill would prevent the decision of the Fair Work Commission from taking effect. It would also ensure that penalty rates could not be cut in future if that resulted in a cut in take-home pay.

In a letter to Turnbull on Sunday, Shorten said at least 600,000 people would be hurt by this pay cut and the brunt of the decision would be borne by low income earners.

Calling for the government to intervene to head off the cuts, Shorten wrote that “a decision not to intervene is a decision to endorse the proposed cuts to pay. There is no doubt that this decision will cause genuine financial hardship. It is simply unacceptable to reduce penalty rates without compensation.

“You have a window to act before the commission issues its determination and the opposition would work with you to ensure this devastating cut to low paid workers’ income never occurs,” Shorten wrote.

The government, aware the pay cut is likely to rebound on it, is stressing it is the decision of the “independent umpire” rather than a government decision.

It also points out that when workplace relations minister, Shorten brought in an amendment that referred to penalty rates being included in the review of awards.

But Shorten said in his letter that his 2013 amendments were intended to ensure the commission took into account “the need to provide additional remuneration for employees working outside normal hours”.

“It was clearly the parliament’s intent that the award review process would not ever result in a cut to worker’s pay.”

On Friday the Greens flagged a private member’s bill to prevent the commission’s decision from coming into effect.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/j795u-67fef0?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor leads 55-45 in Newspoll as Turnbull’s ratings tank


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1680, gave Labor a 55-45 lead, a 1 point gain for Labor since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 37% for Labor (up 1), 34% for the Coalition (down 1), 10% for the Greens (steady) and 10% for One Nation (up 2). It appears that One Nation is now in Newspoll’s party readout, so their support should not be underestimated. The Conversation

29% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (down 5), and 59% were dissatisfied (up 4), for a net approval of -30, down 9 points. This is a record low net approval for Turnbull; his previous low was -28. Shorten’s net approval also slumped four points to -26.

According to Kevin Bonham, Turnbull and Shorten are now at a combined low net approval of -56, though they are still five points above Abbott and Shorten’s record low of -61. Paul Keating and John Hewson hold the record low net approval with a combined score of -76.

While Turnbull’s parliamentary performance in the first two weeks of sittings won plaudits from the political press, Newspoll suggests it did not impress the general public. Essential’s findings below show that the public is strongly in favour of renewable energy, undermining the pro-coal and anti-renewables rhetoric of the Coalition and their right wing media cheerleaders.

Three weeks ago, I wrote that there was no evidence from the polling under Abbott or Turnbull that Australians want a hard right government. When Turnbull adopts Abbott-type policies and rhetoric, his ratings and the Coalition’s come to resemble those under Abbott. To some extent, Abbott was protected by reluctance to return to Labor after one term, but the Coalition is now into its second term.

An additional Newspoll question finds that 17% would be willing to pay an extra $300 or more per year for renewable energy, 26% would pay an extra $100 and 45% nothing more. These figures are little changed from October 2016.

Essential at 53-47 to Labor

Primary votes in this week’s Essential are 37% Coalition, 37% Labor, 9% Greens, 9% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team. Voting intentions are based on a two-week sample of 1800, with other questions using one week’s sample.

Since September last year, positive attributes of Turnbull fell slightly and negative attributes rose slightly; the biggest change is for visionary (down 5). Shorten’s attributes moved in the same direction as Turnbull’s, though to a lesser extent. The three biggest attribute differences between the two leaders are on out of touch (Turnbull by 18), intelligent (Turnbull by 12) and arrogant (Turnbull by 12).

44% approved of negative gearing (up 1 since May 2016), and 35% disapproved (down 1). 41% disapproved of investors receiving a capital gains tax deduction on profits made selling properties, and 37% approved. Asked what would be the effect of limiting negative gearing and reducing the capital gains tax concession, 32% said house prices would rise at a slower rate, 19% said house prices would fall and 17% said house prices would rise at the same rate.

46% thought housing affordability was more important for the government to address, while 44% selected rising energy prices. 64% would support a royal commission into banking, with just 16% opposed.

