The government’s plan to privatise the payments system for Medicare, pharmaceutical benefits and transfer payments looks headed for electoral trouble, with massive opposition in the electorate, this week’s Essential Report reveals.

More than 60% of voters disapprove, including nearly 40% who strongly disapprove, of government plans to test the market for private providers of payment services to replace current, often outmoded, government payment systems. Labor has sought to discredit the proposal as “privatising Medicare”, despite the proposal being unrelated to the provision of health services; the numbers suggest the ALP might be able to exploit voter confusion to demonise the proposal.

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Worse, while there’s some difference between voters, more than half of Coalition voters disapprove of the proposal as well, including more than a quarter who strongly disapprove. At the very least, the government will have a significant challenge in trying to convince voters of its case for privatisation.

Voters are split almost evenly on whether babies born of asylum seekers in Australia should be sent to Nauru or allowed to remain in Australia, with 40% saying they should be allowed to remain and 39% saying they be sent to offshore detention on Nauru. Coalition voters are much more strongly in favour of the latter, with 53% saying babies should be sent to Nauru and 29% saying they should be allowed to remain; 29% of Labor voters wanted to send babies back to Nauru, while 50% said they should remain here. Among Greens voters, 18% thought the babies should go back to Nauru, with 74% saying they should stay. Women are less likely to support sending them to Nauru (34%) than men (43%) but not much more likely to say they should remain in Australia; younger people are less likely to support sending them back.

Some voters believe conditions on Nauru and Manus island are “good” (25%) or “very good” (9%) while 20% think they’re “poor” and another 20% think they’re “very poor”. Coalition voters are much more likely to think conditions at the detention camps are good or very good — including 13% who think conditions are “very good”.

Meanwhile, use of illicit drugs remains far and away the health problem of greatest concern to voters, with 44% saying they were very concerned about it, while food safety was the next most often-cited cause for great concern, at 26%; high-profile recent international health events like the Zika virus or Ebola have relatively little impact.

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It is also illicit drugs that is most frequently identified as the area where governments “should do more” (68%), while 57% nominate obesity and 50% food safety.

On voting intention, the Coalition is steady on 43% but Labor had dropped two points to 33%. With the Greens remaining solid on 11%, that leaves a two-party preferred result of 52%-48%, a better outcome for the Coalition than last week’s 51/49 split. And 28% of voters say the performance of the Turnbull government has been “better than expected” compared to 22% who say “worse than expected”; 41% say it was about what they expected.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey