Monday, February 18, 2013

Gillard in  poll slump as Abbott surges

Gillard was largely an unknown at the last election.  It is now clear to all what she is: a smooth talking meddler and waster of public money

Senior Labor MPs concede the latest opinion poll results should be a "wake-up call" to the party, warning that continuing speculation about a possible return of Kevin Rudd is hurting the Government.

The Nielsen poll, published in Fairfax newspapers, shows Labor's primary vote has dropped five points since December to 30 per cent, while the Coalition's has risen four points to 47 per cent.

After preferences, the Coalition has a thumping election-winning lead of 56 per cent to 44 per cent.

Labor frontbencher Simon Crean concedes the results are terrible news for the party just seven months out from the next election.

"It's a wake-up call isn't it. You can't gild the lily," he told Fairfax radio.

Fellow Labor Minister Greg Combet agrees: "There is no sugar-coating it, it's a bad poll today, there's no doubt about it".

The figures reveal a dramatic reversal in who voters would prefer as prime minister.

Support for Tony Abbott has jumped nine points to 49 per cent, while Julia Gillard's support has dropped five points to 45 per cent.

Asked this morning what has gone wrong, the Prime Minister declined to comment on the latest poll results.

"If I spent my time worrying about and commentating on opinion polls, then I wouldn't have the time to get my job done," Ms Gillard told Channel Seven.

According to the Nielsen poll, a significant majority of voters prefer Kevin Rudd over Ms Gillard as Labor leader, although that is largely driven by Coalition supporters.  Among Labor voters, Ms Gillard remains more popular.

Even before today's poll, there was a sense of despondency within Labor ranks over the Government's performance, and internal tensions over the possibility of a Rudd comeback.

Yesterday, Mr Rudd said: "It's time this debate was put in cryogenic storage. Frankly, it ain't happening."

Mr Crean, who last week suggested Mr Rudd was doing "some good" for the party through his increased public profile, says internal issues have detracted from the Government's work.

Asked whether he thought Mr Rudd should "shut up" in the interests of the party, Mr Crean replied: "I don't think it's a question of telling him to shut up."

"I think it's a question of ensuring that he stays on the issue rather than just having the perception that it's a thinly disguised effort to promote him as the alternative leader.

"I think that, with one or two exceptions last week, that's what he was doing. I mean it was the fifth anniversary of saying sorry (to the Stolen Generations)."

Liberal frontbencher Joe Hockey says the poll results confirm the sentiment he has been hearing from voters, that Labor needs time in the "sin bin".

"Whether it's state Labor, federal Labor - everyone is saying they need time out. They're more focused on themselves that they are on us, the people," Mr Hockey told reporters on the New South Wales Central Coast.

"The Labor Party's come back from these numbers before, but this time it's clear the problem is Labor.

"Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd. Tweedledumb, Tweedledumber. I mean, it doesn't matter.  "The bottom line is, it's Labor and their policies."

The Nielsen poll shows more voters disapprove of Mr Abbott's performance than approve, but the margin has narrowed to 13 points compared with a 29-point gap two months ago.

More voters would prefer Malcolm Turnbull to be opposition leader over Mr Abbott, although his strongest support comes from Labor and Greens supporters.  Among Coalition voters, Mr Abbott is more popular.

The poll was conducted a week after the Government revealed the controversial mining tax raised just $126 million in its first six months, well short of the $2 billion forecast for the 2012-13 financial year.

Since the last Nielsen survey in December, the Prime Minister has announced the election date, there has been a Cabinet reshuffle, and former Labor MP Craig Thomson was charged with fraud-related offences.

Nielsen's research director John Stirton says they are all likely to have been factors in the latest results and confirm a change in fortunes for Labor.

"This is the fifth poll published since the beginning of February that shows movement away from Labor and towards the Coalition," Mr Stirton told ABC News.

"So that means that there's been a change in the trend. There was a trend running from about May to November last year showing steady improvement for Labor.

"This one, along with the other polls released since the beginning of February, confirms that that trend has stopped and, in fact, [is] moving back the other way."

However, Mr Stirton says it is not impossible for Labor to win the election, pointing to John Howard's 2001 victory.

According to the Nielsen survey in April 2001, the Coalition was facing annihilation at the ballot box, with Labor leading 60 per cent to 40 per cent after preferences.

However, a series of events helped shift public opinion, including Mr Howard's decision to freeze petrol tax increases, the Tampa asylum seeker stand-off, and the September 11 terrorist attack in the United States.


Wilders denies he's the devil

CONTROVERSIAL Dutch MP Geert Wilders has delivered a message to Australia ahead of a controversial series of speaking events across the nation: “I am not the devil”.

The anti-Islam campaigner has been allowed to enter the country after the Federal Government relented and agreed to give him a visa, claiming it did not want to make him a cause celebre by continuing to block his trip.

