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Government still failing the ‘fairness’ test with voters

Despite better polls for his government, Prime Minister Tony Abbott still lags behind Labor. AAP/Dean Lewins

The government is still decisively losing the argument over its budget’s “fairness” although it has reduced Labor’s lead, according to the latest Nielsen poll.

As the government faces battles on key budget measures in the final days of the outgoing Senate, the poll in the Fairfax media shows Labor on a two-party vote of 53%, down 3 points in a month, to the Coalition’s 47%, up 3 points.

Labor’s primary vote is down 3 points to 37%; the Coalition is up 4 points to 39%, the Greens are on 13% (down a point), PUP is on 5% and others are on 6%. Bill Shorten continues to lead as preferred prime minister, albeit by a smaller margin - 47% (down 4 points) to Tony Abbott’s 40% (steady).

But people have not significantly softened towards the budget - 61% thought it not fair, hardly changed from the initial 63%, while only 33% - the same as a month ago - believed it fair. One quarter of Coalition voters said it was not fair, which was a 4 point rise.

The parliament this week considers legislation on a long list of budget measures, some of them due to start on July 1, including indexation “pauses” for various aspects of family tax benefits and some other government payments.

Shorten said the government had deliberately bundled swathes of controversial budget measures into a small number of bills to try to hide them from scrutiny. “Tony Abbott either has no idea how much this budget is hurting Australians, or he just doesn’t care,” he said.

The Nielsen poll shows Abbott’s approval rating at 35% (up a point), and his disapproval at 60% (down 2 points). Shorten’s approval is 42% (down 5 points); his disapproval is 41% (up 2 points). He leads as preferred PM for the second month running.

In a head to head contest Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is ahead of Abbott as preferred Liberal leader 62% to 30%, although he trails Abbott 39-59% among Coalition voters. When people were given a list of six Liberals, Turnbull led 40% to Abbott’s 21% with Treasurer Joe Hockey and Foreign Minister July Bishop tied on 11%. Abbott was the clear leader among Coalition supporters, 45% to Turnbull 28%.

Out of five Labor figures, Shorten polled 25% as preferred leader, Anthony Albanese 19% and Labor’s deputy Tanya Plibersek 17%

While this is the last week of the current Senate and some budget measures are urgent, the government is already looking to the new Senate which will meet for the first time on July 7.

The bills for the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes will be reintroduced this week with the government waiting on Clive Palmer and his PUP senators to confirm the conditions they will try to impose on supporting the legislation. Abbott and Palmer are due to meet later in the week, after Palmer abandoned his condition that PUP wanted more staff before talks with the government.

PUP will have three senators and an alliance with Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiast party, which will make PUP vital for the fate of legislation – after July 1 the government will need six of the eight crossbenchers to pass bills opposed by Labor and the Greens.

“Preference whisperer” Glenn Druery, who will be adviser to Muir, reaffirmed that the alliance did not mean Muir would always vote with PUP. There would be times when Muir would work with senators Nick Xenophon and John Madigan, he said.

“It makes sense for Ricky to have strategic alliances and the alliance with PUP is a useful one. But while there is an alliance with PUP and I would expect that they will vote together on many issues, I expect [also] he will work well with Xenophon and Madigan on various issues.”

Treasurer Joe Hockey will miss the budget battle this week – he is in China for the first strategic economic dialogue.

Meanwhile the Treasurer has threatened to “name and shame” G20 countries who are lagging with putting forward strong plans for structural reforms for boosting growth.

In an interview with the Financial Times Hockey said: “Some people are just reheating the existing initiatives and that is not acceptable. I don’t want to name and shame at the moment but I will, coming up to Cairns”, where finance ministers meet in September ahead of the Leaders meeting in November

At the finance ministers meeting earlier this year G20 countries agreed to work to lift global growth by a further 2% above what it was expected to be under existing policies.

Hockey said Australia had asked the OECD and the International Monetary Fund to monitor the submissions from countries on their proposed reforms.

“They have to lay down the exact plans as to how they will improve their economic growth. It could be access regimes in terms of infrastructure, it could be taxation reform or increasing workforce participation.” Some countries, including China, had made strong submissions but others lacked new policy initiatives.

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