Fast-track plan weighs down Gillard

By Greg Ansley

PM staring at the almost certain defeat of major media reform package as speculation continues on her future.

Gillard's efforts to halt the rush to calamity have so far been fruitless. Photo / AP
Gillard's efforts to halt the rush to calamity have so far been fruitless. Photo / AP

Another week, another disaster. Prime Minister Julia Gillard, again crashing in the polls after a brief respite last week, is now staring at the almost certain defeat of a major reform package.

The Government wants six bills overhauling media laws passed by Thursday, to howls of industry outrage, Opposition ridicule, doubtful support from the Greens and the prospect of rejection by crucial independent MPs.

If Labor pushes too hard against a rising tide of opposition, it could become the first Government in decades to see its legislation defeated in the Lower House.

With the continued series of appalling polls, the collapse of media reform plans would add to the overwhelming perception of a government racing towards destruction.

Poll results since the start of the year point to a landslide victory for Opposition leader Tony Abbott in the September 14 election.

Gillard's efforts to halt the rush to calamity have so far been fruitless.

Last week Newspoll showed some gains in support for Gillard and the party. But the latest Nielsen poll published yesterday showed the Opposition leading the two-party preferred vote that determines Australian elections by 56-44 per cent. This would be sufficient to cast Labor into the political badlands for years. Abbott also leads Gillard as preferred prime minister by 49-43 per cent.

Former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd continues to outpoll Gillard two to one.

The latest Morgan poll showed the Opposition ahead of Labor by 57.5 per cent to 42.5 per cent in the two-party preferred vote. Speculation continues about Gillard's future as leader, although Rudd consistently repeats his rejection of a challenge.

Gillard is hanging tough. She told Fairfax there was no chance of her stepping aside.

"If I haven't flinched yet, why would I flinch now?" she said.

"The choice at the end of the day isn't what you tell the nice person from Nielsen when they ring you up. It's what you do when you mark that ballot paper when all the noise has died down and there is effectively a binary choice for who leads the nation."

But the outlook as Gillard heads into the last week of Parliament before the May budget session is bleak.

Last week Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced his package of reforms to overhaul outdated media laws.

The proposals include a stronger system of self-regulation applying to both online and traditional media and a public interest test for media mergers and takeovers. Conroy delivered his proposals with an ultimatum: pass them by Thursday or forget media reform, giving MPs only six days to debate the complex package.

The ultimatum has infuriated many, although Gillard said yesterday the Government was willing to consider "sensible changes".

Two parliamentary inquiries are rushing through hearings, with industry chiefs yesterday warning that the changes would kill regional newsrooms, reduce diversity and possibly end cricket broadcasts to parts of regional Australia.

In the House the four key independents have expressed grave misgivings, with two indicating they will probably vote against the package.

The Greens, who hold the balance of power in the Senate, also have serious concerns.

- NZ Herald

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