Joe Hockey

The Abbott government may have to do some fast talking to bring the public around to any recommendations from the Commission of Audit — except for one reform.

The Commission of Audit was established last month to trim the federal budget. Staffed partly by Business Council of Australia types, its broad terms of reference allow it to recommend spending cuts, privatisations, efficiencies, and ways to reduce duplication between the feds and the states. Its recommendations are of course not known, but some options have been mooted in the debate.

And the latest Essential Research poll has found the public doesn’t much like those options. Just 23% supported privatising Australia Post, while 63% opposed the idea. Similarly, 29% of those polled supported the reduction of welfare benefits (60% didn’t). The concept of privatising HECS debt, as floated by Education Minister Christopher Pyne, is not a winner with voters — 21% supported it while 59% said no thanks.

Nor did people like the idea of handing control of DisabilityCare (formerly known as the NDIS) to Medibank — 19% supported that proposal, 59% didn’t. And for that matter, the public doesn’t like the plan to privatise Medibank Private, a policy the Coalition took to the recent election. Just 22% supported privatising the government-owned health insurance giant, while 43% were opposed. Even Coalition voters were unconvinced, with less than a third supporting the privatisation of Medibank.

Q. Do you support or oppose the government’s plan to privatise Medibank Private?

The one area in which the public is particularly predisposed to welcome reform is reducing duplication between the states; 73% of those polled supported the concept and 13% didn’t. It would seem many voters agree with those experts and politicians who argue Australia is overgoverned.

The Essential poll of just over 1000 people, conducted online from October 31 to November 4, also found strong support for legalising euthanasia. Tasmania recently torpedoed laws that would have allowed the practice, which remains banned across Australia (it is legal in some other countries). But the public certainly doesn’t agree with the politicians. Some 68% of those polled said if a person had an incurable disease and was living in severe pain, a doctor should be allowed to assist the patient to commit suicide. Nineteen per cent were opposed. These results are similar to when Essential asked the question in 2010. This time around, support was strongest among Green and Labor voters — but even among Coalition voters, 64% were in favour of legalising euthanasia.

Essential also canvassed punters on what they think of the major parties and found Labor is not yet off the ropes — despite having a fresh leader in Bill Shorten, selected via a new process that gave members a say. Labor’s biggest PR problem is that the public thinks the party is divided — 72% of respondents said that was the case, up from 66% in August (a few weeks before the election).

The Liberals’ biggest PR problem is that people think the party is “too close to the big corporate and financial interests” (63% thought that was the case).

Voters reckon both major parties “will promise to do anything to win votes” in equal measure — 63% said that was the case for Labor and the Liberals. So the major parties might have more in common than they think.

On voting intention, Labor is stalled on 47%-53% in the Coalition’s favour on the two-party-preferred, similar to the election result from September 7.

However, on the primary vote Labor has lifted from 33.4% on election day to 36% now. A chunk of those votes have been picked up from “Other/Independent” — is the gloss wearing off the Palmer United Party, in Labor’s favour? If so it could spell trouble for the PUP candidate in WA, Dio Wang, if there is a fresh Senate election in the state. Wang won a Senate spot on the initial count but lost it on the recount. It is likely a legal challenge and possibly a fresh election will follow.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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