Julia Gillard

Whatever the public’s beef is with the federal government, it sure doesn’t seem to be about policies.

The latest polling by Essential Research asked what people thought of 14 major legislative reforms made by the Labor government in the past few years. They were pretty happy with 13 of them — and even the one that was considered a dud, the carbon tax, continues its creeping rehabilitation with voters.

The results indicate Julia Gillard’s woes — today’s Newspoll in The Australian puts Labor in the death zone at 29% primary support — may not have been primarily caused by dissatisfaction with Labor’s legislative actions.

The public is very positive about DisabilityCare (63% thought it was “good for Australia”, 9% “bad” — stronger support than when the question was asked last September) and expanding dental health for people on low incomes (73% good; 8% bad). Lifting the tax-free threshold was another winner — although who doesn’t like paying less tax?

Support was also strong for lifting the age pension and increasing the superannuation rate to 12% (which is underway).

Down a few rungs came policy reform which the public was positive about overall, but there was more opposition. The Gonski education reforms were rated good by 46% of those polled, while 22% rejected them. These numbers have softened considerably since last September, when 54% rated the reforms good and just 8% said “bad”. (In an aside, the federal Coalition’s pledge to repeal Gonski should it win the election is not a massive vote-winner at this stage; Essential found 32% of those polled approved of the repeal plan, while 44% disapproved. Unsurprisingly, Labor and Green voters strongly disliked the repeal plan, while 51% of Coalition voters supported it.)

The NBN posted 48% “good” to 28% “bad” — very similar numbers to the mining tax, which was described somewhat encouragingly as “introducing a tax on the large profits of mining companies”, which is probably not how industry lobbyist Mitch Hooke would describe it. Abolishing WorkChoices is a plus for Labor — 42% rated the move as positive versus 27% negative.

That leaves the government’s bete noire as the carbon tax; 32% thought it was good to 48% bad. But opposition to the tax is softening; when Essential asked the question in September, it was 28:51%. The numbers now show about half those polled thought the tax was a good idea or “neither good nor bad”, while the other half thought it was a bad idea.

Whether the slow dissolution of the public’s dislike of the carbon tax helps Labor on election day is another question. Essential, which polled just over 1000 people, found Labor is sitting on an election-losing two-party-preferred result of 45%-55% in the Coalition’s favour. The voting numbers have changed little this month, with Labor’s primary support at 34% to the Coalition’s 47%. The Greens remain on 8%.

Interestingly, Essential’s findings caution against any wannabe senators counting on the public voting a different way in the Senate to how they vote in the House of Representatives. Punters were asked if they would vote for the same party in both houses; 67% said they’d plump for the same party, 9% thought they’d pick a different one, 24% didn’t know. Greens voters were more inclined to vote differently, Labor voters less so, and Coalition voters were the least inclined to shop their vote around.

Peter Fray

Join us today for just $1 a week.

Get your first 12 weeks for $12. Cancel any time.

Our journalism is funded directly by our members — that’s how we maintain our fierce independence. We don’t rely on advertisers, clickbait or culture war obsessed columnists.

If you like what we do, join us today.

Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey