Labor attacks over penalty rates after poor leadership poll

A NEW poll showing the Coalition and Labor were on equal footing set the scene for Tony Abbott's return to the backbench during parliamentary sittings on Monday.

The Newspoll, published in The Australian, showed the major parties were on 50% each on the two-party preferred measure since Malcolm Turnbull took Mr Abbott's job.

But it also showed Mr Turnbull leading Opposition Leader Bill Shorten 57% to 19% as the nation's "preferred prime minister".

The sittings marked Mr Abbott's first return to the chamber since the leadership spill last month and the first sitting with Mr Turnbull's new ministry on the government frontbench.

Mr Abbott sat beside his former treasurer Joe Hockey, with close political ally Kevin Andrews his other new backbench neighbour.

Government MPs used Question Time to throw Mr Turnbull and his ministers a series of questions about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, after the deal was sealed last week.

While no governments party to the TPP have yet released the text of the agreement, documents released by Wikileaks have raised questions about the potential effect on the cost of medicines in Australia.

MORE: TPP threatened as countries try to contain drug costs

The Opposition tried to attack the government over penalty rates, with Labor's Tanya Plibersek asking about a security guard who feared he could be "out on the street" if he lost the rates.

But Mr Turnbull hit back, raising Mr Shorten's links to penalty rate union negotiations, which was raised during the Trade Union Royal Commission, showing workers' rates were cut.

He said he had "no doubt" Mr Shorten did so "because he thought the package overall was a better deal".

Mr Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison had previously endorsed considering changes to penalty rates, if people were compensated with tax credits.

Asked about potential changes, Mr Morrison said the government was "prepared to consider the options necessary to put young people in jobs".

The Prime Minister said enterprise bargaining was created to ensure workers could negotiate their pay.

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