In last week’s Essential, 60% (up 6 since December) thought climate change is happening, and is caused by human activity, while 25% (down 2) thought we are witnessing a normal fluctuation. This is a record high for human caused climate change in Essential’s polling, and probably reflects the effects of the recent heatwave across eastern Australia.

65% supported Labor’s 50% renewable energy target by 2030, with only 18% opposed. 45% blamed the recent SA power blackouts on failures of the energy market, 19% blamed it on privatisation of the energy market, and only 16% blamed renewables. 64% thought renewable energy was the solution to our future energy needs, and only 14% thought it a threat to our energy supply. 45% opposed building new coal-fired power stations, with 31% in favour.

29% approved of the Liberals directing preferences to One Nation in the WA election, and 38% disapproved. 82% thought people required to work outside normal hours should receive a higher hourly pay rate, and only 12% disagreed.

Victorian Galaxy: Labor holds narrow lead, but Andrews has negative rating

A Victorian Galaxy poll had Labor holding a 51-49 lead, a one point gain for the Coalition since a November Galaxy. Primary votes were 41% for the Coalition (down 1), 37% for Labor (steady), 10% for the Greens (down 2) and 8% for One Nation. 35% approved of Premier Daniel Andrews, and 52% disapproved, for a net rating of -17; this question was not asked in November. 52% thought Victoria had become less safe under Labor, with just 15% for more safe. This poll was conducted 16-17 February from a sample of 1090.

A separate Galaxy poll of the Labor-held seat of Werribee, conducted 16 February with a sample of 550, had Labor crashing, probably due to concerns about a proposed youth prison in Werribee. The Liberals held a 51-49 lead, a massive swing of 17 points since the 2014 election. Primary votes were Liberals 35% (up 6), Labor 29% (down 28!), One Nation 21% and Greens 7% (down 2). 85% disapproved of the youth prison, with only 12% in favour.

These two Galaxy polls were taken before the Speaker and deputy Speaker of Victoria’s lower house resigned owing to abuse of parliamentary entitlements.

Queensland redistribution

Last year, the Liberal National Party (LNP) combined with crossbenchers to expand the unicameral Queensland Parliament from 89 to 93 seats, despite the objections of the Labor government. The LNP thought they would lose seats under a redistribution had the old 89 seats been retained.

On Friday, the Queensland Electoral Commission published draft boundaries for the redistribution. Antony Green has calculated the new margins in all seats. He finds that Labor would win 47 of the 93 seats based on votes at the 2015 election. The LNP would win 44, the Katter Party one, and one Independent. The 2015 election result was 44 Labor, 42 LNP, 2 Katter and 1 Independent.

These calculations ignore two defections from Labor and one from the LNP since the last election. They assume standard two party contests, so the surge in support for One Nation could throw them out.

UK Labour suffers disastrous by-election loss

On Thursday, UK by-elections occurred in the Labour-held seats of Stoke Central and Copeland. Labour retained Stoke Central with a small swing against them, but in Copeland the Conservatives won by 44.3% (up 8.5 points since the 2015 election), to 37.3% for Labour (down 4.9). At the 2015 election, Labour won Copeland by 6.5 points.

This is the first time a government has gained a seat at a UK by-election since 1982. In that case, and in several other cases, the opposition’s vote was split at the by-election by sitting members contesting for another party. The last time a UK government won an opposition-held seat at a by-election without vote splitting was 1960, but that seat had only been won by 47 votes at the previous general election. According to Number Cruncher Politics, 1878 was the last time a truly comparable event occurred.

Current polls have the Conservatives in the low 40’s and Labour in the mid 20’s. The Copeland by-election adds to the evidence that Labour faces an utter shellacking at the next general election with Jeremy Corbyn as its leader.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull turns shock-and-awe on Abbott


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has unleashed massive retaliation against Tony Abbott as appalled Liberals, who can only fear where it will all end, watch the former prime minister tear at the leadership of the man who overthrew him. The Conversation

Abbott will never be prime minister again – at least that’s as certain as anything can be in the volatile world of politics. What’s unknown is how much damage he can do his successor. At a guess, quite a lot.

