Has the Tide Really Turned?
Today’s polling, not by NewspolI but by Ispos for Fairfax press, must have come as a bit of a surprise to those associates with that media group, as it also has for those supporting the Coalition. Most of the latter have been expecting an improvement in the Morrison government’s polling from the 46/54 TPP result last December but not by three percentage points to a 49/51 TPP. That is close enough to the election result in July 2016 under Turnbull (50.4/49.6) to lead the Fairfax media (and the ABC) to downplay it as much as they can.
But they also find it difficult to explain away the two percentage point increase in Morrison’s performance rate since December which means he is now a nine percentage points better performer than Shorten (49/40) and ten percentage points more preferred than Shorten as PM. (Strangely, Ispos have asked to interview me tomorrow morning, to which I have agreed).
Of course, this polling may be only a “one off” and we have to wait until the next Newspoll (which is probably next Monday) to see if it also shows a big improvement in the Coalition’s electoral hopes. But there can be no doubt that this poll provides a major “scare” to Shorten and Labor. Even the leftish political editor of the Fin Review has had to acknowledge this (see Coorey Says Test of Nerve For Labor). Note his comment on last week’s debate on whether to allow “exceptions” to border controls, viz
“There was a great deal of trepidation within the party last week over whether it had done the right thing by opening the door on boats, an entrenched political weakness which has cost it at least two elections this century”.
As I argued in last Friday’s Commentary, “Morrison’s attack on Shorten for showing weakness in handling Caucus is obviously correct (as the emergence of Deputy Albanese on TV suggests) and provides a useful stick for Morrison to use and argue that, if Labor were to win the election, they would again allow border controls to be breached. Morrison has already established that up to 300 refugees have obtained the approval of doctors to be transferred to Australia. It seems likely that under Labor border controls would be eased and smugglers would again penetrate access in one way or another”.
It is not only the AFR which is having to pull its horns in. As Andrew Bolt points out in his article in today’s Herald Sun:
“So how to stop them? Labor’s media shills offer two fixes. First, suggests The Age: “The turnback policy is cited by experts and insiders as the most effective deterrent … It would be prudent to buttress this barrier.” Pardon? Turning back boats is the Tony Abbott policy which The Age was still damning in 2015 as “morally repugnant”, and “ruthless and despicable”. It’s a policy many on Labor’s Left still hate. So why did turnbacks go from “morally repugnant” to something The Age wants more of? Why? Because The Age knows Labor has put sugar on the table for the people smugglers, and if boats now turn up it could lose the unlosable election. That’s why many Leftist journalists also insist Prime Minister Scott Morrison stop saying Labor has weakened our borders. He’s giving people smugglers ideas, they say. Guardian Australia’s Murphy even accused Morrison of “looking like you are whistling up new boats for a bit of cheap partisan advantage”.
Many leftist journalists insist Prime Minister Scott Morrison stop saying the policy has weakened Australia’s borders. How crazy. The Liberals now can’t inform voters that Labor’s policy is dangerous? And how dumb do journalists think the bosses of those multimillion-dollar people smuggling cartels are? They don’t need Morrison to tell them what Labor has done — especially not with activists celebrating at high decibels” (see Bolt on Fairfax Support for Labor).
Bolt’s article today would have been written before the editorial in today’s Age, which has done some backtracking even to acknowledging with mixed views that “There is, however, a legitimate issue for this election about whether the ALP is the better party to manage asylum seekers. The left of the party has only accepted Mr Shorten’s approach with great reluctance”. The Age adds that it “reported from Indonesia on Saturday that asylum seekers stranded there since 2013 said the bill had not made them more inclined to take the risk of boarding boats, but one source, long known to this organisation for having links to people smuggler networks, said that if the ALP won government, Mr Shorten could face a test of his nerve”. But it then makes the astonishing addition that there is no reason why the ALP cannot face down the challenge from people smugglers just as resolutely as the Coalition, apparently forgetting what happened to attempts to control borders under the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments! (see the full text of today’s Age editorial, which should surely lead to a change in editor of a paper which claims it is “independent always”).
Of course, the asylum seeker issue is only one of several explanations for the narrowing of Shorten’s lead in the polls.As today’s Age also acknowledges, Shorten “may also be suffering from some of his tax policies. Many voters, including, surprisingly, 30 per cent of ALP voters, are worried about his plans to end cash refunds of franking credits. Still, it is the issue of asylum seekers that appears to be weighing most heavily on the electorate. To maintain his lead, Mr Shorten will have to prove his mettle both to voters here and also to those waiting in Indonesia for a sign of weakness”.
As electorally beneficial as the border control issue is likely to be, Morrison can’t rely only on using that as a stick to beat Shorten with. Other policies need to be finalized and presented, including the budget before the election.