Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Coalition storms ALP strongholds: Newspoll

VOTERS have delivered a historic shift to the Coalition, giving Tony Abbott a lead or equal standing on all key electoral issues for the first time after dramatic collapses in Labor's support on the economy, health, education, climate change and even industrial relations.

Labor policies across the board have suffered blows, with record low voter support on the issue of climate change and a near record low on the handling of asylum-seekers.

At a time when the ALP's primary vote has dropped to record lows under Julia Gillard, the government is at its weakest for five or six years on industrial relations, inflation, interest rates, national security, education, the economy and health.

The government faces crucial parliamentary votes this week on its carbon tax and the processing of asylum-seekers.

But the latest Newspoll survey of important electoral issues, conducted exclusively for The Australian last weekend, reveals the Coalition has edged in front of Labor as the party judged better able to handle climate change for the first time on record, 31 per cent to 28 per cent. It also holds a lead on the issue of asylum-seekers of 44 per cent to Labor's 17 per cent -- a slight improvement on Labor's standing last month.

Even Labor's traditional strongholds in health and education have collapsed, with 14-point falls in ALP support in both areas since July last year, and seven-point rises for the Coalition. The Coalition is now even on 37 per cent for "health and Medicare" and virtually even with Labor on education, 35 per cent to 38 per cent.

Labor has lost the lead it has held over the Coalition on industrial relations since the negative impact of John Howard's Work Choices laws, with a 14-point fall to 39 per cent since July last year as the Coalition's support has risen eight points to 35 per cent.

Fears of another international economic crisis have shifted voter perceptions about the importance of electoral issues, with rises in the importance of economic management, inflation and interest rates. At the same time, the importance of asylum-seekers and climate change -- the key issues pursued by the government this week -- have dropped to their lowest levels of importance.

According to the Newspoll survey, health (78 per cent) and education (75 per cent) continue to be the most important issues nominated by voters. But the economy (74 per cent) jumped four points since July last year to be almost equal with education.

The importance of inflation and interest rates rose as renewed fears of a global slowdown grew in recent months.

The Gillard government's economic management has been hammered, with a loss of 15 percentage points to 28 per cent since August last year. The Coalition's support has risen three points to 47 per cent, giving it a 19-point lead over Labor -- its biggest since 2006.

This comes despite Australia's relative economic strength, with Wayne Swan being named the world's best treasurer by Euromoney magazine and last week's tax and job forums. Although interest rates are still low, Labor's support on the issue of 26 per cent is the weakest since 2006 -- before the impact of 11 interest rate rises in a row under the Howard government.

While the importance of asylum-seekers and climate change fell relative to the economy since July last year, the Gillard government has been concentrating on the issues.

It introduces its carbon tax bill to parliament tomorrow and tries to pass laws to bypass the High Court's rejection of the Malaysia Solution on Thursday.

At the election last year, Labor led the Coalition on climate change by 13 points -- 35 per cent to 22 per cent -- with "someone else", essentially the Greens, on 19 per cent.

Last weekend, Labor's support fell seven points to 28 per cent, its lowest in Newspoll history, while the Opposition's support rose nine points to 31 per cent, its highest level on record. The "someone else" choice was virtually unchanged on 18 per cent.

The Opposition Leader has campaigned against the carbon tax and Ms Gillard's broken election promise on the tax since February and will oppose it in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

On the issue of "asylum-seekers arriving in Australia", Labor has had a lift from its record low of 12 per cent last month to 17 per cent, but the Coalition has gone back to its record support of 44 per cent, while the Greens appear to have reached a new high of 14 per cent for their policy opposing offshore processing of asylum-seekers.

In the past two weeks, Ms Gillard has announced a foreign policy white paper, her hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the Queen's visit, her attendance at the G20 meeting in France next month and the visit of US President Barack Obama.

Labor's standing on national security issues, however, has crashed. ALP support for national security, which has never been above the Coalition, dropped back 10 points to 2006 levels of 24 per cent, while the Coalition's rose from 43 to 45 per cent. Labor's best position on national security was 36 per cent to the Coalition's 39 per cent when Kevin Rudd was prime minister in February 2009.

Of nine key issues, Labor has nominal leads on education and industrial relations, is equal on health and Medicare, just behind on climate change and between 19 and 27 points behind on the rest.


Coalition in bid to delay carbon tax bills as Labor offers extra time for debate

LABOR has allocated an extra five hours to debate its carbon tax legislation today as the opposition vowed a last ditch challenge aimed at delaying the tax until after the next election.