Abbott’s latest assault on Turnbull comes at a further cost to Abbott’s own reputation among Liberals. Many on the right, let alone others in the party, are increasingly angry at his destructiveness.

But while Abbott’s attacks might rally the troops around Turnbull, they reinforce the message that the government is divided, feed into criticisms coming from conservatives about its performance, and provide yet another free kick for Labor.

“I am not distracted by political outbursts,” Turnbull tried to claim during a news conference completely distracted by the affair.

Abbott’s Thursday onslaught was swingeing and calculated. Launching a book of conservative essays, he outlined his alternative policy agenda, helpfully dubbed a “manifesto” in media reports, which included lower immigration and torpedoing the Renewable Energy Target.

He threw in a broadside against Turnbull’s latest pet and ill-founded idea of subsidising so-called “clean coal”. As he put it succinctly: “We subsidise wind to make coal uneconomic so now we are proposing to subsidise coal to keep the lights on. Go figure.”

In his accompanying performance on the Bolt Report, Abbott declared that: “the risk is that we will drift to defeat if we don’t lift our game”. In his speech he said the election was “winnable” (on his agenda, that is) – the government’s “challenge is to be worth voting for … to win back the people who are giving up on us”.

There are three ways for a leader to try to deal with a predecessor forcibly removed who has turned feral. Appease him by inviting him into the tent. Grit teeth and suggest a little freelancing is really OK – just what an “ex” does. Or hit back hard.

On Friday there was no pretence, let alone compromise: Turnbull let fly with barely repressed fury, first on Melbourne’s 3AW and at a news conference.

His message about substance was that Abbott had talked about doing things – such as abolishing the gold pass, restoring law to the building sector, cutting taxes – but he, Turnbull, did them.

Gone is the old line that there was some continuity, among the differences, between the Abbott and Turnbull governments. Now ministers, presumably following talking points, are falling over themselves to say, in effect, that the Abbott government, of which they were senior members, wasn’t much good.

As for Abbott the tormenter: “Tony Abbott is a very experienced politician … He knows exactly what he’s doing and so do his colleagues,” Turnbull said.

So exactly what is Abbott doing?

Obviously, he’s indulging himself, finding therapy and purpose by letting his pain and fury come in a sort of primal scream.

If Turnbull won’t put him in cabinet, as he thinks his due as a former leader and experienced minister, well, he’ll do just what he wants. He’ll make himself a centre of attention, an alternative voice, a critiquer of a floundering government. He will find comfort in the emails from people in “the base” who thought he was treated badly.

What he is not doing by this week’s behaviour is gathering internal support. Surely he must know this.

He must have winced to hear on Friday morning Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who described the TV interview as “deliberately destructive. It was completely unhelpful. It was not designed to be helpful. He was not trying to help our cause or help our country. It was quite self-indulgent”.

Cormann is a senior conservative. As he pointed out, he’d been “loyal and supportive and reliable” for Abbott until the very end of his leadership. On the night of the ballot that Abbott was clearly going to lose, Cormann went out to publicly back him.

In recent times Turnbull, as he’s become frustrated with Treasurer Scott Morrison, has grown closer to Cormann. So his intervention, which was powerful, was still met with some cynicism. “Have you dispatched Mathias Cormann … to blow up Tony Abbott because you’re concerned he’s going to blow up your party?” one journalist asked Turnbull.

In terms of leadership, it does seem Abbott has harboured the unlikely thought that lightning can strike twice. In 2009 he became leader against the odds – sometimes strange things happen in ballots.

It’s said he’d hoped to get allies to stir party support on his behalf but that’s not happened. Sky News reported he told Cory Bernardi late last year that he would not challenge Turnbull, but left the door open for a second coming if Turnbull quit before the election.

Maybe he now thinks that, if he can’t wrest the leadership back, he can influence who might get it if Turnbull collapsed. He’d push conservative Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, and be particularly anxious to hold off Liberal deputy Julie Bishop and Morrison, both of whom he believes were disloyal to him.

As tends to happen after one of Abbott’s guerrilla attacks, on Friday he struck a sort of “who me?” attitude.

