Turnbull Satisfies Electorate Less than Shorten, Enterprise Bargaining, Global Warming, Presidential Candidates’ Health

Adverse Start Poll

The first Newspoll since the election on July 2 shows only a slight fall in the Coalition’s TPP from 50.4 per cent to 50 per cent but a large drop  in Turnbull’s net satisfaction ratio to the point where it is now less than Shorten’s (minus 18 cf minus 14). Late last year Turnbull was plus 38 while Shorten was minus 38. While Turnbull still has the Better PM rating, the gap has narrowed sharply.  Importantly, the poll also shows that “Reducing debt and deficit” are strongly supported by both Coalition and Labor voters, almost as strongly as “Maintain border security” (see below).

Relevant here is that, while the Coalition is attempting to legislate to save $6.5 bn (now reduced to only $6.1 bn) because Labor has already agreed to the proposed savings, it appears that it is proposing to spendhalf the savings on assistance for childcare and family assistance (added only yesterday!). This is scarcely consistent with Turnbull’s recent emphasis on the need for a tougher budget policy and does not provide any follow up to Treasurer Morrison’s address reported in my Commentary on Sunday. There Morrison drew attention to the problem of the increasing extent of government assistance and of those who are not net payers of tax. An analysis of the assistance provided to those with above average incomes could provide a useful starting point. Turnbull has also attracted criticism from more conservative senators, such as Bob Day (see Response to Turnbull).

Polls are always difficult to interpret but this is not a good start for the Coalition and will further encourage an aggressive Labor attitude, including the development of no confidence motions in Reps.  If confirmed in the next couple of polls the Coalition will be faced with media assessments and comments from Labor that an election now would be even closer than the July 2 one (if that is possible) or would produce a Labor victory. Within the Coalition there would also be discussion about the need for a different leader before the next election. There will certainly be additional pressure on Turnbull to personally present a more conservative approach to policy.

Enterprise Bargaining

One of the legislative proposals by the Coalition which seems likely to be passed by Parliament is Turnbull’s promise to prevent the Victorian United Firefighters Union taking control of the Volunteer Fire Brigades Authority, a “deal” promised by Victorian Premier Andrews.  This has also led to heavy criticism of Andrews by the Herald Sun (and others), which claims in today’s editorial that “there are simmering concerns within the Labor Party about the Premier’s judgement” and that he may be in debt to the head of the union (with his latest ill-informed decision today to stop accessing gas by fracking on land, Andrews seems certainly to have adopted a policy not conducive to encouraging development in Victoria).   As I have previously suggested, Turnbull’s proposed protection from union control of the volunteer group is all good in itself but should be extended to provide greater flexibility in other workplace arrangements between employers and employees.

Relevant here is a decision by the Fair Work Commission which has been strongly criticised by the relevant union. This highlights one of the inflexibilities of the existing workplace relations arrangements in that it effectively over-ruled an agreement between the union and the employer (Coles) and approved by 90% of employees. The decision by FWC seems to have been based on the requirement that enterprise agreements should meet the better-off-overall-test and the existence of penalty rates applicable to some employees. According to The Australian’s Workplace Editor,  “the commission’s interpretation of the better-off-overall-test would mean employers must ensure every individual worker covered by an agreement was not worse off”.  In addition to the obvious question of whether there should be any de facto “statutory” penalty rates, the better-off test also reduces the flexibility of arrangements where the employer needs to reduce wage rates when faced with competitive pressures. This has recently occurred in the case of Arrium, which is now under administration and which has secured some reduction in wages with its workers but seeks more. Such circumstances occur from time to time in a modern economy (for further details on the Coles arrangements, see Enterprise Bargaining?).

Another example of inflexibility arises from the decision of the Federal Court to approve the claim by the Fair Work Ombudsman that a cleaning company had not (as it claimed) entered independent contracts with its individual employees but had in fact been engaging in employment with another company. The assessment by the Federal Court judge is contentious and is seemingly based on trying to bring the arrangements made within the Fair Work Act rather than allowing details settled with individual employees. The judge declared that employee entitlements such as minimum wages, penalty rates, annual and personal leave and super were not met but had presumably been accepted by the employees (see FWO & Independent Contractors).

Global Warming

While there continue to be new analyses which supposedly support the threat of dangerous global warming, there have also been analyses which contradict such claims. Encouragingly too, an article in today’s AFR points out that global warming  ranks near the bottom on the list of voters concerns in the US Presidential race (the author is himself concerned, however). This is surprising given the attempt by Obama to make it a major issue throughout his Presidency by grossly exaggerating the relationship between increased emissions and changes in temperature. There is also increasing evidence suggesting that the official temperature measurements have considerably over-stated the increase in temperatures. My colleague, Dr Tom Quirk, has just completed a detailed analysis of Melbourne’s temperatures which confirms his earlier analysis suggesting such an over-statement. More generally, there has been a consistent refusal by governments to have an independent inquiry into the claim.

Importantly, today’s Australian publishes an article by well-known and highly regarded sceptic Matt Ridley which answers some recent expressions of concern that there have been developments in the Arctic region which suggest complete melting is coming soon. Ridley points out that there appears to have been considerable variation of sea ice in the past, including periods when there was none for whole years, and that polar bears clearly survived the ice-free seasons. He also reminds us that melting of sea ice does not affect sea levels and concludes that an Arctic without sea ice for a whole year would have only a small effect on human welfare.

Health of Presidential Candidates

The health of the two US Presidential candidates is receiving increased attention. A report on Clinton indicates that when she was Secretary of State she received advice on the treatment of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis.  The drug used  for such treatment is said to be a stimulant which treats excessive sleepiness. There is no indication that Clinton may have experienced such diseases. The report adds that a new bunch of emails will be released in the week before the election

Trump is reported as having had a medical check up and that his doctor indicated he has no problems.

Both reports are in the attachment Heath of Presidential Candidates.

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