Palmer MPs Not Paid To Do Nothing

THE RIDICULOUS NEWS that Clive Palmer and his remaining two Senators will abstain from voting on legislation — on the dubious pretext of “chaos” resulting from the unfortunate contortions over the Liberal Party leadership — is an anti-democratic travesty; Palmer United MPs will continue to enjoy salaries, air travel, staffing and other taxpayer-funded perks for not doing their job. Such a refusal should coincide with departure from Parliament.

It is one thing for an MP to abstain from voting on a single bill, perhaps on principle, or due to a conflict of interest.

It is another matter altogether to simply refuse to vote on legislation altogether, as an act of wilful buffoonery designed to attract attention.

But the announcement by Clive Palmer that the remaining MPs from his silly party will refrain from voting on all legislation until the Liberal Party leadership (and thus the Prime Ministership) is “resolved” is a wanton piece of anti-democratic thuggery that deserves to be met with expulsion from federal Parliament.

Clive Palmer is on the record many times over the past 18 months as being flatly opposed to Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government; it seems that in his mad, bad stampede to hound former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman out of office, Palmer has lumped Abbott into the same category as the feisty Queenslander, and with leadership “chaos” (and what might constitute its resolution) being highly subjective concepts, it seems that once again Palmer is attempting to position himself as some kind of arbiter of acceptable standards of political conduct.

If Palmer wants to take action over unacceptable political conduct, he should perhaps seriously review the behaviour of his own party since its unfortunate inception.

Taxpayers resource federal MPs quite generously, with Palmer and each of his Senators paid in the vicinity of some $200,000 each; all are provided with staff, managed offices and other resources, and all are entitled to free travel and accommodation provisions for travel to Canberra.

In short, these individuals are not paid to do nothing: in taking advantage of these provisions, something is reasonably expected from them in return.

What Palmer might think — or demand, decree, or seek to engineer — where the leadership of other parties is concerned is utterly irrelevant to what he and his lamentable Senators were elected to do and (in the context of the Liberal Party and the Coalition more broadly) Palmer forfeited any right or justification he may once have had to input into such matters the day he stormed out of Queensland’s LNP because it wouldn’t behave in office as he expected it to.

There is also no political convention that enables any member of Parliament to cite “chaos” as a pretext for abstaining from voting on legislation, and certainly not where a proposed blanket abstention across all matters before its Houses is concerned.

Should Palmer make good his threat — which would complicate the ability of the government to pass legislation, and see the Palmer United Party fall into line with the similarly unthinking opposition to passing legislation of its brainless former Senator, Jacqui Lambie — it would constitute a reprehensible course of action, and one which should be used by opponents on all sides of the political spectrum to help ensure Palmer forces are preferenced out of winning election to any seat in any jurisdiction in any circumstances in future.

After all, aside from entertainment value that relies on the “train smash” principle, the Palmer United Party adds nothing constructive to politics and government in Australia.

I would hope that any absences from either the Senate or the House of Representatives that contravene Parliament’s Standing Orders are vigorously monitored and pursued: and that should any grounds under these provisions for expulsion from Parliament be satisfied, that the Abbott government will pursue these in an attempt to rid Canberra of the ugly blot on an already tarnished institution whose name has been further besmirched by the masquerade of malice as principle by this most undesirable of political entities.

Perhaps Clive Palmer should look in his own back yard before making faux stands of righteous indignation over “chaos” where the activities of others are concerned.

After all — directed to abstain from all votes on legislation — his Senators voted down a workplace relations bill last night.

It says it all, really.

 

Poll Revival? If He Survives, Abbott Must Change

FOR THE SECOND TIME in a week, a new opinion poll has signalled a dramatic recovery in Coalition support, with the less-than-reliable Fairfax-Ipsos poll’s 51-49 lead to Labor apparently validating the four-point rise recorded by Newspoll last week. If these polls buy the Prime Minister time and should he survive, Tony Abbott must make changes, for even in recovery, he is burdened by unacceptable liabilities that continue to imperil his government.

Some will find it incredible that having opined on Friday that Abbott should resign, I am today talking about changes to sustain himself in office; the two narratives are not as contrary as first blush might suggest, however, for underlying everything else we have discussed here about the fate of Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership has been the decades-long support for the man I am reluctant to withdraw, and would do so only if utterly convinced his position was terminal.

Make no mistake, Abbott’s flirtation with his political mortality in the past few months has been real, and may yet prove fatal. As it is, I think his tenure as PM hangs by a thread.

Yet that thread appears to have acquired modest reinforcement, with the appearance of a second poll in six days suggesting some kind of recovery in the Coalition’s electoral stocks; it began with the Newspoll last week that I suspected was a rogue result, and now continues with a Fairfax-Ipsos poll which, whilst looking suspiciously generous to the government, nonetheless seems to confirm Newspoll’s baseline finding of a significant improvement in its position.

The Ipsos poll — appearing in the Fairfax press today — shows a three-point increase in the Coalition’s share of the two-party vote to 49%; it finds the conservatives’ primary support rising 4% to 42%, with Labor’s falling by the same amount to 36%, with an 11% cut in Bill Shorten’s lead over Tony Abbott as preferred Prime Minister (to 5%) and a deterioration and improvement in Shorten’s and Abbott’s personal approval numbers respectively.

