Coalition Still Faces Electoral Defeat
Although the Newspoll published on 5 March showed no change between the Coalition and Labor on a TPP basis (47/53), Turnbull’s Dissatisfaction rate fell from 54 to 57 and is now worse than Shorten’s (56). As to who is a Better Prime Minister, Turnbull’s rate fell from 40 t0 37 while Shorten’s rose from 33 to 35.
There is no doubt that the Joyce affair (which now seems more extensive than portrayed) contributed to his polling deterioration and some have suggested that this may be a one-off. But arguably the deterioration reflected more on Turnbull’s capacity as a leader than the exposure of the affair itself. It is particularly pertinent that the Newspoll took place after an apparently successfully official visit to Trump, with considerable apparently favourable publicity. The Australian’s political editor, Dennis Shanahan, described developments prior to Newspoll (including the outburst by Senator Michaelia Cash) as reflecting
“ a confused and dispirited government. Cash, who is still under pressure and awaiting a federal police investigation into the advance leaking to the media of a police raid on AWU headquarters, is clearly Labor’s next target for destruction. These gulls aren’t settling for one chip. They want the lot and the battered fish to boot.
Labor has the bonus of not only deflecting legitimate criticism but also burying the Coalition’s undoubted achievements with the farces played out before the nation. Turnbull has clearly struck a responsive chord with US President Donald Trump after a rocky start. He is standing firm on Chinese interference, the economy is doing well, the numbers on welfare are falling and job growth is strong.
But there are only three more sitting days for the House of Representatives before the budget in May, three days that are likely to lose more ground for the Coalition, three days that won’t provide time for a reasoned budget explanation, and three days likely to ensure Turnbull faces 30 losing Newspolls in a row, his own definition of leadership failure.
Turnbull holds on to the $4 billion pumped-hydro scheme, Snowy 2.0, as if it were a talisman and hopes it will turn his fortunes. But if the government’s behaviour of late is any guide, he will have to do what Snowy 2.0 is meant to do — push water uphill(see Shanahan on Turnbull)
As to Turnbull’s visit to Trump, the transcript of the press conference held by both togetherconfirms that Turnbull’s visit was a success inasmuchas it covered the main issues of interest to Australia and our bilateral relations with the US (see Press Conference by Trump/Turnbull 24/2, where I have highlighted some particular references). It also indicated that Turnbull regards Trump as someone he now feels comfortable in dealing with –“100 years of mateship” –although no mention is made of climate change policy or tariffs on either side, implying perhaps that Trump did not think Turnbull was an important player in those areas.
In fact, as Terry McCrann suggests, it is doubtful if Turnbull understands that Trump does not operate as President in the way that other Presidents would have (see McCrann on Turnbull). By way of example McCrann points out that
“Trump had said he would take the US out of the Paris accord; Turnbull acted as if that was all just blather and that President Trump would come round to behaving exactly the same as a president Clinton. Maybe he’d even notice Turnbull’s global leadership and recognise the error of his ways. Certainly couldn’t hurt.On the latter Turnbull would have been right; Trump couldn’t give too hoots what Turnbull said or did. For heaven’s sake, has the PM noticed how Trump has blown off all and sundry? Trump has gone ahead and signalled he will stick to offing Paris”.
McCrann gives other examples of “Trump behavior” which should be taken into account in framing Australian policy, viz the TPP trade agreement which two of the biggest traders (the US and China) have not signed but Australia has and Trump’s decisions to impose tariffs on aluminium and steel. The decision by Turnbull (and others) to raise concern about the possibility of a “trade war” involving retaliatory exchanges of tariff increases is legitimate. But fails to take account of the other measures that protect domestic industries and that should in theory be abandoned. These involve much more than tariffs, such as the large subsidies of agricultural production in the European Union which have adverse effects on Australia. Turnbull has not shown any recognition of this component of protectionism.
Trump’s tariffs can thus be seen as adding only another item of fairly limited significance to the overall level of protection and may be justifiable because the main offender (China) is subsidizing its production of steel and aluminium. World Trade Organisation data also shows China has one of the highest average tariff rates on non-agricultural goods (almost double the US’s). Yet protective governments, such as China and the EU, are threatening to “retaliate” and may already have started to do so. If this goes to the WTO for discussion (which is the normal procedure, one of which I briefly attended when it was GATT) it would then open up debate between the three (and others) about relative protective levels. That could result in even higher tariffs or other measures, or it could produce a more efficient outcome. It may be recalled that the Doha round of discussions failed to reach agreement on lowering protection and this does not suggest a good outcome.
But Trump’s initiative may have stirred the pot again and this might even lead to a better outcome on protection generally. Meantime, today’s news reports that a US steel manufacturer has announced the re-employment of 500 workers. Trump’s initiative certainly doesn’t warrant the comments (incl by our RBA governor) that imply that its tantamount to starting a trade war.
As to interpreting climate policy, the article published in today’s The Australian by Maurice Newman refers to a number of expert critics (there are many more) of climate change policies and adds that
“Not feeling duped, are successive Australian governments that have become committed members of a green-left global warming movement promoted by the UN. On dubious scientific grounds they have agreed to accept meaningless, anti-growth, CO2 emission targets that enrich elites and burden the masses” (see Maurice Newman on Climate Theories).
Newman’s article is less important in outlining the views of expert critics than it is by being published by a leading newspaper: media reports which suggest that climate policy is falsely based have improved here and in the US but are still fairly rare. My Commentary series helps and readers may be reminded that I have been summarizing the analytical situation as follows
“ There has been no correlation between increases in emissions and temperatures, with the latter actually falling in the 30 years prior to the late 1970s, the increase in the next 20 or so years reflecting temporary natural influences not usage of fossil fuels, and there then being a much smaller rate of increase in temperatures than in carbon emissions”.
In short, as more historical evidence emerges of changes in temperatures and in CO2 emissions, and as Trump’s policy widens in the US, the stage is being reached where existing climate change policies have less and less credibility as do the governments and ministers who promulgate them. This has been heightened recently by the report by a US Congress Committee that indicates that Russians are using the international communications network to send out messages through Facebook, Twitter et al warning that the US must take more aggressive action to prevent dangerous global warming!
In Australia I have received a message on climate policy which names our Environment Minister as “Frightenberg”, presumably implying that he is frightened that his credibility may be diminished if he doesn’t sticks to a policy that is politically popular. Yet one of the reasons for the poor polling of the two major parties is their unequivocal endorsement of the dangerous warming thesis and their refusal to recognize that, even if the whole Paris Agreement is met (which it certainly won’t be), it would have a miniscule effect on temperatures. While there has been no independent government review of the climate policy, the average citizen in Australia is becoming more and more skeptical about it.