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Malcolm Turnbull takes a swipe at Tony Abbott over poll sabotage

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says Tony Abbott ‘knew exactly what he was doing’. Photo: Alex EllinghausenPrime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has delivered a stinging rebuke to his predecessor, Tony Abbott, accusing the former prime minister of deliberately sabotaging the government to do maximum damage to the Coalition’s standing in the polls.
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At the same time, the federal opposition sharpened its political attack on Mr Turnbull in Parliament over cuts to Sunday penalty rates, demanding the government steps in and stops the pay cut of up to $77 per week proposed by the Fair Work Commission.

If the proposed cut to penalty rates for retail, hospitality and fast-food workers goes ahead, Labor and the union movement are prepared to campaign on the issue – which will effect an estimated 700,000 workers – all the way through until the next election.

The Newspoll saw Labor extend its lead to 55-45 on a two-party preferred basis, the Coalition’s primary vote slip one percentage point to 34 per cent, Labor’s rise by one point to 37 per cent and One Nation’s rise to 10 per cent.

Satisfaction with Mr Turnbull’s performance fell four points to just 29 per cent and dissatisfaction rose by five points to 59 per cent.

The Prime Minister dismissed the poll as a “snapshot of opinion at one particular time” and made an unprecedented attack on his predecessor – who launched a scathing attack on the direction, policy prescriptions and performance of the Turnbull government in a speech last week.

Mr Turnbull said Mr Abbott had delivered “an outburst on Thursday and it had its desired impact on the Newspoll. It was exactly as predicted and as calculated”.

“He knew exactly what he was doing and he did it. I’m not going to be distracted by that. It’s a fact of life. That’s what’s happened. I’m focused on the jobs of ns that we are protecting by delivering the leadership.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, a former Abbott loyalist, also blamed Mr Abbott’s outburst for the fall in the government’s standing, arguing “people mark us down for that”.

The criticism of Mr Abbott underscores deep anger within Coalition ranks over the former leader’s frequent, publicly critical commentary of the Coalition. However, government MPs also believe the Fair Work Commission’s penalty rates decision played a part in the fall in the government’s standing in the polls.

As one MP, who asked not to be named, put it, the government had no choice but to accept the decision because the Coalition’s core small business constituency had been calling for a cut to penalty rates for years – but “make no mistake, this is bad for us”.

Labor used every single one of its questions during question time to probe the government over the impact of the penalty rates decision, asking about the impact on women, on regional workers and on workers in other sectors, such as health professionals, in the future.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten demanded to know whether Mr Turnbull would move to stop the cut “to the take-home pay of nearly 700,000 ns. What is the Prime Minister going to do to stop this pay cut?”

Labor also attempted to introduce legislation to stop the decision from taking effect, as well as ensuring penalty rates could not be cut in the future, but was blocked.

Mr Turnbull fired back by pointing out that FWC president Iain Ross was a former ACTU official and had been appointed president by the Opposition Leader when he had been workplace relations minister.

“The Labor Party previously said we must respect the independent umpire and suggested we would not, well we do. And we have. It is the Labor Party that has changed. We respect the independent umpire’s decision.

Meanwhile, n Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney will fly into Canberra on Tuesday to step up union lobbying efforts to stop the cut.

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