But his declaration of loyalty to Turnbull was formulaic. “He’s the person that the party chose to lead the government and obviously I support the leader of the government.”

And there was this, which can only be described as breathtaking: “My duty as a former party leader is to try to ensure the party and the government stays on the right track.”

One Liberal backbencher summed up the whole 24 hours: “Tony was right about one thing, they are drifting towards losing – except it’s no longer a drift.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tony Abbott says government’s challenge is ‘to be worth voting for’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Tony Abbott has laid out his policy alternatives to make the next election “winnable” for the Coalition, in a provocative speech that again highlights his differences with Malcolm Turnbull. The Conversation

The former prime minister said the government should say to the people of Australia that it would cut the renewable energy target, reduce immigration, scrap the Human Rights Commission, stop all new spending, and reform the Senate via a referendum held with the next election.

Launching Making Australia Right, a book of essays by conservatives edited by James Allan, Abbott brought together several proposals he has previously argued for.

He took aim at the government’s current signals about the future direction of its energy policy, and attacked its preservation of the 23% Renewable Energy Target (RET), which was negotiated in his time as prime minister.

“The government is now talking about using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to subsidise a new coal-fired power station – creating, if you like, a base-load target to supplement the renewable target,” he said.

“We subsidise wind to make coal uneconomic so now we are proposing to subsidise coal to keep the lights on. Go figure.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to abolish subsidies for new renewable generation and let ordinary market forces do the rest?”

“Of course that would trigger the mother of all brawls in the Senate, but what better way to let voters know that the Coalition wants your power bill down, while Labor wants it up?”

Abbott said the government’s challenge was “to be worth voting for” and to “win back the people who are giving up on us”.

“In or out of government, political parties need a purpose. Our politics can’t be just a contest of toxic egos or someone’s vanity project.”

The next election was “winnable”, he said, outlining the pitches he saw as needed to secure that win.

“If we stop pandering to climate change theology and freeze the RET, we can take the pressure off power prices.”

“If we end the ‘big is best’ thinking of the federal Treasury, and scaled
back immigration – at least until housing starts and infrastructure have caught up – we can take the pressure off home prices.”

“If we can take our own rhetoric about budget repair seriously and avoid all new spending and cut out all frivolous spending, we will start to get the deficit down.”

“If we refuse to be the ATM for the states, there might finally be some microeconomic reform of our public education and public health systems.”

“If we stopped funding the Human Rights Commission and leave protecting our liberties to the parliament, the courts and a free press where they belong, we might start to look like the defenders of western civilisation that we aspire to be.”

Speaking on Sky, Abbott said that “plainly there are lots of people concerned about our direction” and warned “the risk is we will drift to defeat if we don’t lift our game”.

He also criticised Turnbull’s decision to stay in his own home in Sydney.

“I think it would be a better look if the prime minister did live in Kirribilli House,” he said. He understood Turnbull not wanting to be a burden on the taxpayer but “by trying to avoid being a burden to the taxpayer, in the end, you end up costing the taxpayer more”.

When he was prime minister Abbott was reluctant to move from his own home to Kirribilli but was persuaded to do so.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/j795u-67fef0?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Penalty rates – Shorten’s own goal becomes Turnbull’s political problem


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The latest reflection on just how appalling things are in federal politics came this week from former Treasury head Ken Henry, who’s now chairman of NAB. The Conversation

“Our politicians have dug themselves into deep trenches from which they fire insults designed merely to cause political embarrassment. Populism supplies the munitions,” Henry told a conference in Canberra. “The country that Australians want cannot even be imagined from these trenches,” he said.

A senior player in reforms under Hawke-Keating Labor and the Howard government, Henry contrasted the current dysfunction “to earlier periods of policy success – where politics was adversarial, every bit as partisan – but when the tribal tensions within parties were generally well-managed and the political contest appeared to energise policy, not kill it”.

Henry may be slightly romanticising the past, as often happens when people look back to that period of policy-rich achievement. There were more than a few unedifying times in the fights of those years. But his general point is right.

