Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Bad news for Bill Shorten: Scott Morrison becomes most popular PM in years as support for Labor leader plunges in latest Newspoll

Support for Labor leader Bill Shorten has plunged in the latest Newspoll, with Scott Morrison extending his lead as the preferred prime minister.

Voters have continued to warm to Mr Morrison a month after he seized the nation's top job following the Liberal Party's brutal leadership spill.

Mr Morrison's latest approval rating is the best result for a prime minister since February 2016.

He increased his lead as the preferred prime minister to 13 points over Mr Shorten - 45 to 32 per cent.

Mr Shorten's approval fell five points while Mr Morrison's rose three points compared to the previous Newspoll.

The prime minister also came out in front on the question of which leader voters considered more authentic.

In a bad sign for Mr Shorten, 21 per cent of Labor voters also chose Mr Morrison.

But while Mr Morrison is more favoured by voters, his party is not. The Coalition lost its 41st Newspoll in a row - but there are signs of a revival in its fortunes.

Their primary vote rose two points to 36 per cent just weeks after the leadership spill. Labor's primary vote dropped three points to 39 per cent but on a two-party preferred basis, it continues to lead the coalition 54 to 46.

The poll of 1675 voters was conducted nationally for The Australian.


With Turnbull gone, it’s no longer a walkover for Shorten

Suddenly, Bill Shorten and Labor have a fight on their hands.

The ALP still is clearly favoured to move from opposition to government in the next few months, but Scott Morrison’s actions as Prime Minister are presenting difficulties for Labor and giving new hope to Liberals.

Labor was convinced it had Malcolm Turnbull’s measure and had filled its war chest with weapons based on the assumption that Peter Dutton was the likeliest alternative leader.

Morrison as a compromise leader has made it more difficult for Labor, and it’s taking time for the Opposition Leader to adjust his tactics and strategy.

Time is of the essence for both Morrison and Shorten — the Liberal leader has little time to turn around a deeply damaged and divided Coalition government, while Labor can’t afford to give Morrison any leeway and lose an “unlosable” election.

Morrison is aware of the need to show tangible proof of an improved standing in the next couple of Newspoll surveys and survive the Wentworth by-election on October 20 if he is to have any hope of winning the general election. So he is moving quickly to differentiate himself personally and politically from Turnbull.

Making quick decisions and presenting them in terms ordinary voters can appreciate and understand has become a hallmark of Morrison’s brief leadership. In the past week he has taken the initiative and called an aged-care royal commission, introduced emergency new sabotage laws to counter strawberry contamination, lifted restrictions on hay trucks delivering feed to drought-affected cattle, sought a report from the Liberal Party on parliamentary gender imbalance and, most significantly, settled the “war” with the Catholic school system — a big cause for disenchantment with Turnbull.

The settlement of the non-government school funding issue was a demonstration of Morrison’s commitment to longstanding Liberal principles — in the Menzies and Howard mould — as well as his political acumen.

He locked Labor into supporting the aged-care royal commission and the emergency food tampering laws, and neutralised Shorten’s highly successful campaign to politically enlist the Catholic education system. With his down-to-earth language and image, Morrison is earning respect from critics and working furiously to heal Liberal divisions.

The attention to language and detail includes the new reference to “our government”, a term all Liberal MPs are being encouraged to use. In the catastrophic circumstances Morrison inherited, he is doing better than expected and a lift in Coalition support is likely.

Labor’s tactics in the first month of the Morrison leadership have evolved as Shorten has adjusted to facing a new opponent. Understandably, Labor’s priority has been to exploit the extensive damage done to a government when yet another first-term prime minister is removed.

It has demanded an explanation for Turnbull’s removal; used divisive interventions from the likes of Turnbull and his former deputy Julie Bishop; continued to pursue Home Affairs Minister Dutton over his exercise of ministerial discretion on visas; promoted its superior record on female parliamentary representation; unveiled more policies; highlighted Labor’s unity and stability; and attacked Morrison’s record as treasurer.

This wealth of issues conceals two traps Labor must avoid: hubris, in considering victory to be inevitable; and overplaying the Liberal divisions to a point of turning them into a game that reflects poorly on Shorten.

