Natural disasters have sent the federal election campaign into a spin with less than a month until polling day.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday visited Picton, southwest of Sydney, which was hit hard by a massive storm which swept across Australia’s east coast.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was campaigning in Adelaide but travelled to the Sydney beachside suburb of Coogee on Tuesday afternoon to inspect damage there.
The two leaders agreed on a natural disaster relief package, supported by the NSW government, to provide an uncapped amount of money for households, councils and businesses to make repairs and clean up.
However, the campaign truce was temporary and the two leaders traded blows over a dispute in Victoria between the Country Fire Authority and its 800 professional CFA firefighters seeking a better pay deal.
The CFA, backed by Mr Turnbull, says the deal contains unlawful clauses and could effectively hand management over to the United Firefighters Union.
Mr Turnbull fears thousands of CFA volunteers, who also help deal with disasters in other states, could resign over the deal.
He has pledged to change the Fair Work Act, if re-elected, to include in its “objectionable clauses” ones that would adversely impact on volunteer organisations such as the CFA.
“It is very hard to believe that a government would be so beholden to a trade union that it would put at risk the service of 60,000 volunteers in the CFA,” Mr Turnbull said.
Mr Shorten says it’s a state issue that he expects will be resolved soon.
He said Mr Turnbull had weighed into the issue for “political reasons”, having based the double-dissolution election on the Senate’s rejection of industrial laws and a fight with unions.
“Labor has a good record on volunteers and I do expect and I am sure the parties at the state level will resolve this issue,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Adelaide.
As he announced Labor support for more apprenticeships, the latest Essential poll put the two major parties at 50-50 – mirroring other recent polls.
Asked whether the campaign has made them more favourable towards Mr Turnbull, 7 per cent said it had, while 33 per cent said they were now less favourable and 54 per cent said their opinion had not changed.
Mr Shorten’s “more favourable” rating was 20 per cent, compared with 21 per cent less favourable and 53 per cent unchanged.
The two leaders have endorsed an online debate run by Facebook and news.com.au next week.
“I think it’s important that we are innovative … (and) enable millions of Australians to participate,” Mr Turnbull said.
But Mr Shorten says the prime minister should also agree to another forum in Queensland due to be hosted by Sky News on Wednesday. To read more click here.