Last year around this time I did a post Will Turnbull be PM this time next year? Clearly he’s still here, but it seems a lot of people wish he wasn’t. Is he a dead man walking in politics?
The polls were diabolical back then – Turnbull had just chalked up his eighth losing Newspoll in a row. Now that has blown out to 25 and the situation has gotten worse. Back then the TPP vote was 52-48 in favour of Labor, now it is 54-46. Last year the Labor primary vote had nearly overtaken the Coalition, rising from an election deficit of 34.7-42.1 to 37-39. Now Labor leads 37-35.
Simon Benson writing in the Australian says Coalition close to a point of no return. In January 2001 John Howard was a dead man walking. Yet in November that year he won. Can Turnbull do the same?
The poll Benson is talking about is the quarterly aggregate for October-December (can’t find it on the Newspoll site) which provides a big enough sample to look at more detailed demographics. The only good news is that in the 50+ group the Coalition still heads Labor on the primary vote. Everywhere else Labor is in front, even non-capitals 36-35.
That’s primary vote, without preferences.
In TPP terms Labor is ahead 55-45 in Queensland, 54-46 in NSW and Victoria, and 53-47 in SA and WA. The situation looks irretrievable. NSW and Queensland between then hold 87 of the 150 seats in the country. In Queensland alone the LNP currently holds 21 seats to Labor’s 8. On current polling that situation could reverse, dealing Turnbull a mortal blow. As politicians have found to their sorrow, when Queensland swings it often swings big, and the indications are that it has given up on the current government, has switched off and is no longer listening.
Net satisfaction with the leaders has been a disaster for both Turnbull and Shorten. The aggregate poll has Shorten on -22 (33-55) and Turnbull on -26 (31-55). This graph shows Turnbull’s fall from grace after being elected. In effect the electorate has had little taste for either since before the last election:
Under these circumstances, Turnbull has two main strategies. The first is to kill Bill, to make Bill Shorten unelectable in the electors’ minds.
It might work. Some think Mark Latham became unelectable after he famously shook Howard’s arm almost out of its socket. Shorten has now trailed Turnbull for 800 days in the ‘Better PM’ stakes, the quarterly aggregate coming in at 40-33 in Turnbull’s favour, but even that has closed from 42-26 this time last year.
The second is to spray money around the place, especially in tax cuts. I’d recommend people read:
- Craig Emerson – The politics beats policy every time
- Peter Martin – If you’re promised a tax cut this Christmas, read the fine print first
- Ross Gittins – Malcolm Turnbull’s confidence rolls on, just like the economy
The Turnbull government tipped out to the media for Monday morning headlines a story that through its hard policy work it is cutting gross debt by $23 billion. It turns out that gross debt will not be cut at all, but will increase by $82 billion by 2020-21.
By taking credit for Treasury’s changed projections about the state of the economy up to four years from now – projections that must be clouded with uncertainty – the government is continuing the practice of achieving a projected surplus by assumption. Instructively, of the 12 surpluses projected in various budgets since 2010 not one has materialised.
Martin points out that the Government can give some relief to those on around $87,000 without it costing too much. However:
- Instead of handing over 14.9 per cent of their income after low starting rates and the tax-free threshold, middle earners will find themselves handing over 18.1 per cent. Within four years. It’s the result of bracket creep, and the increase in the Medicare levy. And the projected return to surplus in 2020-21 depends on it.
Gittins says it all looks a little better, but:
- The government’s forecast in May of a return to budget surplus by 2020-21 rested heavily on its prediction that, despite the extraordinary weakness in wage growth over the past four years, over the coming four years it would steadily return to boom-time rates.
Now these highly optimistic expectations have been shaved back, but only a little. I hope they come to pass, but I wouldn’t bet much on it.
Last year I detailed how Turnbull had degraded the political discourse into sloganeering and scare campaigns. Turnbull never looks authentic when he starts laying down the law and shouting at his political enemies.
Andrew Clark at the AFR tells us not to expect the “new Malcolm” or indeed the “old Malcolm” in 2018. His minions are spending the break cooking up ideas for the “tough Malcolm’.
He will be tough on those Labor politicians who did not have their paperwork finalised before the last election, using his restored numbers to send them off to the High Court, but none of his own.
The tough Malcolm had an outing when as a first for an Australian prime minister he criticised China in public. The Chinese will have understood that he was doing this for internal purposes, but there is already a question as to whether they can let the remarks go unpunished. Clark says:
- Australia’s ‘China problem’ is looming as the most imminent ‘tough Malcolm’ test. Ministers are bracing for a possible payback from our most crucial economic partner.
This could include a ‘spontaneous’ withdrawal of orders for highly processed Australian agricultural exports, or a sharp drop in Chinese student numbers, or in Chinese tourists coming to Australia. Or it could involve a combination of all three over what the Chinese are calling “groundless and unfounded remarks” that can “sabotage China-Australia relations.”
Then we had the “soft” Malcolm, posing for selfies and dancing to the Kinks at Sydney’s Wayside Chapel on Christmas Day:
Malcolm was helping out with Christmas lunch for the homeless. Someone unkind let it be known that he had paid $850 for that multi-coloured shirt!
Certainly Turnbull looks happier in recent times, a fact that irritates some of the people around him. Take a look at this photo from December last year:
There’s more commentary from Luke Henriques Gomes What to expect from Australian politics in 2018 and Katherine Murphy The year in Australian politics: Coalition struggles, but Labor fears it has peaked in polls. I’d like to extract a couple of photographs. First this one, which shows, I think, how little chance there is of any bipartisanship:
This one shows Turnbull’s real problem, his deputy PM and Coalition partner, who had just put a wrecking ball through Turnbull’s new look ministerial team:
Recently Barnaby Joyce was saying that if you want to know what North Queenslanders think you need to go and hump bananas, like he really has. Joyce says he knows what will fly and what won’t fly with the people, like the Uluru Statement, for example, and often finds himself in disagreement with his cabinet colleagues.
The real problem is that he can’t count. According to Essential Report he represents about 3 per cent of voters, or less than half represented by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.