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Broadband success overshadowed by poor polls -

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Broadband success overshadowed by poor polls

Broadcast: 21/06/2010

Reporter: Heather Ewart

The Rudd Government's good news of a truce to end a long-running war with Telstra and advance the
prospects of its national broadband network was overshadowed by another poor performance in the
polls.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: In the Parliament the Government kicked off a new sitting week today
hoping to promote an $11 billion truce it signed to end a long-running war with Telstra and advance
the prospects of its big ticket National Broadband Network. But after NSW Labor suffered one of the
biggest ever swings against a government in a weekend by-election and today's Newspoll showing
Labor's national vote remaining at a deeply worrying low, it was forced to deal with more questions
about its own survival. There was some good news for the Government on perhaps its most contentious
policy initiative, the resources super-profits tax, with the Prime Minister announcing new deals
between the Chinese and some of the taxes' fiercest critics here in Australia. Rio Tinto's share
price also rose above the level it was when the Government first announced the tax. Political
editor Heather Ewart.

HEATHER EWART, REPORTER: It goes down as one of the biggest swings ever in any by-election, state
or federal, in Australian political history.

Little wonder that the victors took the rather unusual step of waiting on Penrith railway station
this morning to thank voters for the 25.5 per cent swing against NSW Labor.

And, little wonder that as federal Liberal MPs arrived at Parliament House in Canberra, they were
still basking in the glory of the Penrith win and what it might mean federally.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: I think that the message that the public are giving is that they
will punish bad governments. It's a bad government in NSW; it's a bad government here in Canberra.

NICK CHAMPION, LABOR MP: It was run on state issues. Federal politicians will try and divine some
messages out of it, but I don't think there's much of a lesson from Penrith.

HEATHER EWART: As Federal Labor MPs and ministers stayed firmly on message that Penrith was about
state issues, there could well be a signal for Labor at the federal election.

ROD CAMERON, FMR LABOR POLLSTER: There is a problem, I suspect, with brand Labor in Western Sydney,
but I don't think that federal Labor would be any more worried today after the Penrith by-election
than it was the day before.

HEATHER EWART: There's no doubt they're worried. Counting up what seats will be lost and where is
becoming an almost daily pastime amongst federal Labor MPs, as the Opposition becomes increasingly
confident, at least in private, that it could pick up enough seats to win the next election.

Of course, this is not the stuff the Government wanted to focus on on the airwaves or in the
Parliament today. After weeks of battling damaging publicity over its mining tax, it chose to
highlight one very big $11 billion deal it had been able to pull off with Telstra and announce at
the weekend for its new National Broadband Network.

STEPHEN CONROY, COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER: What the deal that was announced yesterday represented was
Telstra agreeing to transfer all of its millions of customers onto the National Broadband Network.

KEVIN RUDD, PRIME MINISTER: We have reached an important agreement with them on the future of the
network.

ANDREW ROBB, OPPOSITION FINANCE SPOKESMAN: This is going to be a white elephant for Australia. This
is going to be the biggest infrastructure white elephant in our history.

STEPHEN CONROY: They're just blocking it for the sake of block - its opposition for opposition's
sake.

HEATHER EWART: It was a brief moment of clear air for the Government and it has every reason to
gloat over the result of several months of tricky negotiations with Telstra. But the announcement
did just happen to occur on the eve of the latest Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper
today showing Labor's primary vote has not shifted from 35 per cent in the past three weeks. Tony
Abbott has narrowed the gap as preferred national leader though his support level is still only 37
per cent.

ROD CAMERON: It is unprecedented. We've got a prime minister whose popularity has plummeted and
we've got an opposition leader whose popularity never was at very high levels. I can't remember
another situation like that. We've got a real stalemate of a situation where we've got two
unpopular leaders.

TONY ABBOTT: There's a big job ahead of the Coalition. I've always said that we'd be the underdogs
going into this poll and into this election.

KEVIN RUDD: Economic reform is tough and you're going to lose some paint on the way through.

HEATHER EWART: The Liberal Party is hoping he's lost quite a lot of paint and launched this TV
advertisement today to try to take off a bit more.

LIBERAL PARTY ADVERTISEMENT (female voiceover): It looked good, it sounded good, but it's all gone
sour. It's a lemon; Kevin O'Lemon. One big disappointment.

HEATHER EWART: A sign of things to come for the election campaign. On top of the influx of mining
ads from all sides, viewers could well feel like they're in campaign mode already.

The Prime Minister countered today with the news he'd signed mining deals with the Chinese
Vice-President. And by the way, these include companies led by some of the most vocal critics of
the resources tax: Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest and Clive Palmer.

KEVIN RUDD: Here are three sets of agreements which have been signed in my presence and the Chinese
Vice-President's presence about one and a half hours ago. But Mr Speaker, I know that those
opposite have difficulty in confronting the facts in this debate. They would much rather run a fear
campaign.

HEATHER EWART: While the mining tax stoush drags on unresolved, there's concern in some sections of
the Labor Party there are bigger issues hurting it right now that are not being addressed.

ROD CAMERON: The path for Labor is to find out why it started to become unpopular. It didn't start
to become unpopular because of the resource super-profits tax. It started to become unpopular
because of its change of policy on the emissions trading scheme. And I think the answer is the same
for both the Prime Minister and for Labor. Find an answer in the emissions trading scheme area and
I think that's where at least the path to recovery, if there is to be one, is to be found.

HEATHER EWART: Greens leader Bob Brown claimed at the weekend the Prime Minister had finally sought
a meeting with him over the dumped ETS, though it doesn't sound as though the Government is rushing
to find an alternative.

LINDSAY TANNER, FINANCE MINISTER: Asking somebody for a meeting is hardly something you describe as
making overtures. I would suggest to you that we have got an established policy position. Because
of the confusion and uncertainty internationally, we have chosen to defer pursuing that for what is
a fairly short period of time, a minimum of 18 months.

HEATHER EWART: As for Tony Abbott, he's happy to follow a deliberate strategy to lie low, keeping
media questioning to a minimum as this government wallows in its own problems.

JOURNALIST: Keep your head down?

TONY ABBOTT: No, no, no, no. We'll be doing everything that is needed and I'm hardly keeping my
head down today, am I?

HEATHER EWART: The Opposition Leader may well have wished one of his parliamentary colleagues kept
his head down today. Wilson Tuckey chose to take this slant on the feared deaths of Australian
mining executives in an air accident in West Africa.

WILSON TUCKEY, LIBERAL MP: Where were they? Leading mining executives of Australia. They were in
Africa. And why were they there? They were looking for iron ore! You know, already!

HEATHER EWART: They were tasteless and unedifying remarks slammed by the Government, yet not
publicly corrected by the Opposition leadership. This could indeed be a long and ugly election
campaign.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor Heather Ewart.