Long Way To Go

It is now a month since the overthrow of Turnbull as Coalition leader and PM on August 24. Yet the latest Newspoll shows the Coalition now led by Scott Morrison (thanks to the initial challenge by Dutton) has lifted its two party preferred vote by only two percentage points, which still leaves it well behind Labor on 46/54 and behind its rating of 49/51 in  mid-August prior to the spill. And less than on its July 2016 election win by one seat.

Its primary vote has recovered a bit more to 36/39 from 34/41 immediately after the spill and Morrison is categorised as Better PM at 45/32, which is fractionally better than immediately after the spill but lower than when Turnbull was leader back in July. Those “Uncommited” remain around 25 per cent.

Although the Coalition is still well behind Labor, some see Morrison’s energetic and friendly handling of issues arising during the period since he took office as indicating that the Coalition is on the road to at least recovering its polling position before the challenge to Turnbull was made in August. But even that would not be a winning position, given that the Coalition was then polling less than the 50.4/ 49.6 it had when it won by just one seat in the July 2016 election.

Arguably, Morrison also faces more problems than Turnbull did in July 2016. Some of those are self-imposed: such as his decision to retain as ministers a number who were Yes Men to Turnbull and, associated with that, his decision not to criticise some of the policies adopted by Turnbull or not adopted when they should have been. There is no doubt that some members of the Coalition continue to oppose any move away from Turnbullite policies, with July Bishop now publicly criticising the way she has been handled — despite her being offered by Morrison to continue in Foreign Affairs and Trade! Her overt resentment at the abandonment of Turnbull almost certainly also exists elsewhere in the Coalition and is supporting “bullying” accusations by some female MPs.

But if Morrison is to continue as leader he needs to indicate that, just as he has changed his mind on his opposition to the Royal Commission on Banking, he will be changing his mind on other policy issues. He has already handled the bullying issue well but he should not stop there. If he doesn’t make some explicit changes to Turnbull policies Labor will not only ask why Turnbull is not PM but why he (Morrison) is following the policies of the PM he opposed.

I have referred in particular in previous Commentary to energy policy and the contradiction between the Coalition policy of reducing power prices and that of retaining the policies of reducing emissions and encouraging renewables which will push prices up. Perhaps he is holding back from changing energy policies until after the Wentworth by-election on 20 October. But any major change in energy policy also has implications for State elections in Victoria in November and NSW in March 2019. What happens in those elections is important for the Federal elections and vice versa in regard to policies adopted by the Federal government which could help them too.

Is he going to hold back from such a change because of the fear of opposition of the Greens and, if so, how will he handle criticism of his failure to effect any significant power reductions?

There is a long way to go before Morrison reshapes the Coalition after Turnbull’s attempt to  undermine it.


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