How Long Can Turnbull Last?

Questionable Reactions to Newspoll

I headed my Commentary on Sunday “Are Our Politicians in the Real World? and suggested that some of the behaviour and events in Canberra and one or two other states in the last couple of weeks indicated that our political body is, like Alice in Wonderland, acting outside the real world. I added that “It would be surprising if tomorrow’s Newspoll does not show a further decline in the Coalition’s rating, which would again emphasise the need to replace Turnbull if the Coalition wants an election chance”.

That further decline has now happened, with the Coalition’s TPP down to 46/54 from 47/53 (a potential loss of 20 seats) and Turnbull’s Net Satisfaction Rate falling from minus 12 to minus 20 (the same as Shorten’s). Turnbull’s only “saving grace” was that he sustained a lead as preferred PM, albeit at a slightly reduced 10 points (43/33). According to Weekend Australian’s editorial, “this has been a terrible week for Malcolm Turnbull’s government. Tossed around like a tinny in an ocean storm, it has been incapable of steering its own course”. Political editor, Crowe, judged that “Turnbull is now in a political trough that is deeper and longer than anything predecessors such as John Howard experienced” (see Crowe on Newspoll 21 Aug).

Relevant in interpreting developments is Chris Kenny’s article in Weekend Australian suggesting that there is a “widening chasm between journalists and the mainstream, the audiences they are supposed to serve” and that “this great divide has played out dramatically of late” ie writings by most journos reflect their view of the world and/or what they think it should be like, rather than what it really is. But any increased influence by the well-known leftist media also raises the question as to why leading politicians are currently unable (or unwilling?) to play an effective leadership role. Yet Turnbull’s enunciations are so close to those coming from the ABC/SBS and suggest he is a leader who will not reflect what the “real world” polling calls for (interestingly, yesterdays news on ABC’s breakfast program did not even mention the Newspoll result).

For example, the reported criticisms on yesterday’s ABC news of the wearing of the burka in Parliament by One Nation Leader were in similar vein to Turnbull’s. Both failed to link the wearing of the burka with the serious problem that exists with what is called “extremist Islam” but which extends beyond the extremist version. They also failed to acknowledge that the wearing of the burka in public is not permitted in some countries, particularly those with a higher proportion of Muslims. My Commentary predicted that the real world was likely to lift Hanson’s polling – which it did.

But what are the implications of Newspoll for Turnbull’s leadership of the Coalition?

The surprising thing is that there has so far been no suggestion that he should be replaced before Parliament resumes in two weeks time.

  • Even Andrew Bolt dodged the issue by suggesting yesterday that the Turnbull government’s “grip on power is now so shaky it may be too dangerous to sack him. Sack the Prime Minister and the Liberals risk losing power within months” (see Nobody to Replace Turnbull?). So, are we to continue with a government that is “shaky” (or worse)?Bolt did not explain how a government led by Turnbull would prevent a further reduction in policy credibility over the next 18 months before the election, let alone a probable further reduction in polling as it tried to campaign for re-election (perhaps the High Court will decide that so many MPs are “illegal” under Section 44 that Turnbull has no alternative but to then call an early election!).
  • No editorials in today’s main newspapers even discuss the question of survival or the implications for achieving reforms in policies. Will we continue to have a government “tossed around like a tinny in an ocean storm” and incapable of steering its own course”?
  • Notwithstanding his reference yesterday to Turnbull being in a worse political trough than Howard, political correspondent Crowe claims today that an analysis of surveys by Newspoll shows that Turnbull has sustained his position as preferred PM and that the government has tended to hold its support in regular Newspoll surveys. But he makes no reference to what counts in an election viz the TPP (see Crowe on Turnbull 22 Aug).
  • In today’s AFR journalist Aaron Patrick surveys the experience of the 8 MPs who played a lead role in voting Abbott out of his PM role and notes (cautiously) that  “Given Turnbull narrowly avoided defeat at last year, a defeat at the next election might prompt some political historians to argue that the Group of Eight led the Liberal Party into a terrible mistake”. However he quotes Peter Hendy (one of the eight) as saying that he is after a seat in the Senate, is “happy with the decision I made” and that “by the time we get to the election they will have a very, very high chance of winning.” (see Patrick on Turnbull 22 Aug).

Perhaps the only sensible article today is Judith Sloan’s headed “Minister should be red-faced over green schemes(see Sloan on Energy Policy).She points out that “ The reality is that the energy market is heading for complete disaster notwithstanding all the desperate tinkering by this government” and that “ the bottom line is that countries with higher penetrations of renewable energy have higher electricity prices. It is a perfect fit. And while we may worry about the impact on households, the more important consideration is the future of businesses and the jobs they provide. It all comes down to those dastardly “green schemes”.

But would the continuation of a government, led by someone who commissioned a report on how to further reduce CO2 emissions and increase usage of renewable, be likely to effect changes which would substantially reduce vote-losing electricity prices and allow a recovery in investment in coal-fired generators?

The Message from Barcelona & N Korea

Available here is an article by John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is Chairman of Gatestone Institute, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad”. He provides an important analysis of the potential risks facing the US (and the western world generally) from recent events in N Korea and the increase in terrorist activity in (among others) Barcelona. The following extract from Bolton’s article suggests Australia and others are behind the real world in addressing potential (and actual) threats.

“North Korea is manifestly more than a Northeast Asia problem. Kim Jong Un would unhesitatingly sell any technology it possessed, including nuclear, to anyone with hard currency. Iran is one such potential customer. Terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, befriended by wealthy governments or individuals, could also be buyers. Accordingly, if the regime-change options fail, then a preemptive military strike to eliminate the North Korean and Iranian programs may well be the only way to avoid decades of nuclear blackmail by Pyongyang, Tehran and inevitably others, including the terrorist groups who might acquire weapons of mass destruction. Israel has twice before reached this conclusion, in 1981 against Iraq and in 2007 against Syria. It was not wrong to do so”.

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