Australians strongly oppose the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, today’s Essential Report shows.

Sixty-one per cent of voters believe companies should not have the right to sue the government in foreign tribunals for policy changes that cause losses — the mechanism at the heart of the controversial ISDS proposal in the draft TPP treaty currently being negotiated. Australia, the US, Canada, Japan, Singapore, Chile and a range of other countries have been negotiating the TPP for several years in strict secrecy, with large corporations being the only non-government bodies allowed to see and help draft the text.

 Last week the Productivity Commission directly expressed concerns about ISDS and its potential costs to Australia, while prominent businesswoman and Reserve Bank board member Heather Ridout warned that Australia would regret signing away its rights under ISDS. It seems that voters agree. And, unusually for something the Coalition so strongly supports, Liberal voters are even more opposed than Labor voters: 66% of Coalition voters oppose it compared to 58% of Labor voters, while 68% of Greens voters oppose it. Just 10% of voters think companies should have the right to sue.

Voters also believe protests outside abortion clinics should be illegal. Fifty-four per cent of voters believe protests outside abortion clinics should be illegal, compared to 30% who say they should be legal. A Melbourne abortion clinic where a security guard was murdered by a Christian terrorist in 2001 is currently taking legal action in the Victorian Supreme Court to force Melbourne City Council to halt protests by fundamentalist Christians outside it. Coalition voters are even less supportive of such protests than Labor voters: 31% of Labor voters say they should be legal compared with just 26% of Coalition voters; the latter are generally less tolerant of protests anywhere. Greens voters, on the other hand, are more supportive: 37% say protests outside abortion clinics should be legal. Voters also think protests outside politicians’ or celebrities’ homes should be illegal (50% to 34%) and protests inside Parliament (as opposed to outside), 59% to 25%.

On voting intention, the Greens have lost a point on their primary vote (10%) to restore the situation of two weeks ago: the Coalition on 41% and Labor on 39% for a two-party preferred outcome of 52%-48%. Yesterday’s Fairfax/Ipsos poll, which showed the Greens’ primary vote surging to 16%, is hard to account for, and certainly higher than anyone in the Greens seriously believes. Newspoll was traditionally, and ironically, the home of overstatement of the Greens vote, but perhaps Ipsos may now be stuck with that title. Essential has consistently had the Greens’ 2PP between 7% (at its post-Brown nadir) and 11% since it started separately polling the Greens vote prior to the 2010 election. Nationally, in the House of Representatives, the Greens secured 8.6% of the first preference vote in 2013 and 11.8% in 2010.

The government has recovered some ground in the minds of voters on its handling of issues, though mainly to return to the poor levels of 2014 rather than the terrible position of early 2015. The government has a negative net approval rating on every major issue except “supporting Australian businesses”, where 36% rate its handling as “good” compared to 21% who rate it as “poor”. On education, supporting Australian jobs, health, welfare, the environment and climate change the government has large negative net approval figures for its handling. On the crucial issue of health, for example, 22% rate its handling as good and 41% as poor.

However, the figures aren’t nearly as bad as they were in January when, for example, its net approval rating on health was -31, not -19. Its net approval on managing the economy has gone from -14 to -5 (compared to -6 in September last year); on education it has gone from -24 in January to -13 now. The only area where it has gone backward since January is in foreign relations, where its net approval is now -2 compared to 5 in January and 15 in September 2014.

And voters have very mixed views on ABC bias.

While 22% of voters think the ABC is biased to the left, more than a third believe it isn’t, and 40% don’t know. The majority of those who believe it is biased to the left are Coalition voters, but even 10% of Labor voters believe the ABC is biased to the left. However, twice as many Coalition voters think the ABC isn’t biased as Labor voters who think it is. And just 13% of Other voters — who tend to be socially conservative and economically left-wing — believe it is biased, while 8% think it is biased to the right.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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