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Back to work, but Morrison finds ALP hot on his heels in latest poll

Politics

Federal parliament is set to return from the summer break on Tuesday amid a tight race between the major parties and growing speculation about a 2021 election.

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On a two-party preferred basis, the Coalition and Labor are 50-50, according to a Newspoll published overnight by The Australian. The result is a one point drop in support for the government and a similar gain for the opposition, since polling in late December.

The Liberal-Nationals also dropped a point – down to 42 per cent – in their primary vote support in the poll conducted late last week, while Labor was steady at 36 per cent.

Shifts in polling are likely to be a response to the government’s handling of the COVID-19 economic recovery. The JobKeeper workplace support is being cut in March, despite growing calls for its continuation.

Debate in both Canberra chambers this week is likely to focus on what lies on the other side of the pandemic.

Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese return from summer recess having reshuffled their frontbenches and faced challenges to their authority.

The prime minister heads into parliament following the weekend’s shock dumping of veteran conservative MP Kevin Andrews by Victorian Liberal preselectors in the seat of Menzies.

Andrews, the longest-serving sitting MP, had the backing of Morrison and two former leaders, but could not withstand a contest from ex-SAS commando Keith Wolahan.

On the other side of politics, Labor leader Albanese was effectively forced to shift his climate spokesman and factional colleague Mark Butler out of the portfolio in the wake of concerns the party was losing support among blue-collar workers and regional communities whose livelihoods depend on coal.

Chris Bowen will lead the charge on reworking the party’s climate policy with a greater focus on how it can help jobs and the economy while also cutting emissions.

Morrison is expected to use parliament to set out the government’s plans for the coronavirus vaccine roll out and wind back of support given to businesses during the recession.

He says new investment in skills and industrial relations law changes will be crucial to “enable the Australian economy to sustain an even stronger growth trajectory on the other side”.

“In the parliament, we will seek support for our changes to make it easier for businesses to put more people back into work in the post-COVID recovery,” the prime minister said.

The government is awaiting a Senate inquiry report on its workplace law changes, which is due on March 12.

But in the meantime Labor and the unions say Morrison is using the pandemic as an excuse to leave workers worse off, in terms of pay and conditions.

Senate crossbenchers are in the sights of union lobbyists, and the public through a new advertising and social media campaign, to reject the omnibus industrial relations bill.

“Crossbench senators have the power to stop this omnibus running over Australian workers,” CFMEU national construction secretary Dave Noonan said.

Labor will seek to pressure the government over the JobKeeper wage subsidy, with the opposition noting some sectors such as tourism have not recovered and needed a longer helping hand.

A House of Representatives and half-Senate election can be held as early as August this year.

Newspoll showed Morrison remained preferred prime minister, on 57 per cent, down three per cent. Albanese is on 29 per cent, with the remaining pollsters undecided.

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