Chief Labor whip Joel Fitzgibbon told The Australian Online the government wanted every MP who wanted a say on the tax - including former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull - a chance to speak on the legislation.

But Mr Turnbull, a supporter of pricing carbon, will not speak on the carbon bills today, his office has confirmed.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the House of Representatives would sit until at least 10.30pm, and perhaps later, to accommodate debate, with a final lower house vote due at 9am tomorrow.

Coalition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt flagged opposition amendments to force the government to delay its carbon tax until after an election. “Whether you believe in, or whether you oppose, a carbon tax, everybody should support giving the people a say,” Mr Hunt told ABC Radio.

If voters supported Labor at the election they would know they were getting a carbon tax, Mr Hunt said.

But Labor's Leader of the House Anthony Albanese said Mr Hunt was a “shadow of his former self, rather than a shadow minister”. “Greg Hunt has sold out to the climate sceptics who now dominate the Coalition. Today is an historic day, we have had 19 years of talk about this in the parliament,” he said.

Labor's carbon tax legislation is expected to pass the House with the support of Greens MP Adam Bandt and fellow crossbench MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.

It will then proceed to the Senate where it will pass with the support of the Greens.

But Labor's $300 million steel transformation plan is still facing defeat, with the opposition opposing it and the Greens undecided whether they will support the measure, which is linked to the government's carbon tax.

“We'll have a discussion this morning in our party room about the steel transformation plan,” Greens MP Adam Bandt said. “We've always said we understand there are challenges facing particular sectors, especially because of the high Australian dollar, and that means that some support is needed.

“But we want to know that it will in fact help local jobs and will in fact help to protect the environment and not just go to line the pockets of already wealthy companies.”


Gillard jawbones employers about hiring Australians first

Just political grandstanding. Only legislation would have any appreciable effect

The Prime Minister of Australia has urged employers to prioritise local workers over skilled migrants in filling jobs.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has told the media that vacant employment positions - particualrly in the lucrative mining and resources sector - should be filled by Australian workers rather than imported skilled labour, ahead of the national jobs forum in Canberra commencing Friday 7 October.

Ms Gillard said that unemployed Australians could be trained to fill demand in the mines. She specifically raised the possibility of re-training retrenched steelworks workers in Western Australia, and providing new opportunities to regional and rural communities through skills training.

"We don't want to leave a kid in Kwinana in Western Australia on the unemployment queue without skills while the people who operate big mines in the north-west of the state say can you import a plumber or a cook or an electrician for me," Gillard told Radio National. "I want that kid to get that opportunity."

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has supported the Prime Minister's comments, claiming that the use of skilled migrants indicates a lack of local skills training on the part of industry.

"The reason we are in this mess at the moment is that the mining industry has not invested in skills," said ACTU President Ged Kearney.

"They are not training apprentices, they are not training their workers. For years they have neglected this important part of their responsibility as an employer."

The Government amended the Australian immigration intake in 2009, reducing the number of skilled migrants to 115,000.

However, despite the imposed limit and recent comments, the Government also indicated in the Federal Budget handed down in May that the skilled migrant intake would be increased in 2012. 16,000 additional Australia visa grants will be allocated to skilled foreigners next year.


WA: Solar businesses collapsing two months after feed-in tariff cut

In just two months Joe Darby's solar panel business has collapsed from a thriving enterprise growing at 20 per cent each year to absolutely nothing.

Since the state government's August 1 decision to abruptly suspend its feed-in tariff for households that export excess electricity to the grid, Mr Darby's Perth business has run out of work and been forced to cut ties with all of its three sub-contractors, affecting nine workers.

Mr Darby says he will lose his business and his home by Christmas and fears being made bankrupt unless the tariff is immediately reinstated.

"I'm tearing my hair out," Mr Darby said. "[Without government assistance] I'll lose my business and I'll lose my house. I'll be completely and utterly broke."

Scores more WA businesses are facing financial ruin and being forced to lay off staff following the feed-in tariff cut.

Without a feed-in tariff, households supplying solar-generated electricity to the state grid receive only 7 cents per kilowatt hour, which the Sustainable Energy Association argues is unfair and a disincentive for new customers.

An SEA survey conducted last month and released on Friday found 72 per cent of the state's solar energy businesses had either already laid off staff or expected to soon, with half the workforce expected to be cut, on average.

"There's no doubt that there's been some damage done already - people are laying off staff as we speak," SEA chief executive Ray Wills, who represents most WA solar panel businesses, said.

Another Perth businessman, who asked not to be named, said he had seen inquiries fall from 150 in July to just three in September.

