The Morrison government has backflipped and called a royal commission into aged care and is threatening doing to same to the energy sector, all as a new poll puts Labor in a strong lead following the Coalition’s recent leadership fiasco.
The latest Fairfax/Ipsos poll shows Labor leading the government by 53 per cent to 47 per cent on a two-party preferred basis, enough to deliver Labor up to 15 extra seats and a comfortable majority if replicated on election day.
In encouraging signs for Scott Morrison, the poll shows he leads Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister by 47 per cent to 37 per cent, which is a similar lead Malcolm Turnbull held over Mr Shorten in the last poll taken in August. Mr Morrison also bests his rival on key attributes of economic management, by 66 per cent to 47 per cent, and on trust by 49 per cent to 39 per cent. Again, these were similar leads to those Mr Turnbull held over Mr Shorten.
Mr Shorten, however, beats Mr Morrison by 70 per cent to 49 per cent when it comes to commanding unity, beats him on social policy, and has narrowed the gap in terms of competency.
The poll of 1200 voters was taken at the end of last week as the transactional consequences of the dumping of Malcolm Turnbull continued in the form of infighting and squabbling.
Mr Shorten’s approval rating has risen 3 percentage points since August to 44 per cent and his disapproval rating has fallen 4 points to 48 per cent.
Mr Morrison has the same 46 per cent approval rating as Mr Turnbull but his disapproval is 12 points lower at 36 per cent. This is because a large 18 per cent are undecided, indicating they are reserving their government on the new leader.
In his first announcement as Prime Minister of an initiative that had not already been agreed to when Mr Turnbull was leader, Mr Morrison said the royal commission into aged care would start in a few weeks and not report until the second half of next year at the earliest, which would be well after the election which is due by mid-May.
“I think we should brace ourselves for some pretty bruising information about the way our loved ones, some of them have experienced some real mistreatment,” Mr Morrison said.
“I think that’s going to be tough for us to deal with, but you can’t walk past it.”
Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt has previously opposed a royal commission as a waste of money and time, believing it was better to start fixing problems in the sector rather than having a lengthy and expensive inquiry. This was similar to the reasons the Coalition gave when it fought a banking royal commission. Mr Morrison said work to improve the aged care sector would not be put on hold while the commission was underway. Mr Wyatt said he had changed his previous view.
Mr Morrison again left open the prospect of a royal commission into the energy sector by saying he was not ruling it out but The Australian Financial Review understands that behind the scenes, the sector is being told emphatically it will be hit with such an inquiry if prices do not start falling. That could be as soon as December when annual prices for the Victorian market will be set.
The decline of Mr Turnbull coincided with the death of company tax cuts for big business and the jettisoning of the National Energy Guarantee. Emissions reduction is no longer a consideration of energy policy and Energy Minister Angus Taylor said recently it was naive to believe government s could, or should try to eliminate uncertainty.
This and the general collapse in policy prompted a rebuke Sunday from Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott.
“It’s what it does to the country’s inability to get things done and that’s the problem,” she said of the political paralysis.
“This is not just a creature of the Coalition. We’ve had this for a decade and as a result, we’ve just not been able to get anything done in a substantial way, on our competitiveness, on our energy policy, we keep making false starts, then we pull back.”
Ms Westacott told Sky News that while business had its reputational problems to fix, it would be thinking twice before again lobbying to champion for change.
“I mean people are often critical that we don’t speak out on things. My God, we spoke out on company tax and we got behind the NEG and then these things just disappear. But my biggest issue is that the issue hasn’t been fixed,” she said.
As revealed last week by the Financial Review, Mr Shorten said Labor’s energy policy was some months away but would be based on the NEG or be similar to it.
Labor’s only disagreement with the government of the NEG was the size of the emissions reduction target. The government proposed 26 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 while Labor mooted 45 per cent.
“The government did some work on the National Energy Guarantee and we are prepared to use that as part of our framework going forward,” Mr Shorten told the ABC’s Insiders program.
“I’m hoping to work with the sensible part of the Liberal Party, with industry, with environmentalists, and we’ll come up with a framework which will look a lot like, I hope, parts of the National Energy Guarantee, and, of course, we want to see lower prices and more renewables.”
The poll showed both parties had low primary votes with Labor on 31 percent and the Coalition on 34 per cent. Another 35 per cent went to the Greens, One Nation and others. Labor’s internal polling has its primary vote just above 40 per cent.
Mr Shorten was unfazed about his constant struggle for personal popularity, as evidenced again in the latest poll.
“I haven’t commented on the polls for the last five years. I think that today it is even more important than ever that we talk about policy,” he said.
“The last prime minister, or the last leader who watched the polls, is probably watching this from iView in New York. I don’t think it’s done me a lot of harm not talking about the polls.”