FAIRFAX Agricultural Media’s latest federal election opinion poll indicates Labor’s efforts to win the hearts and minds of voters in the nation’s farm sector have proven to be fruitless, since the last election.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has been a popular personality who says he’s fallen in love with the portfolio, showing a willingness to stand and fight for the bush, within the Labor camp.
He’s championed the introduction of a dedicated Labor country caucus of federal members to try and filter policy proposals through the prism of any potential impacts on farming or rural constituents.
However, this year’s survey data shows, despite planting the seeds of change, Labor has withered on the vine with bush voters in Opposition since earning an unforgettable “Epic Fail” headline ahead of the 2013 election, when in office.
In that poll, the then Labor government scored a “Fail” in 10 out of the 13 key performance category headings as voters lined-up impatiently to have their say and participate in ending six years of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd regime.
For the same poll in 2013, Labor scored 1.37 (with one being “poor” and five “excellent”) on economic management, 1.45 for trade access and exports and 1.21 on live animal exports after widespread damage caused by the snap Indonesian live cattle ban of mid-2011.
Only climate change earned the ALP a pass mark then returning a mean score of 2.54 and a solid score on performance in education at 2.67 and health on 2.21.
Of the 1095 respondents surveyed three years ago, just 66 (6 per cent) said they’d vote for Labor if an election was held “today” compared to 864 (79pc) for the Coalition, 45 (4pc) for independent candidates and 34 (3pc) for the Greens.
This year, as voters yawn their way towards the July 2 double dissolution election on the back of a marathon two-month campaign, the ALP’s rating on that question slipped even further, to 5pc.
That’s despite Mr Fitzgibbon’s willingness to challenge the conservative government’s complacency on climate change policy and other key policy battlegrounds.
However, in analysing the 2016 poll data the news wasn’t exactly flattering for the Coalition with its overall vote slipping from 79pc to 73pc.
That drop was largely attributed to the Nationals with just 22pc of survey respondents saying they’d vote for the junior Coalition partner - if a vote was held “today” - compared to 30pc on the same question leading into the last election.
But in the latest survey of 1060 rural voters, the Coalition’s performance in government was rated much stronger and higher on core policy issues, compared to Labor’s scores in 2013.
In the main priority policy area of managing the national economy, the Liberal/National alliance earned a 3.1 mean rating and 2.8 for agricultural policy, having delivered on a core election commitment to lift agriculture’s economic standing and the first-ever Agricultural White Paper.
The Coalition government’s best poll rating was on export trade agreements scoring 3.3 due to cutting tariffs on farm exports through historic deals signed with China, Korea, Japan and the Trans Pacific Partnership and moves towards one with India.
The government also earned a 2.3 score after tightening controls around the Foreign Investment Review Board’s scrutiny of farm-land sales and agribusiness during this term of government while Labor was rated 1.45 three years ago.
But the Coalition scored just 1.9 for its backpacker tax increase and 2.1 on regional communications, while 2.3 for environment and climate change management also indicated there’s plenty of room for improvement, if re-elected.
Despite Mr Fitzgibbon’s nagging presence, Mr Joyce’s performance as Agriculture Minister and Deputy Prime Minister earned a 3.5 rating in this year’s poll.
Of those surveyed, 12pc scored him five out of five or “excellent”, 43pc gave a four, 30pc a three, 10pc a two and just 5pc said it was poor.
In 2013, when asked to rate the former Labor government’s agricultural portfolio performance, after Mr Fitzgibbon replaced Joe Ludwig as minister just before the election, 72pc said it was poor, 17pc rated a two, 8pc gave a three, 1pc a four and just five of the 1096 survey respondents said it was “excellent”.