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Journalist discusses press conference by chairperson of Senate inquiry into IR legislation; and opinion polls showing a drop in popularity for the Prime Minister.

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Wednesday, 23 November 2005



STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Now we’re joined from Canberra by Michelle Grattan from the Age . Good morning, Michelle.




STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: The Senate committee has reported on the government’s IR legislation and before we came on air you were saying to me that … I didn’t see it but the press conference was done standing up and it was all a bit of a farce.


MICHELLE GRATTAN: Well, it was. Judith Troeth, who chaired that committee, and one of her colleagues came in and she said that she had to get to another committee hearing, this time on a nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory, so she didn’t have very long and neither of them sat down during the whole press conference. So they looked as though they were ready for instant flight, and indeed had a bit of trouble answering questions even on one of their own recommendations, which they found almost impossible to explain.


STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Were the Senate committee hearings themselves held standing up, Michelle?


MICHELLE GRATTAN: No, but they were certainly held on the run. Actually, during the five days there was some quite interesting testimony out of the Senate committee hearings and it’s a pity, really, that there wasn’t a good deal more time and that the report was as predictable as it was. The government senators have made only minor suggestions for changes which presumably will be taken up because at least some were flagged I think to the minister beforehand, and there’s nothing really that goes very far in that report on the government side.


STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Barnaby Joyce on AM this morning though, talking about wanting penalty rates for iconic public holidays.


MICHELLE GRATTAN: I think that this is an interesting development in the debate over IR because Barnaby Joyce took part in the Senate hearing but wasn’t actually a member, a full member of the committee, so he didn’t have any part in that report. But he is taking up the issue of public holidays: Christmas Day, Anzac Day and so on.


Now, you’ll recall that in the earlier stage of debate over the industrial relations legislation there was a lot of talk about whether Anzac Day would no longer be regarded in the same way and whether Christmas would be cancelled and so on. I think that the issue that Barnaby Joyce is taking up is one that will resonate obviously with sections of the community and is putting the government on the spot because it’s not a major change but if the government doesn’t make this change then I think that it will give the lie to some of its own rhetoric about these public holidays.


STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Michelle, on page 2 of the Australian today, the Prime Minister’s leadership comes under scrutiny. There’s a Newspoll that shows reasonably marked declines in how people are perceiving the Prime Minister on a whole range of areas: how he cares for people, people who think that he’s in touch with voters, who think he understands the issues, who think he’s trustworthy.


MICHELLE GRATTAN: The poll carries several messages. One is that he is losing some skin from some of these really difficult debates that the government’s been in. For example, he’s fallen on the criteria of likeable and trustworthy and in touch. Kim Beazley is well ahead of him as seen as more trustworthy.


On the other hand, the poll also shows that he has a commanding lead, or the government has a commanding lead on managing the economy, well ahead of Labor on that: 61 per cent to 22 per cent. And in terms of being decisive and strong, John Howard leads Kim Beazley 80 per cent to 59 per cent.


STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: There’s no real joy here for Kim Beazley, is there? I mean, his figures haven’t really increased where John Howard’s have fallen. I also think there’s an irony, given Kim Beazley’s particular interests in issues like security and the military. The number of people who think he’s the best to handle national security is very low, isn’t it, 24 per cent?


MICHELLE GRATTAN: Well, that’s right, and clearly John Howard is continuing to do very well on these areas of economic management and national security, and they are really important overriding issues, areas for the government and in the minds of voters. So it’s interesting, on this question for example of trust where Kim Beazley on the actual trustworthy measure is ahead, yet it’s the government and John Howard who are seen as more able to be trusted on these big national issues.


And I think that that is the story, for example, of the last election where John Howard beat Mark Latham hands down on people’s confidence in how he could manage the big issues. And we’re still seeing that same pattern come through in the polling, even though John Howard is suffering a little on the detail.


STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Okay, Michelle. Great to talk to you these past three days, thank you very much. Michelle Grattan, the Age ’s political correspondent in Canberra, who speaks to us every morning at this time.