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).
Turnbull’s address to the National Press Club was supposed to set out his policy agenda for 2017. Perhaps the first thing to note is that his text made no mention at all of the election of Trump as the new President of the US and the possible need for Australia to change some of its policies as the result of the major changes being implemented by Trump. This was surprising if only because of the importance of the US as a world power and our alliance with this country. But also because Trump appears to be reversing many of the major policies pursued by Obama, some of which have implications for Australia’s.
As we get closer to the resumption of Parliament on Tuesday 7 Feb, many have increasingly wondered what issues the Turnbull government will prioritise in the New Year and how it will react to the new Trump government in the US. In today’s Herald Sun (see below), Terry McCrann suggests that Turnbull has offered few indications of the policies he intends to pursue actively and gives the impression that he is ill prepared to handle the new policies which Trump has indicated he intends to pursue in the US. This confirms, McCrann says, what he said back last April when he wrote that “Turnbull was a complete dud”. Perhaps Turnbull will make his position clearer in his promised major address on February 1.
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).
The latest Newspoll confirms Labor’s lead of 52/48 on a TPP basis and shows a slight worsening in Turnbull’s net satisfaction to minus 25 (from minus 23), although he remains “better PM”. This outcome seems to confirm that Turnbull’s meetings and photos with world leaders during the break in Parliament did not impress the electorate. Nor did his photo op in a train with Lucy help.
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.
The widespread media coverage of Turnbull’s attendance at three international conferences has not resulted in any improvement in Coalition polling, which the latest Newspoll shows as still at 50/50 on a TPP basis (see below). Nor has it helped Turnbull’s net satisfaction ratio which continues slightly to trail Shorten’s despite the latter’s poor handling of the Dastyari affair (T minus 19 cf S minus 17). One might conclude that with both leaders on large minus net satisfaction ratios we Australians face a gloomy political outlook and have good reason to be dissatisfied with the way our existing political system is operating. Surprisingly, rather than concentrating on getting the domestic situation into better shape Turnbull is reported as off overseas yet again next week for a memorial of 9/11 in the US.
The first Newspoll since the election on July 2 shows only a slight fall in the Coalition’s TPP from 50.4 per cent to 50 per cent but a large drop in Turnbull’s net satisfaction ratio to the point where it is now less than Shorten’s (minus 18 cf minus 14). Late last year Turnbull was plus 38 while Shorten was minus 38. While Turnbull still has the Better PM rating, the gap has narrowed sharply. Importantly, the poll also shows that “Reducing debt and deficit” are strongly supported by both Coalition and Labor voters, almost as strongly as “Maintain border security”.
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.
As expected, today’s publication by Treasury and Finance of updated fiscal and economic estimates and projections – the so called PEFO published under the Charter Of Budget Honesty - do not show any significant change since the Budget of 3 May. I have include the most important sections of PEFO here.