The further fall (down to a 46/54 TPP) in the Coalition’s Newspoll last Monday might have been expected to produce a swathe of comments as to either the possible replacement of Turnbull or possible major changes in Coalition policies. Surprisingly, few did so.
Today’s Fairfax Poll confirms that, despite a big fall in Shorten’s performance measure (from 42 to 36) and a big rise in his disapproval rate (from 47 to 52), Labor maintains a TPP lead of 53/47. This is the same as the Newspoll published on 4 September. More importantly, the Fairfax poll shows that “Mr Turnbull's approval rating has fallen 3 percentage points since May to 42 per cent, and his disapproval has risen 3 percentage points to 47 per cent – placing the Prime Minister into net negative territory, according to voters' assessments” (see Fairfax Poll 11 Sept). In other words, Turnbull is not the man to persuade voters to “save” the Coalition.
Some will remember Alice’s experience in Wonderland when, after falling through a rabbit hole, she found herself in a world full of strange creatures making decisions and expressing views about life which, while amusing, were more of a take-off of the real world. Failing to make friends with the Cheshire-Cat, for example, the King demanded that the Queen remove him but she simply decreed “off with his head”. This was a command the cat simply ignored. But that the rulers of Wonderland were unable to exercise control over their subjects now strikes a bell here.
The debate over energy policy (which is really about climate policy) looks like continuing apace, with today’s AFR reporting a discussion at tomorrow’s joint Party Room on what it describes as “the energy crisis”. The fact that the Nationals are invited certainly suggests that there is a crisis of sorts (as a separate party, they do not normally participate). Deputy PM Joyce is pictured in the attached digital version practicing with his whip (see Mix of Energies Will Do) and as suggesting that there may be a discussion of a government-owned coal-fired generator. It surely can’t be that such a possibility might be seriously discussed: with an energy policy involving an increase in renewable (under a Finkel 42% by 2030) coal usage would progressively decline and there would be no new investments in coal-fired generators. In such circumstances any government coal-fired generator would lose money and would have to be subsidized. It would not on its own “save” coal.
As Parliament takes a two week break (again!), Turnbull is given a rest from answering questions from Shorten and leading commentators search for important things to write or talk about. As usual, ABC News continues to focus on murders - but not political ones. In Western Australia polling suggests political casualties amongst supporters of Premier Barnett, indeed the likely loss of government there, with Turnbull having made a negative contribution on his sole visit during the election campaign according to The West Australian newspaper (it described his visit as “a damp squib” and claimed he was “hopelessly unprepared, atrociously briefed or both” on what to say about WA’s share of GST grants). Instead, Turnbull has gone to Queensland supposedly to help the Nationals combat the increasing influence of Pauline Hanson there. But Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce almost fell off his horse when he learned that Turnbull had taken a direct call from Pauline when she was meeting angry sugarcane growers and that Turnbull had apparently then agreed to discuss the issue with growers who had previously been unable to obtain a meeting with Turnbull ie his action effectively showed that One Nation has credibility with him and that the Nationals are being put aside as their vote is (supposedly) assured.
Whether the Coalition will have enough seats to form government remains unclear and it is by no means certain that it will be able to remain in government. But one or two certainties are clear. Most importantly, the governing of Australia will be much more difficult, perhaps as difficult as it was under Whitlam when the initial budget was put together by Whitlam and his Deputy on their own. The Turnbull government has already introduced a budget but that has still be considered by Parliament. Labor will doubtless argue that Turnbull’s bad election result means that this budget needs to be revised. As Terry McCrann points out below, any budget now needs to alsotake account of the likely reduction in Australia’s AAA credit rating.