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.
There are three things which stand out from today’s polling: Both Newspoll and the Fairfax/Ipso poll show Labor the same distance ahead of the Coalition with Labor holding a lead of 6 percentage points on a TPP basis (53/47) in each poll; Neither leader has a favourable net satisfaction ratio in Newspoll, with Turnbull on 33/53 and Shorten on a 32/54 satisfied to dissatisfied ratios; The total who feel worse off after the budget (45%) is less than after the 2014 budget under Abbott (69%) in Newspoll. But more feel worse off than after each of the last three years of Labor’s budgets. Note that only 19% feel better off and 36% are uncommitted after this year’s budget. The age group which feels worst off after this year’s budget is the 35-49ers, with over 50s feeling least worse off ;
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.
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.
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.