He and his fellow heavyweights in the banking industry have just had a close-up view of the Coalition’s ugly tribalism with Treasurer Scott Morrison’s tantrum over former Labor premier Anna Bligh’s appointment to the Australian Bankers Association. It was short-sighted, counter-productive behaviour.

The fact that some in the Coalition saw Bligh’s appointment as the banks writing off the government was revealing. Given the volatility of politics, the bankers would hardly be predicting the next election’s outcome now – the interpretation suggests more about the mindset of alarm in Liberal circles.

When governments are flagging there is always talk of a “reset”. We’ve been hearing it this year, just as we did in the Gillard days.

But looking to a “reset” is more often than not to be staring at a mirage. It’s true that in 2001 the Howard government had a spectacular “reset”. It changed some decisions and crafted a canny budget, but the biggest factors in cementing its turnaround were Tampa’s arrival and September 11.

Some Coalition MPs believe Malcolm Turnbull’s burst of aggression – over Bill-and-the-billionaires and Labor and renewables – will give the government its “reset”. It’s doubtful. People don’t like abuse. And in the energy debate, this week’s Essential poll suggested the government is struggling.

So, looking ahead, there are no quick fixes, or answers based in a superficial change of style. The government faces the toughest slog, as it contemplates a budget that’s difficult to put together and the challenge of delivering an energy policy.

There will be pressure to spend in the budget to gain credibility on health, which cost the Coalition votes last July. Stories are already appearing about ending the freeze on the Medicare rebate. But where will offsetting cuts be found?

And, given the Senate gridlock on savings, can the government produce a budget that doesn’t alienate voters but keeps the ratings agencies at bay and Australia’s AAA rating intact?

As for energy security, the government’s “clean coal” frolic is genuinely hard to understand – beyond fears about regional seats and pressure from the Nationals – given that the word from the sector is that investors won’t go there. Eventually hyper rhetoric will have to give way to concrete measures that can fly.

High electricity prices are a politically sensitive cost-of-living issue and the government is trying to pin the blame for them, and for blackouts, on Labor’s commitment to renewables.

But suddenly there is a new cost-of-living issue, with the Fair Work Commission decision on Thursday to cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for those working under the hospitality, fast-food, retail and pharmacy awards.

This is not the government’s decision – the commission is independent and the government didn’t even put a submission to its inquiry.

And, in an ironic twist, Bill Shorten when workplace relations minister paved the way for this decision, with amendments requiring the review of industrial awards to cover the area of “additional remuneration” for employees working on weekends, public holidays, shifts and the like.

The Gillard government thought it was writing protection of penalty rates into the award system. Julia Gillard, addressing an Australian Council of Trade Unions summit, said: “We will make it clear in law that there needs to be additional renumeration for employees who work shift work, unsocial, irregular, unpredictable hours or on weekends and public holidays.”

Labor says it never envisaged the commission would reduce rates. Let alone when the bench members are overwhelmingly ALP appointees.

Although it did not make it, the decision is in line with general government thinking for industrial relations reform. But the government finds itself caught between its base, that will applaud the cut, and many voters whose hip pockets will be hit.

It argues the decision will boost employment, as the commission says. However, the job increases – which neither the commission nor employers can quantify – are likely to be longer in coming and less visible than the pay losses.

Shorten has potential to make hay with the decision, helped by the unions. Those facing smaller pay packets are unlikely to be diverted by the government highlighting his role in getting the review of penalties rolling.

Labor says it will intervene when the commission on March 24 considers transition arrangements; it also is looking to some parliamentary initiative. If (as seems likely) these paths come to dead ends, it is promising legislation if it wins the next election to clip the wings of the commission.

The government faces a dilemma as to whether it intervenes to put a view on how long the transition should be.

There is a parallel here with the problem the government is facing with its omnibus bill which reforms child care while shaving family tax benefits. In each case, people stand to lose something.

The big difference is that with the penalty rates the government isn’t the body making the decision and can say the judgement of the independent umpire should prevail. But if Labor can make the Coalition wear some of the odium for low-paid workers losing dollars, this will be another burden for Turnbull.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/j795u-67fef0?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.