There were a few ins­tances this week that suggested complacency — which so far Shorten has been careful to avoid — inexorably is creeping into Labor thinking. Announcing a double-plus policy for Labor of improving superannuation for women on lower incomes, which underlined Labor’s strength on women’s ­issues and highlighted Morrison’s unpopular superannuation chan­ges in the 2016 budget, Shorten referred to what Labor would do when “we get into government”. An assumption of victory is poison in the electorate, which never wants to be taken for granted.

The second sign of hubris was trivialising the prime ministerial changes, with two Labor MPs cuddling Muppet figures — including Fozzie Bear amid cries of “Waka! Waka!” — being ejected from parliament. Morrison used the juvenile display to once again embrace his use of Muppet imagery to apologise to the public for the Liberal leadership chaos and accused Labor of “playing Canberra games”.

Oppositions can get away with a few stunts that governments can’t, but there is always a danger of taking them too far — such as the cardboard cutout of Kevin Rudd in question time — and the ALP needs to ratchet back its stuffed-toy onslaught or risk a backlash against all politicians.

Understandably, every parliamentary sitting day Shorten and his colleagues have asked at least once why Turnbull is still no longer prime minister. From dire experience Labor knows this is a question the public wants answered, and it is one the new leader cannot honestly answer.

Labor has linked this with internal Liberal bickering over bullying, amid encouragement from Turnbull and Bishop to pursue Dutton and keep open the prospect of forcing the minister to the backbench or out of parliament and bringing down the Morrison government.

In the end, the Labor and Greens’ move for a no-confidence motion in Dutton over his intervention on visas failed to budge Dutton or Morrison but perpetuated the sense of parliamentary instability and the precariousness of a minority government.

Shorten believes time will be Morrison’s biggest problem and would dearly love to force an early election or a defeat on the parliamentary floor for the Prime Minister, no matter what the issue. At the same time, Shorten describes significant differences within Labor over trade and tariffs as “debate”, which shouldn’t be “confused with disagreement and disunity”.

“Let’s not confuse debate and difference of opinion with disun­ity. I mean, I’m on to my third prime minister in my five-year stint … That’s disunity,” Shorten said this week, comfortable in his own leadership as Morrison desperately tried to muffle internal criticism.

Shorten and opposition Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen also worked to positively extend and defend Labor’s policy offerings while trying to negate Morrison’s record as treasurer.

Labor’s extension of commonwealth-funded superannuation payments for people on commonwealth paid parental leave did not come at a huge cost — $400 million across the four-year budget estimates — but has appeal for low-paid women and older women, and addresses the issue of the growing number of older women facing homelessness. “It is absolutely unconscionable that today in Australia the fast-growing group of people moving into homelessness are single, older women,” Shorten ­declared.

Bowen also linked Labor’s proposed negative gearing changes to addressing housing affordability and derided Morrison’s claims this would “torpedo” the housing market.

“It was only a couple of years ago he was arguing within his party to rein in the ‘excesses’ in negative gearing, only to be rolled by his cabinet,” Bowen said.

Labor’s campaign against the “Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison” government is about maximising disunity and destabilisation within the Coalition, pressing for an early election, offering a united, disciplined alternative, proffering policy, agreeing with good ideas such as the aged-care royal commission or steps to combat food contamination, and describing the new Prime Minister as the architect of all the unpopular decisions of the old prime minister.

Shorten is not letting up — but Morrison is not going to allow the policy hiatus that crippled Turnbull’s momentum when he replaced Tony Abbott.


Coalition to examine Labor's pay gap plan

A Labor plan to force companies to publicly disclose how much they pay women compared to men will be closely examined by the coalition.

The sentiment comes as a leading business group has expressed concerns the proposal could heap extra regulations on Australian companies.

Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer says the policy is an "interesting idea" but she isn't sure it would be effective and believes it may cause division.

"We think it's best though to unite people rather than divide them and we have to be very conscious of the regulatory burden that would be imposed on businesses," she told ABC radio on Monday.

