Voters are standing behind Labor on refugee policy and health reform as leaders nut out a deal in Canberra today, with new Essential Research polling giving the government a strong mandate on both key issues.

Today’s figures even show a small rise in support for Labor, correcting the decline of last week and rebutting Nielsen polling in Fairfax newspapers which had the Coalition winning more support.

Instead, Essential Research‘s online poll of more than 1,000 voters conducted last week shows a one-point jump in Labor’s primary vote, maintaining its eight-point gap over the Coalition in the two-party preferred stakes — 54% to 46%. The Liberal/National primary vote fell back a point to 39%.

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The endorsement for Labor came in a week it waged battle with the states in the media over its health funding reforms, and followed its decision to freeze the processing of asylum seeker claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. The majority of those surveyed support both agendas.

More than two-thirds (69%) of voters approve of the decision to suspend refugee claims — most (39%) ‘strongly’ — while just 15% disapprove of the move. On hospital and health services reform, more than half (56%) say state premiers should agree to Kevin Rudd’s plan today, while only a quarter of voters say the states should hold out.

New polling on immigration and population growth — put firmly on the agenda by Labor over the last two weeks — also shows the government has recognised considerable community concern over the issue. Voters reject the idea of a larger Australia — at least in major metropolitan areas.

In Australia’s three biggest cities (Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane) most want the same population levels (51%) or even fewer residents (36%), while just 7% believe population levels should increase. In other capital cities the results are similar, though there is more willingness to support growth: 44% believe population should level out, 12% urge a decrease while 36% say the cities can support a larger population.

Voters clearly believe it is regional and rural towns most able to support population growth — 56% urge a larger population in “major regional centres”; 64% for “smaller regional towns”. Asked whether the government should provide incentive for new migrants to settle in specific regions of Australia, more than half (55%) back the idea compared to the roughly third (30%) of voters who disagree.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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