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.
In the election now under way the Turnbull government has so far been selling its re-election on the theme of “jobs and growth”. In my last two Commentaries I have given reasons why this poses problems, based as it is on a budget presented as an economic plan which has very limited substance in terms of either its aggregates or its components. As The Australian’s Economic Editor Uren put it, “taken together, the initiatives in the budget will not shift the dial on national growth one way or another to a measurable extent”. This is already reflected in dissatisfaction amongst Coalition members, with no lift in polling following the budget (in Newspoll the Coalition’s TPP remained fractionally below Labor’s), a majority of voters judging that the budget left them worse off but with Turnbull still well ahead as the better PM. There has also been questioning of the components by media and other commentators. Further, in the first public debate in front of a supposedly undecided audience, Shorten easily won the head count. On the ABC’s Insiders today there was agreement from the four participants (all with the left inclinations that the ABC normally gives preference to) that Turnbull has so far shown less ability than Shorten to get his message across.
No sooner had the latest Newspoll been published (details are attached) with a 51/49 TPP in favour of the Coalition, but with the first negative net satisfaction ratio for Turnbull personally, than he announced an early return of Parliament to (again) consider two pieces of legislation on workplace relations and a double dissolution election on 2 July if the legislation is not passed this time by the Senate (of the two pieces of legislation, one has already been rejected twice and this rejection could be used to call a DD). This would be a considerably earlier election than the September/October months which Turnbull himself had previously foreshadowed.
Today’s Australian publishes an unchanged electoral position of the two major parties (TPPs of 50% each) but another reduction in Turnbull’s net satisfaction ratio. He is still well ahead of Shorten in the unchanged Better PM category (55/21). But the uncertainty about Coalition policy in various areas has been allowed by Turnbull to reach the point where an “early” election seems increasingly likely, with policies being unduly determined by electoral “demands” and Turnbull himself having a bigger say as to what is in the policies.
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”.
This morning’s Bolt Report started with a declaration that the Turnbull honeymoon is over. Not surprising. But what was a bit off key was that the ABC Insiders seemed to reach a similar conclusion, although without saying so specifically. Has Scott told the ABC’s Cassidy that Turnbull has ceased to be minister of communications and is now in danger of applying his fairness policy to the ABC as PM? We even experienced an interview with a Shorten who argued that Turnbull should bring down a budget in May.