The opposition on Sunday announced the election commitment to make Australian companies with more than 1000 employees disclose their gender pay gaps. Similar public reporting is underway in Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Ms O'Dwyer said it was "early days" in terms of overseas data, but the government would closely examine the results.

The gender pay gap has hit a record low of 14.5 per cent under the coalition, according to reporting by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the minister said. "It's still too high but it's certainly lower than it was and we need to look at practical measures for how we can get it lower," she said.

Ms O'Dwyer will be delivering the first economic security statement for women in coming months, which will address practical measures that can address the issue.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said more employers than ever are taking action on the gender pay gap, though there remains work to do. But businesses will be closely looking at Labor's plan, he said, with ACCI concerned Labor's plans could be burdensome. "Employers already have substantial reporting obligations in this area, so we need to think carefully about whether or not we should add further regulation," he said.

A Shorten Labor government would also change the Fair Work Act to prohibit pay secrecy clauses, which prevent employees from discussing their salaries.

Mr Pearson said there were reasons why pay may be kept confidential, including employers' wishes. "We would be wary about moves to remove that confidentiality because it does risk people being put under pressure to reveal their pay when they may not want to for very good reasons," he said.


Leyonhjelm wins on income-based school funding

Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm has welcomed the Government’s decision to fund non-government schools based on the income of parents, rather than the average wealth of the parents’ neighbours.

“For several years I have been outlining to education ministers how funding for private schools can and should be based on the income of parents rather than the average wealth of the parents’ neighbours.  I have also outlined how taxpayer privacy can be maintained.

“I am delighted that the Government has finally worked it out.

“Income-based funding improves the degree to which school funding is needs-based.  The schools educating poor kids will get more than schools educating rich kids.

“The fact that the additional funding favours non-government schools over government schools also enhances needs-based funding.

“Currently a non-government school whose students are poorer and more disadvantaged than a government school receives only 80 per cent of the funding of the government school.  Any move that whittles away at this baseless bias against non-government schools is great.

“The Government should go further and completely eliminate this rule. A non‑government school whose students are poorer and more disadvantaged than a government school should never receive less taxpayer-funding just because it is a non-government school.

“The Government should also start funding government schools based on the income of parents, and rich parents who send their children to government schools need to be charged meaningful school fees.

“This is fair, and would achieve more education bang for the taxpayer buck.

“The Government is moving towards the Liberal Democrats’ policy of schooling vouchers that are sector-blind, means‑tested and needs-based.  It should go all the way.”

Media release

Australia caught between the two behemoths, China and the USA

Tensions between the two behemoths of the global economy show no signs of abating and could well escalate alarmingly in coming months. Though any negotiation involving Donald Trump is inherently unpredictable, no one should expect a cease fire any time soon.

And the increasing hostilities could gravely damage the ­global trade system that has underpinned Australian prosperity, according to federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who warns that the dispute “has the potential to undermine the consensus on trade which has been so valuable to ­Australia”.

“For 20 years we’ve had co-­operation on the multilateral trade agenda and the World Trade Organisation has been the key forum for negotiation and enforcement. This has been of great benefit to Australia. Now we are seeing retaliation and tariff barriers being imposed outside of the WTO.”

This week the US President imposed a 10 per cent tariff on $US200 billion ($274bn) worth of Chinese exports to the US, which rate is set to rise to 25 per cent by the end of the year. In retaliation the Chinese imposed tariffs on $US60bn worth of US exports to China. Trump has threatened a further round of tariffs on China’s remaining exports to the US.

In 2017 the US sold $US130bn worth of goods to China whereas Beijing sold nearly four times that much — $US505bn — to the US, leaving a staggering bilateral US trade deficit with China of $US375bn. As a result, Beijing has far less room to retaliate with tariffs against US tariffs, although it could use regulatory means to hit US companies operating in China.

Jack Ma, founder of the Chinese tech conglomerate, Alibaba, says the dispute could last 20 years and sees no short-term solution.

In imposing the tariffs, Trump cited not only the trade deficit but also accusations of intellectual property theft and coercion that the US has long levelled at China.

