For all the convulsions it has faced on the political front, in one respect the Gillard government has presented a model of stability in recent months: its opinion poll ratings, as measured by the weekly Essential Research report, have been set in stone since the middle of June. This week’s result shows no change at all on the previous week, with Labor on 32 per cent and the Coalition on 49 per cent of the primary vote, and the Coalition leading 56-44 on two-party preferred. The only change is a two-point gain for the Greens, who are up to 12 per cent at the expense of other parties and independents. Respondents were also asked to rate the performance of Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader, with slightly better results than he is used to from his personal approval ratings: 38 per cent agreed he was “performing the role of opposition leader well and is keeping the government accountable”, with 45 per cent taking the commonly heard view that he is “just opposing everything and is obstructing the work of the government”.

Other questions fielded by Essential Research probe the complex area of public opinion on asylum seekers, and as usual they offer little to help guide political leaders through the minefield. Whereas other surveys have indicated surprisingly high support for onshore processing, the latest survey illustrates how dependent such results are upon the options given to respondents. Only 21 per cent were found to indicate a preference for onshore processing when the available alternatives were offshore processing “in any other country” (11 per cent), offshore processing “only in a country where human rights are protected” (31 per cent) and turning the boats around (28 per cent).

Respondents were further asked to rate features of a good refugee processing system, and here too the public seems determined to make life difficult for the government: the two features rated most important were “keeping costs down” (rated very important or somewhat important by 81 per cent) and the possibly incompatible objective of “protecting human rights” (80 per cent). It might be thought a surprise that the objective of “stopping the boats” only came in third, at 74 per cent. The least pressing concern was ensuring that asylum seekers were not returned to the country from which they had fled (49 per cent).

A question on trust in various Australian institutions emphasises how much work our churches have to do to recover confidence: only 29 per cent declared a lot of trust or some trust in religious organisations, against 72 per cent for the High Court, 67 per cent for the Reserve Bank and 61 per cent for charitable organisations. Interestingly, federal parliament (55 per cent) rated higher than the ABC (46 per cent), environmental groups (45 per cent) and trade unions (39 per cent). Last but certainly not least, the AFL grand final attracted the most interest out of three looming sports events: 32 per cent declared themselves interested, against 20 per cent for the NRL grand final and 10 per cent for the Rugby World Cup.

The weekend brought another polling tidbit from Adelaide’s Advertiser, which has conducted an in-house poll of 642 respondents from the state electorate of Port Adelaide. The poll is a product of the almost universal anticipation that the seat’s current Labor member, Kevin Foley, will head for the parliamentary exit not long after he stands down from the ministry in October 20, in tandem with Premier Mike Rann. Whereas there is little expectation Labor will be troubled in the resulting by-election for Rann’s seat of Ramsay, Port Adelaide-Enfield mayor Gary Johanson is thought to be a serious prospect as an independent candidate in Port Adelaide. The poll nonetheless shows Johanson attracting only 14 per cent support at this stage, with 37 per cent backing Labor, 31 per cent Liberal and 11 per cent for the Greens. Labor has a two-party lead of 55-45, pointing to a swing to the Liberals of about 8 per cent. The poll’s margin of error is around 4 per cent.

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