As a new Parliamentary week starts, the political editor of The Australian interprets the latest Newspoll as putting Turnbull “back in the game” (see below). But while the Coalition’s TPP has improved to 48/52 (from 45/55), it remains a long way short of a recovery let alone a Coalition leadership position. Importantly also, the polling still continues to confirm dissatisfaction with Turnbull. In terms of net satisfaction with leaders (only available on the web), Turnbull and Shorten are both about the same in negative terms (about -28) and, although Turnbull is slightly better than Abbott was when he lost the leadership (-33), he has lost the very favourable position he had when he took over in September 2015 (+19). He is also still below what he was even six months ago (-22). In reality, voters are very unhappy with both leaders and there is an opportunity for a new leader for either party.
Turnbull’s attempted recovery from declining polls appears to involve two immediate strategies. First, expose and publicise dubious activity by Shorten when he was head of the AWU. Second, attack the energy policy adopted by Shorten now that he is leader of the Opposition. This approach seems to have been welcomed by most members of the Coalition and praised by some in the media, both of whom reacted with comments to the effect “why the hell has he taken this long to point out the defects in Shorten as Labor leader” or words to that effect.
For the second day in a row Turnbull has “savaged” Shorten in Parliament – and outside it. The savaging included an accusation about the benefit to Shorten arising from “managing” one of the deals done by the union he led before he became an MP and Labor’s leader, as outlined in the Heydon Royal Commission. The opportunity for the government to use those investigations has so far been largely neglected and the attack on Shorten presumably reflects a number of recent unfavourable developments, such as the drop in Coalition polling to 46/54 on a TPP, the resignation from the Liberal Party of Senator Bernardi, and the apparent success of Trump in effecting major changes in policy in the US (one of which was even quite favourably regarded in a poll here).
The last Newspoll on 20 November showed the Turnbull Government with a TPP of 47/53, the exact opposite to what it was on 23 Nov in 2015 and down from the 50/50 TPP as recently as 12 September. Judging by what happened last year, there will be another poll in early December ie very soon. This should provide an indication of the extent to which, as Turnbull claimed in addressing the Party Room on 29 Nov (see Turnbull on Performance), “we are delivering … on the National Economic Plan” (sic). It will be recalled that, after an extended eight-week official campaign period and with the first election under a new voting system for the Senate that replaced group voting tickets with optional preferential voting, the Coalition lost 14 seats in the 2 July election. It is left with only a one seat majority and a Senate with 11 cross-benchers of diverse views (and 35 Labor/Greens and 30 Coalition).
On Friday evening I attended the annual dinner of the HR Nicholls Society and gave the vote of thanks to the speaker, Senator Eric Abetz. His address was highlighted by The Weekend Australian giving it the front page lead story (see below) and the SMH also reported it, but not The Age. Abetz, who was dropped by Turnbull from ministerial ranks (he was Minister for Employment under PM Abbott) and from being Coalition leader in the Senate, used the HRN dinner as an opportunity to criticise Turnbull for failing to make reform of workplace relations a major policy issue at the election on 2 July. He pointed out that, with the ammunition provided by two major reports (the Heydon Royal Commission and the Productivity Commission), a policy advocating further reform had been a “gimme” and he noted that “not even the unlegislated elements of the 2013 election policy were taken forward such as changes to right of entry, transfer of business and individual flexibility arrangements”.
The reactions to Turnbull’s dinner at Kirribilli House with “dozens” of Muslims vary but will likely have only limited electoral influence in a context where the latest Fairfax –Ipsos poll shows for the second time that Labor is ahead at 51/49 on a TPP basis. While the Newspoll of marginal seats suggests this may not be sufficient to win (because the support for Labor is not fully reflected in marginal seats), the Fairfax poll seems to confirm that there has been a slight swing against Turnbull since the election started. In one sense this is surprising given the greater extent of promised additional unjustified expenditures announced by Labor, the fact that it has acknowledged that it would have higher Budget deficits than the Coalition over the next four years, and numerous policy announcements that provided the opportunity for extensive criticism, including the claim that Turnbull would privatise Medicare (Turnbull favours government interventions and the claim just gave him justification to confirm that without upsetting colleagues). But Turnbull has so far failed to exploit Shorten’s poor budget policy partly because the Coalition itself has already budgeted for high deficits and this makes it more difficult to distinguish between the two major parties. In addition, Turnbull has continued to announce expenditures which while claimed as already provided for in the Coalition budget estimates (The Australian’s SPEND-O-METER shows $5bn announced by Turnbull cf $16.2bn for Labor during the election campaign) give the impression that both sides are adding to deficits and that the differences between the two are small.
My Commentary sent out late Sunday (thanks to those who sent compliments) drew particular attention to the article by Judith Sloan on the Federal budget and her conclusion that “Labor is completely out of control fiscally; the Coalition is slightly better but no cigar”. This followed other strong critiques, including by John Stone. Meantime we have Turnbull and Shorten buying votes as they go from electorate to electorate and adding up to $100mn a day to budget spending. What does the odd million matter?
While the Morgan Poll (see attachment on Morgan Poll) is not generally regarded as being the most accurate, its latest result gives Labor a potential winning lead with a TPP of 52.5 to 47.5% and Queensland being the only State where the LNP is leading. This is the largest lead since Turnbull was elected leader of the Coalition and it also has a 30.5% vote for minority parties. While it is too early to be definitive, this suggests that the electorate is not attracted by either major party and that neither will have control over the Senate.
Today’s Newspoll shows the two major parties are now on the same TPP (down from a steady 53/47 for the Coalition). Although Turnbull remains clearly preferred as PM, his indecisiveness over whether to raise the GST/cut income tax and his failure to produce any new substantive economic policy has contributed to the downturn. Turnbull’s general approach of not ruling any policy in or out –and then not deciding on anything – has not helped and his net satisfaction rating is down to 10 compared with 38 in mid-November. As Rowan Dean put it in Saturday’s AFR, “Turnbull: The Force Awakens has lost business to Deadbill”.
With minimal editorial change, today’s Australian has published a letter of mine praising the virtues of the present Australian political system. The Letters Ed interpreted it more as an attack on the US system (which it is indirectly) but its main intent is to question the merits of the alternatives proposed for us, including the republican one for which our current PM led the charge in the 1999 referendum but is now suggesting that any move should await the death of the Queen. While he knows Prince Charles favours a republic, he is off track even there: as the monarchical head for Australia Charles would have no legal power or influence on policy.