A majority of Australians have rejected data retention and don’t trust governments or corporations to handle their data, this week’s Essential Report shows, while Tony Abbott has begun regaining ground lost to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Fifty-one per cent of Australians disapprove of the government’s proposal to force telecommunications companies and internet service providers to collect data from their use of a communications service, including 30% who strongly disapprove. Responses are strongly linked to age: 39% of voters approve of data retention, with support mostly confined to over-55s; 64% of respondents aged 18-34 disapprove; while 54% of those aged 55 and over approve. Hostility among under-35s is particularly strong, with 39% saying they “strongly disapprove” of data retention. In short, the only segment of the community that supports data retention is the one that uses IT least. 

But even supporters of data retention have little trust that governments or companies will store their data safely. Sixty-eight per cent have little or no trust that data would be stored safely and in a way that would prevent abuse, with even Liberal voters — the strongest supporters of data retention, not trusting governments or companies.

Forty-nine per cent of voters agree with the statement that “governments are increasingly using the argument about terrorism to collect and store personal data and information, and this is a dangerous direction for society”, while 37% agree with the statement “governments having access to personal telephone and internet information is necessary to protect society from terrorist or criminal actions.”

However, Tony Abbott has reversed months of declining polls to record his best approval figures as Prime Minister since April. Thirty-seven per cent of voters approve of his performance, up three points, and 54% disapprove, down four points — a seven point improvement since last month. Bill Shorten has lost two points on approval rating (34%) and increased his disapproval rating by a point (40%); more significantly, Abbott has finally edged ahead of the Opposition Leader as preferred Prime Minister for the first time since April, 37%-36%. Abbott continues to fare poorly with women (disapproval 57%-32%) but Shorten is struggling with male voters (disapproval 46%-33%) and it’s there that he has lost ground to Abbott in the last month.

There are also significant differences among voters in relation to asylum seeker policy, and not just based on voting intention. While voters tend to range from hardline to pro-asylum seeker as they move from Coalition to Labor to Greens, there are big differences between age groups and men and women. Forty-nine per cent of men describe the government’s policy as “principled”, but only 36% of women; 50% of men believe it is “responsible”, but only 40% of women.

Views toward asylum seekers also harden dramatically with age. Nineteen per cent of under 35s believe the government’s policy is “too soft”, compared to 27% of 35-54s, but 34% of over 55s believe it’s too soft; over-55s were the only age group in which more people thought the government was too soft than too hard. Forty one per cent of under 35s thought it was unethical, compared to 26% of over-55s; 66% of the latter thought the policy was fair compared to 43% of 35-54s and 29% of under-35s. However, different ages were more in agreement that the government’s policy was “too secretive”, with 50% of under-35s, 45% of 35-54s and 40% of over-55s saying it was. And “Other/PUP” voters were a very mixed bag (while populist, Clive Palmer is the most aggressively pro-asylum seeker politician after the Greens): 37% of Other voters believed the government was too soft — the largest group by voting intention — but only 29% called it “principled”; 32% called it “too hard” and 34% “too soft”.

On voting intention, no change for the major parties on last week: the Coalition keeps its recent gains at 41%; Labor remains on 39%. The Greens are down a point to 8% while PUP is up one to 5%. 2PP result: 51-49 in Labor’s favour.