The EU’s trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom says she agrees with some of the US complaints but not with the method of retaliation. “The message is that ultimately tariffs lead to less jobs because they lead to higher costs”

Frydenberg says the Australian government must work at “ensuring, as far as we can, that our trade partners stay committed to a rules-based system”. He says that in relation to China the US has “concerns around intellectual property, the role of state-owned enterprises and the trade deficit”.

Although he would offer the same advice to any country, his response to the Trump administration’s moves is encapsulated in the following: “The message is that ultimately tariffs lead to less jobs because they lead to higher costs.”

However, the Treasurer also has a message that applies particularly to China: “It doesn’t matter what the country is, there needs to be a genuine respect for intellectual property and, ultimately, a failure to protect IP is counter-productive because it’s a disincentive to future investment. From Australia’s point of view, we want to see all sides adhere to intellectual property rules. China is becoming more aware of the fact that if they don’t have good IP protection, that could impinge on foreign investment.”

Naturally, Frydenberg will not be drawn on whether he accepts the proposition that Beijing routinely steals other countries’ IP. However, every relevant Western agency and every senior Western official privately acknowledges this to be the case. Only the Americans are strong enough to say it publicly.

Woodward cites an official US study that concluded Beijing had stolen more than $US600bn worth of US intellectual property.

Woodward writes: “The Chinese broke every rule. They stole everything, from tech companies’ trade secrets to pirated software, film and music, and counterfeited luxury goods and pharmaceuticals. They bought parts of companies and stole the technology.

“They stole intellectual property from American companies that had been required to move their technology to China to operate there. Cohn considered the Chinese dirty rotten scoundrels.”

Frydenberg’s assessment is that the US-China trade dispute has so far not had serious effects on the performance of the global economy, but that this could well change.

The total additional tariffs imposed so far, the Treasurer says, have been confined to about 2 per cent of world trade, “so there has been little or no macro-economic effect so far”.

“Australia has avoided direct fallout by avoiding (US) steel ­tariffs.”

However, in a rejection of some of the hysterical anti-Trump rhetoric of recent days, he also expresses complete confidence in the US economy under Trump.

“The American economy remains a global powerhouse and a force for good globally, and of great benefit to Australia,” he says.

Frydenberg adds that even after the imposition of the new Trump tariffs, the US economy remains the most open, most free and most free-trading big economy in the world.

This is a critical reality check on the sometimes hysterical Australian debate about Trump.

At a World Economic Forum meeting in China this week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang defended the global trading system and condemned unilateral attempts to change it. He and other Chinese leaders have said that the world faces a choice between globalisation and unilateralism.

Without mentioning the US by name, Chinese leaders have presented themselves as free traders and the US as protectionist.

But as Frydenberg incontrovertibly points out, the US remains a vastly more free-trade economy than China.

Not only that, given the record of Chinese violations of intellectual property rights, the stated desire of the government in Beijing to achieve greater rates of self-sufficiency in key domestic markets, and the highly restrictive rules surrounding foreign investment in China, it is Beijing far more than Washington that has put the global trading system under strain.

But Australia has a stake in both economic relationships and risks being caught up not just in a trade dispute between our key ­security partner and an economic partner, but also in fact between our two closest economic partners.

But the US is also by a vast distance the biggest foreign investor in Australia

The Treasurer, who next month will attend his first G20 ­finance ministers’ meeting, will, like most senior global figures, seek to keep the situation as calm as possible.

He remains positive overall about the prospects for global economic growth but identifies escalating trade tensions as one of four potential impediments to global growth.

The other three are slowing Chinese economic growth, the potential for inflation and higher interest rates in the US, and “jitters” in emerging markets.

All these factors are also potentially risky for Australia.

The global economy in 2017 recorded its fastest growth since 2011, but the OECD in its economic outlook published on Thursday suggests that growth would come back a bit, and nominates trade tensions as one of the downside risks for the global economy.

Frydenberg says there were three factors that saved Australia in the GFC.

“The first was the pristine balance sheet that John Howard and Peter Costello left for the nation. There was money in the bank when the GFC came along.

“The second was that China’s demand for our exports continued to be strong throughout that ­period.

“And the third was that we had a stable financial system. Our banks were not exposed to low document loans, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were in the US. Our financial system today is stronger than ever before.”


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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