His inflammatory views have created fiery debate in Europe for years and he is set to deliver the same message in Australia after being invited by the Melbourne-based anti-Islamisation Q Society.

The 49-year-old told News Limited he was not a “monster from Mars”, a bigot, an extremist, a racist, a far right-winger - nor anything else he has been labelled.

“I represent one million people in one of the most tolerant and oldest democracies in the world and I address real problems for real people which are ignored by the political elite, and say things about the nation of Islam; for me this is very normal, that is what I am,” he said.

Mr Wilders said he is a one-man mission to warn Australia of the dangers of Islamic immigration and loss of national identity.

“I hope you can learn from the mistakes we made about immigration and the lack of guts to define Islam for what it is,” he said.

“I am not talking about the people [Muslims]. I’ve met very friendly and hospitable people in Arab and Islamic countries. I am talking about the ideology of Islam.”

Wilders said he knew of the ANZACs story but warned the spirit that propelled our nation years ago was at risk of being lost.

“I believe Islam and freedom and incompatible and I think we should be awake to this terrible ideology that is coming to our countries and societies and getting stronger, stronger, stronger and we are not fighting it we are appeasing, appeasing, appeasing and we lost track of what we really are and what we should be and what our grandparents, also in Australia with the ANZACs, what they fought and died for to liberate Europe,” he said.

Wilders, who controls the balance of power in the Dutch parliament as leader of the fourth-largest political party, is scheduled to speak in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

The Islamic Friendship Association has said the Muslim community have the right to peacefully protest the speaking events but recommended people simply ignore Mr Wilders visit so as not to draw further attention to his extremist messages.


Miners criticise Gillard's jobs package

The mining industry has taken aim at the Federal Government's new jobs package, saying it will only increase the regulatory burden on the industry.

Unions have largely welcomed the plan, which includes new legislation to ensure major projects give local companies early notice of contract opportunities.

Projects worth more than $2 billion will also be forced to have an Australian Industry Opportunity officer in the workplace.

Ms Gillard says the plan is designed to keep the local manufacturing industry competitive, despite the high Australian dollar and other economic pressures.

But the Minerals Council has described the measure as unnecessary, unwarranted and inefficient.

David Boas from the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association agrees.

"We're a bit concerned that it does involve a bit more of regulatory creep with the provisions in there for Australian industry plans," he said.

A series of new manufacturing precincts will also be established to develop new products and skills to break into new markets.

The Government plans to fund the jobs package by removing a research and development tax break for the country's 20 biggest companies.

Ms Gillard predicts the plan will inject $1.6 billion into the economy.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says the package deserves popular support, not nitpicking.


Victorian revival highlights lost ground on child welfare

Compulsory school attendance was introduced in Australia during the Victorian era in the later-nineteenth century. The Victorians were the first to recognise that the state had a role to play in promoting child welfare by requiring parents to ensure that their children received a minimum level of schooling. This was part of a broader movement to encourage respectable standards of behaviour by people of all classes.

The effort to bring about social improvement had largely succeeded by the early-twentieth century. Working class communities had embraced ‘middle class’ notions of respectability (work, marriage, sobriety, and thrift) that had proven conducive to the formation of functional families. A marker of respectability was the ability of parents to send clean, well-fed, and properly dressed children to school each day. A marker of un-respectability was enduring the shame and stigma of having one’s children rounded up by the truancy officer.

For a hundred years, society traded on the legacy of the Victorians, but things began to change in the aftermath of the social revolution of the 1960s.

The Sixties ethos of personal liberation undercut the Victorian behavioural code, which was fashionably dismissed as so much ‘bourgeois’ uptightness. Complacency also set in. Official enforcement of respectable behaviour seemed unnecessary. Rarely-needed truancy laws appeared ‘harsh’ and anachronistic.

In the modern era of free-flowing welfare, however, these attitudes have become socially disastrous.

Social norms have collapsed in a significant underclass of welfare-dependent and dysfunctional families, and the failure to regularly send children to school symbolises the breakdown of behavioural standards.

The response to rising levels of chronic truancy has been feeble. Woolly-minded sociologists have offered lame excuses about ‘poverty’, and the self-serving welfare industry has demanded higher government funding for ‘more support services’ to help ‘struggling’ parents. Meanwhile, educational faddists have prattled on about making school ‘fun’ so kids are ‘engaged.’ Too little attention has been paid to the best interests of children denied an education due to parental neglect.

Our thinking about child welfare now appears to be slowly coming full circle.

The Victorian Government has just announced plans to make it easier to fine parents whose children miss more than five school days a year without a valid excuse. This follows embarrassing revelations earlier this year that not one fine had been issued for truancy under new laws introduced in 2006.

The renewed, if much belated, attempt to revive the specter of the truancy officer and crack down on absenteeism is welcome. However, the need to punish parents who don't send children to school highlights the truly appalling amount of ground we have lost over the last 40 years.


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