Quarterly Newspoll Offers No Coalition Improvement
The (normally) two weekly Newspoll on 25 September showed the Coalition’s TPP had fallen by 1 percentage point to 46/54. Today’s Newspoll is a quarterly one that shows the TPP at 47/53 but this is the same as the previous two quarterly ones and, while Turnbull’s performance improved from 33 to 35 “satisfied”, Shorten’s “satisfied” also improved (from 32 to 34). Turnbull’s rating as PM fell fractionally to 43 (from 44) while Shorten’s stayed at 32.
Although it is not clear whether there will be another two weekly Newspoll next week before Parliament resumes, it is possible that if held it will show an improvement from the 46/54 on 25 September. However, as discussed below, the handling of policy issues by Turnbull since then does not suggest any such improvement. The Australian’s political correspondent draws attention to the Coalition’s TPP improvement in the Five Capital Cities (from 46/54 to 47/53) but suggests that this may be offset by the drop outside those cities (from 48/52 to 46/54). Such a drop might reflect the difficulty of distinguishing between Turnbull and Joyce on policy issues.
Common sense suggests that a Coalition led by Turnbull will lose the next election.
Some Recent Coalition Policy Issues
While it looks as though the SS plebiscite will allow Turnbull to claim it supportive of his Yes view, the polling of it so far suggests the final count may produce less than expected Yes’s (possibly less than 60%). The handling of it by Turnbull also left a negative impression arising from his failure to announce before the pleb started what legislative protection would be provided for religious views expressed by No voters if it is passed. The full page critical media advertisement on this by former PM John Howard (who about ten years ago urged Turnbull not to resign) also points to a strengthening in the so-called conservative view amongst Coalition supporters.
True, Turnbull would have benefitted Coalition polling by securing the unanimous agreement of state leaders to improve national security by inter alia boosting the facial recognition technology data base (see COAG Meeting on National Security). Turnbull told the Premiers that
“by agreeing to bring this together into the one database, into a means of operating together in real-time, it will enable our police, our security services to give an even better level of protection by being able to identify persons of concern, people who are suspected of terrorist offences or terrorist plots in real-time. It is a very important 21st century tool”.
But whether holding a full scale COAG meeting in Canberra was necessary is moot (one commentator described it as possible the quickest COAG meeting ever). Following the Las Vegas killings the environment was already conducive to increasing the power of the central government to limit such outbursts by crazed citizens or terrorists. Note however that, while gun control was not discussed at the meeting, Opposition leader Shorten claimed that estimates by law enforcement experts indicate “there are up to 600,000 illegal guns on our streets. This is just far too many. And research has shown there are more guns in Australia now than prior to Port Arthur. We need more action to get guns off our streets and throw gun runners in prison for life.” Fortunately, Australians are much less inclined to have “shoot-outs” than Americans, whose loss of large numbers during the civil war still influence thinking there about the need for guns.
Energy Policy & The Missing Text of Agreement on Gas
Turnbull’s continued failure to announce any coherent Energy Policy would also have contributed to poor polling.
True, an agreement was concluded with three exporters of gas that they would provide sufficient gas to the domestic market to prevent a shortfall in estimated demand in 2018 and Turnbull isued a press release after that meeting (see Heads of Agreement 3 October 2017). However, the so-called agreement provides nothing more than a vague commitment and contains no detail about possible prices or quantities, which are of course related to each other. My attempts to obtain the text of the agreement have failed and I have been told that no text will be released.
This missing text seems passing strange particularly as Turnbull says in the press release that the “commitments are vitally important to ensure Australian jobs and to ensure Australians have affordable and reliable energy and including electricity – gas being a more important fuel than ever in the generation of electricity”. It also leaves unanswered the question as to what effect the agreement is likely to have on prices. According to a report in The Australian, the commitment is to provide “reasonably priced gas”but it appears that prices “remain well above historic levels” (see OZ on Gas Agreement).
It is likely that when Parliament resumes on16 October the Opposition will seek more details of the agreement and further argue that its policy of imposing a system of export controls should be adopted. But such a policy would fail to recognise that the “shortage” of gas arises importantly from the reduced supply of power from coal-fired generators as these generators are closed because of Australia’s policy of reducing emissions of CO2. About ten of such generators have now closed, and a report in today’s Australian suggest there is a danger that a large generator in NSW is under closure threat.
Yesterday Turnbull accused the Victoria of contributing to the gas shortage because of that state’s restrictions on investments in gas (there is a total ban on fracking), to which Premier Andrews responded by claiming that existing gas investments in Victoria have an ample supply for Victoria (see Turnbull on Gas and Andrew’s on Vic’s Gas Supply). There seems no doubt, however, that the states’ restrictions on gas investments are reducing supply and as a result are keeping prices higher than they otherwise would be. Yet Turnbull is again refusing to seriously consider reducing grants to states that are holding back investments in gas.
An Environment Week Ahead?
The foregoing indicates that whether involving energy policy generally or just gas policy the energy issue will continue to be widely debated over the this week. Contributors to that debate will be the AFR’s National Energy Summit in Sydney (which will involve Frydenberg, Shorten, Weatherill, Finkel and AGL’s CEO) and the address given by Tony Abbott in London to the sceptic UK Think-Tank started by former UK Treasurer Nigel Lawson. Yesterday’s AFR editorial (see AFR on Costs of Regulations of Emissions) identified some of the failures of past policies by arguing that
“What is depressingly clear however is that carbon war politics has got in the way of rationality every time. Those wars intensified when Australia under Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and the Greens chose the wrong role to play in the global decarbonisation drama. A carbon-dependent economy with only a small carbon-emitting population could not lead the way with the world’s highest carbon tax without inflicting a lot of cost on itself for very little global return. And it meant ignoring Australia’s natural comparative advantage as an exporter of clean gas and relatively clean coal to much bigger emitters than ourselves, like China and India” (my emphasis).
But the editorial failed to advocate that, “rationally”, there needs to be a marked reduction, preferably elimination, in the target for reducing emissions of CO2 as well as in the target for increasing the usage of renewable, which are now being recognised as both unreliable and expensive once account is taken of the back-ups that are required because of their unreliability. I have no knowledge what Abbott will say in London tonight (UK time), and I recognise that he has made some poor decisions in the past. But he seems to be one of few leading politicians prepared to acknowledge past mistakes and to move on. He may be Australia’s only hope now of saving us from the looming disastrous energy policy.