Abbott's woes mount after latest backflip

By Greg Ansley

Fledgling Government forced to back down over education reforms while suffering defeats in Senate and poor poll results.

Bad polls this early in the electoral cycle and the problems facing Abbott are no real guide to what will happen at the next election. Photo / Getty Images
Bad polls this early in the electoral cycle and the problems facing Abbott are no real guide to what will happen at the next election. Photo / Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is ending the year with two serious defeats, another waiting in the wings, and a poll repeating earlier findings that his fledgling Government is slipping behind Labor.

Abbott has been forced into a humiliating backdown on education reforms, performing yet another backflip to restore the deal struck between most states and the former Labor government.

The Coalition's attempt to restore temporary protection visas limiting the time refugees can stay in Australia has been defeated in the Senate, where his bill to axe the carbon tax is also facing almost certain rejection.

Abbott has called Labor "wreckers", and has threatened to keep Parliament sitting through to Christmas until the bills blocked by the Senate - including an earlier rejection of attempts to raise the national credit limit to A$500 billion ($555 billion) - are passed.

A Morgan poll has brought more bad news for the Government, finding that Labor leads the Coalition 51.5-48.5 per cent in the two-party preferred vote that decides Australian elections.

Last month a Nielsen poll reported a similar 52-48 lead for Labor, although a Newspoll found that, while slipping, the Government remained ahead.

Bad polls this early in the electoral cycle and the problems facing Abbott are no real guide to what will happen at the next election, but they show that the traditional honeymoon for a new administration has been cut short.

Abbott has lost momentum - stricken also by the row with Indonesia over espionage activities - and will need the coming Christmas-New Year break to regroup.

The education reform fiasco has underlined this. The Coalition went into the September election promising it was on a "unity ticket" with Labor in regard to the reforms launched by the former government.

After winning power Education Minister Christopher Pyne declared the reforms a "shambles" and prepared to axe deals with the two big Liberal states of New South Wales and Victoria, and Labor administrations in South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory rejected the reforms.

Pyne tried to tough out the fury of the states that had signed up, but late on Monday caught everyone off-guard by announcing that the Government would honour its election commitment.

He also said he had won in-principle agreement from Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory to join the scheme, restoring A$1.2 billion to the reforms to pay for their admission. The money had been pulled from the scheme by Labor when it failed to reach deals with the three. Pyne painted himself as the saviour of an overhauled national education system, still claiming Labor had bungled its introduction and saying he would introduce the national system the former government had failed to achieve.

"I've just spent the last 11 weeks trying to sort through the mess that [former education minister and now Labor leader] Bill Shorten left me as the Education Minister," he told ABC TV.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Labor and the Greens joined to block the Government's bid to restore temporary protection visas, introduced under former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard's harsh policies on asylum seekers and later dumped by Labor.

The visas allow asylum seekers officially recognised as refugees to remain for up to three years before being reviewed. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the Government would find new ways to prevent refugees arriving by boat from settling permanently in Australia.

Abbott will continue to face problems in the Upper House until next July, when the new Senate will take its seats - and even then faces uncertainty with the balance of power to be held by mining billionaire Clive Palmer's United Party and the allied Motoring Enthusiasts Party.

- NZ Herald

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