Meanwhile Perth-based business Renewablelogic has seen inquiries for solar panel installation decline by 90 per cent, from 415 in the first week of July to just 40 last week.

The business has been forced to sack half its workforce and another 25 per cent of jobs remain uncertain, while planned expansions into regional WA have been significantly scaled back, a spokeswoman said. "The future of the solar industry has been at the mercy of government policy and ridden the waves along the way but none could predict a fall like this one," the Renewablelogic spokeswoman said.

The feed-in tariff was always intended to be phased out but when the government announced in May that it would decrease the rate from July 1 and set a cap at 150 megawatts, the scheme was expected to last well into next year. Instead the scheme's popularity led the government to abruptly suspend it on August 1, leading the industry reeling and complaining that it was not consulted prior to the decision.

The industry has largely accepted that the feed-in tariff cannot be sustained, however it is calling for an urgent increase to the second incentive payment, the Renewable Energy Buyback Scheme.

While the feed-in tariff was paid by the government, the REBS rate of 7 cents per kilowatt hour is paid by electricity providers Synergy and Western Power.

A 2007 report by the Office of Energy said the price should be 13-16 cents per kilowatt hour of exported energy. By comparison, WA's retail electricity price is three times that at 21 cents per kilowatt hour.

Professor Wills said electricity price increases (WA fees have soared more than 50 per cent since 2008) justified an even higher REBS rate. He said SEA had been in discussions with the government, which was expected to make an imminent decision on the issue.

"It's important that Synergy are able to cover their costs in terms of operating as a business but equally it's our view that we don't think 7 cents is a fair reflection of the value of energy they're getting back," Professor Wills said.

The value of solar panel-produced electricity also was more valued. "Because that will come from daytime when it's peak market," Professor Wills said. "Peak market energy prices are higher than night-time when solar panels aren't producing so the value of that energy is actually more."


Ambulance chaos in Victoria

Ambulance response times have blown out in Victoria with overworked paramedics taking sick leave because they cannot cope with what one whistleblower says is a dangerous system.

A paramedic, who did not want to be identified, said there was "no doubt" the lives of patients were being put at risk as callers were often forced to wait one to two hours for an ambulance, with one caller on the weekend enduring an eight-hour delay.

"The risk to everybody is not just unreasonable but dangerous," he told Radio 3AW.

The whistleblower said a lack of resources meant paramedics were unable to control a scene at Langwarrin, in Melbourne's south-east, following a car crash in which six people were injured just after midnight on Sunday.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said police were examining the accident scene when one of the injured men tried to assault a firefighter.

The man, who had abdominal and hip injuries, was being treated by paramedics when he rushed towards a firefighter and police were forced to use capsicum spray to subdue him to avoid a physical confrontation. The man was then taken to The Alfred hospital.

The whistleblower said the scene had become heated because patients had been forced to wait for back-up ambulances after an initial ambulance picked up the most seriously injured at the scene.

"We've never had workloads this bad, ever. The significance of this is that it is becoming routine, it's not just a one-off event," he told Radio 3AW.

The whistleblower said staff were struggling to cope and were having to work through meal and rest breaks, leading some to call in sick or leave in the middle of a shift.

Ambulance Victoria regional manager Simon Thomson said 67 paramedics were on sick leave on Sunday, which equated to 18 fewer available ambulances. Mr Thomson admitted the system was under pressure and that response times had increased significantly in the past month. He said paramedics were often left waiting as hospitals struggled to find beds to admit transported patients, blowing out response times.

The Victorian government last month sacked the Ambulance Victoria board in a bid to improve the service's performance.

Health Minister David Davis said about 75 per cent of ambulances called to critical cases arrived within 15 minutes in the past month, 10 per cent below the target of 85 per cent. "There's no doubt that we've got a challenge with response times and this has been a long-standing issue," he told Radio 3AW.

Mr Davis said the government was spending more than $150 million over four years to improve the ambulance service and working as "fast as we can".

In the meantime, the whistleblower said patients would be at risk. "What we're seeing routinely is three or four nights a week where we just haven't got the ability to respond and that's the real risk, across Melbourne the community's suffering at the moment," he said.



Paul said...

I so wish Abbott had sacked that dirty globalist traitor Turnbull....which is the least I personally would like to see done to him.

Paul said...

"Solar businesses collapsing two months after feed-in tariff cut"

"The Great moral challenge of our time....."

The trouble is they feel safe from us. They'll do anything no matter how offensive because they just don't fear us. being voted out doesn't concern them because the golden pensions, the boardroom appointments etc etc will roll in regardless.