Today’s Australian reports that the views of three groups in the Senate appear to depend on whether and/or by how much the supposed final version of NEG will reduce costs. Pauline Hanson says she is “strongly against” the NEG and wants to pull out of the Paris accord requiring reduced carbon emissions as coal-fired power stations would deliver cheaper power. Senator Leyonhjelm, the Liberal Democrat, said he wanted to see evidence the NEG would dramatically lower power prices before he would back the deal: “they need to fall by at least 50 per cent to restore competitiveness and take pressure off households”. The Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick said he and Senate colleague Stirling Griff backed the NEG’s goals but their vote would depend on how much the policy brought down power bills: “we would expect on the pricing side for there to be a clear indication of what the savings will be, and that the modelling that generates those savings is released publicly, including all assumptions that were made,” Senator Patrick said (see Some Senate Opposition to NEG).
In Friday’s Commentary I highlighted the editorial in The Australian saying “that Islamist terror cannot be bought off; it wants nothing less than a totalitarian caliphate for the planet. Jihad denialism, which wilfully obscures the wellsprings of Islamist violence, has limited appeal in Australia although its supporters include progressive elites with their media megaphones”. I also drew attention to the failure of Turnbull to make any reference to the likely source of the terrorist bombing in Manchester being Islamic and that he seemed “largely to be missing” from various references by other ministers to sources and the need for policy changes.
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.
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.
My Commentary yesterday suggesting “Turnbull Must Go” has produced some critical responses and has also revealed media bias in favour of Turnbull. This comes from the comments made last night and in today’s media. But before turning to those I should note that George Christensen has resigned as chief whip in the National Party so that, he says, he will be freer to comment on Turnbull government policies. While this follows the resignation of Senator Bernardi as a member of the Liberal party, Christensen indicated that he would stay as a member of the National Party in the lower house. A loss of his vote there in a motion of no confidence would now mean however that there would be equal numbers for each side, a potentially ungovernable situation.
Today’s Newspoll shows that, despite Turnbull’s very recent decision to start attacking Shorten more aggressively, the Coalition’s polling has dropped a further percentage point (to 45/55 on a TPP) and Turnbull’s personal polling has dropped sharply to 29/59 satisfied compared with 33/54 last time. This has occurred after Shorten was not only unable to state the estimated cost of Labor’s 50% target for renewable energy but also announced that he would try to reverse the decision by Fair Work Australia to slightly reduce penalty rates even though he had previously supported a review when he was minister under Labor! With Labor on the back foot, the Coalition’s polling ought to have improved.
The outcome of the imminent last two weeks of Parliament will set the scene for the Christmas- New Year period during which changes in our political leaders may be foreshadowed or possibly even occur. The most prominent change in Australia in this period was probably the overthrow of Bob Hawke as leader and PM by Paul Keating on 19 December 1991. This occurred after a long period of rivalry between the two Labor leaders. The election of Trump as President and the raising of expectation of changes in government policies around the western worldhas also set the scene for possible leadership changes around the world.
Today’s front page of the Australian Financial Review carries the composite photo below of Malcolm Turnbull seated on a couch with Bill Shorten and Nick Xenophon and Pauline Hanson standing at the back. The accompanying (very) glossy magazine purports to present them as four of those in Power in Australia. In its subsequent pages the magazine includes many others, along with, surprisingly, Muslim Waleed Aly. President Obama is added for good measure, possibly because it is the last chance to do so.
Although we had a long election campaign during which Parliament was not sitting, it now has another “break” until 10 October during which Turnbull and two other ministers (including Immigration Minister Dutton) will travel to the US. In this coming week Turnbull is scheduled to attend what his press release describes as “the biggest summit on the international calendar” - the UN General Assembly Leaders’ Week, which will include “summits on refugees and migration” hosted by Ban Ki-moon and a smaller one arranged by Obama. But, while discussions at UN General Assemblies rarely produce meaningful policies for use back home, the risk is that Turnbull may relax our refugees policy and, as Abbott did, agree to take more refugees. Given the tightening of border controls by European countries, and increasing concern about terrorists being amongst asylum seekers, Australia’s existing policy would seem justifiable.
My Commentary of 4 August examined Turnbull’s decisions in the period since the July 2 election when there was an opportunity to elaborate on policies neglected during the election. I concluded there was in reality a continuation of bad judgements as to both substance and process in the limited policies announced. Yesterday John Stone wrote Del-Con Notes in The Spectator surveying the election results. He described Turnbull “as a supreme narcissist”, a term seemingly being used overseas to characterise a culture seen by some as having developed around people in various walks of life who have excessive self-esteem (see discussion in an article not available digitally “Ego is not a dirty word”, Weekend AFR 6-7 Aug 2016)). Applied to Turnbull it suggests a political leader who has a limited interest in other peoples’ views or even that his own decisions turn out to be wrong. Stone concludes that “ sooner or later Turnbull will have to go” (see Spectator Australia article).