Australians are becoming more concerned about the return of WorkChoices under an Abbott government, and are strongly opposed to proposals to retain internet and telecommunications data for two years, today’s Essential Report shows.

There’s been a slight rise in the number of voters who believe the Liberals will bring back WorkChoices in government, to 53% from 51% in November, but still below the levels of 2010. While Labor and Greens voters are strongly of the view that a prime minister Abbott would bring back WorkChoices, even many Liberal voters remain convinced he would, with 40% of Liberal voters believing the party would bring it back to 34% who don’t. The level of voters “very concerned” about the return of WorkChoices has also gone up, to 30% from 26% in November. This is higher even than in 2010, possibly suggesting the “productivity debate”, such as it is, has turned voters’ minds back onto IR. The total number of voters very or quite concerned has risen from 46% from 41%. Concern is strongest among Labor voters and full-time workers.

Voters are also more likely to think Australian workers will be worse off under an Abbott government. Thirty seven per cent believe workers will be worse off, while 32% think they’ll be better off; 19% believe there would be no difference. The response was strongly split along party lines, not surprisingly, although Liberal voters, at 22%, were much more likely to believe an Abbott government wouldn’t make any difference to workers.

There was also support for the government’s proposal to extend telecommunications and internet surveillance powers to a broader range of offences than currently, with 40% of voters supporting it compared to 37% of voters who opposed it (currently interception can only be carried out in relation to the investigation of offences carrying a jail term of at least seven years).

However, the other proposals put forward in the government’s discussion paper for the current national security inquiry drew strong opposition. Retention of internet and telephone data for two years was opposed by 57% of voters; only 28% supported it; criminalising a refusal to assist with decryption, such as revealing a password, was even more strongly opposed, 60% to 26%. Allowing ASIO agents to plant or destroy material on computers under a warrant was opposed 52% to 27%. Only the proposal to allow agencies to intercept social media messages had a solid level of support: 46% of voters oppose that compared to 40% in support.

Support for the proposals tended to be strongest among Liberal voters and weakest amongst Greens voters, but even 56% of Liberal voters were opposed to data retention and criminalising refusing to assist with decryption.

The response suggests a nuanced appreciation by voters of the distinctions between the different types of proposals, with low levels of opposition to dropping the current threshold for which existing surveillance measures can be used, but much stronger opposition to new forms of surveillance or outright new powers and offences.

On voting intention, a smidgen of good news for Labor, with a rare two-point shift in its primary vote to 33%; the Coalition and the Greens remain on 49% and 10% respectively. The 2PP outcome shifts back to 56-44% from 57-43% last week.

Peter Fray

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