I remain deeply sceptical of these sorts of numbers, coming as they do in the wake of continued leadership machinations within the Liberal Party, and after the emergence of credible reports of a further decline in support for Abbott among Liberal MPs relative to last month’s spill attempt following his failure to deliver on various undertakings he gave to retain his leadership.

They are, however, likely to buy Abbott a reprieve, the question of just how trigger-happy those MPs determined to drive a leadership change might in fact be notwithstanding: for even in the face of apparently rising support, those disenchanted retain more than enough reasons to feel aggrieved, and we will come to some of those (ageing) issues shortly.

But after several “barnacle removals,” resets, a (botched) reshuffle and the onset of “good government,” Abbott — provided these figures buy him more time — is surely now on his last, last chance to fix his government and salvage his tenure as Prime Minister.

The Coalition, which rapidly squandered the post-election glow from its big win 18 months ago, descended into an election-losing hole after last year’s budget and has remained there ever since, and even the numbers from the Ipsos poll — if replicated at an election — would still hand Labor a tiny majority if the 4.5% swing they represent was uniform.

It is true that Abbott has faced obstacles to governing that he (or any other leader) would face, and about which little can be done: specifically, the poor position of the Coalition in the Senate and the wilful hostility toward the government of those who hold the balance of power in it.

Labor’s blind, blithe, unreasoning and unreasonable opposition to everything in sight doesn’t help, of course.

But many of this government’s problems have been self-inflicted: and inflicted through decisions given Prime Ministerial imprimatur where common sense and shrewd judgement ought to have restrained Abbott rather than the indulgence of ridiculous, outdated and misplaced shows of loyalty being permitted to push his government to the electoral precipice.

And if these polls truly represent a modicum of breathing space for Abbott, they should be regarded as unexpected, and the last time such an opportunity is likely to present itself.

I can say little more than to reiterate two key points this column has made for months now; I am convinced that the key to repairing the Abbott government lies in two personnel changes which, if made, should flow through to other appointments and other aspects of the machinery of government that remain besmirched and compromised by the effects of those roles that are integral to its smooth and productive operation.

The first is the Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin; what I am hearing from multiple well-placed sources paints a picture of political destruction that cannot and must not be permitted to destroy the government from within.

There are good reasons for Liberal MPs — including a contingent of senior ministers — to be aghast at the continuing influence and control Credlin wields, and the almost unilaterally negative effect this has on the government’s standing, its ability to prosecute its case, or even to fashion a feasible political case at all.

We have discussed these matters ad infinitum and I do not propose to revisit them in detail today. Newer readers can, of course, access a selection of the relevant material through the “Peta Credlin” tag in the tag cloud at the right of this article.

I have opined in the past that the loyalty Abbott shows to those around him is admirable, and increasingly rare in politics; even so, loyalty without insight into wider circumstances can quickly become blind, and at some point Abbott is either going to have to accept that his trusty adviser has become a liability and get rid of her, or accept that his colleagues will dispense with his own services in order to get rid of her themselves.

Indeed, if a second strike against Abbott’s leadership is launched despite the better polling numbers of the past week, Credlin will have gone a long way toward motivating those who initiate it.

And with a second budget due to be delivered in two months’ time — and with it, the last real opportunity to credibly attempt the structural reforms the government was elected, in part, to deliver — Abbott needs to replace Treasurer Joe Hockey as a matter of some urgency, and arguments about the poor signal such a move might send are fatuous: just as it is with Credlin, Abbott’s loyalty to Hockey has been shown up as misplaced.

The Treasurer (with or without Credlin’s direct input and sanction, depending on whom you listen to) has already fudged one budget and cannot be entrusted with a second; MPs and voters are entitled to have no faith at all that Hockey — a decent and otherwise able guy — is up to the demands his present portfolio make upon him.

As it is, I am reliably told a little ginger group of economically literate backbench MPs is working on the germs of an alternative budget, “just in case:” and the fact this is happening at all is an unbridled indictment on Hockey and his capacity to inspire any kind of confidence whatsoever.

Far from amounting to a sign of weakness, a straight swap of Hockey’s portfolio with Malcolm Turnbull’s would enable the Treasurer to save face, be retained in a senior domestic portfolio, and lock the aspirant Turnbull into a solid role to which he is arguable the most suited MP in Coalition ranks.

It would also show Abbott is comfortable enough to promote a rival at a time of ostensible threat to his own position.

But if these changes are not made, it is difficult to envision any real or sustained recovery in the government’s stocks, and should the downward slide resume, the consequences will be catastrophic.

The outcome of the NSW state election be damned: the next Labor government in Canberra is likely to commit untold damage to this country, and if Abbott remains in office and gets the next round of key decisions wrong — which the retention of Credlin’s influence will do little to avert — then Labor’s chances of prevailing at the next election become frightening.

Should that occur, rogue polls holding aloft the iron sulphite prospect of non-existent electoral Nirvana will count for naught.

Abbott has had an existential warning of his political mortality in the past few weeks. If the Ipsos and Newspoll numbers offer him the chance to get on with the job, he would be unwise to regard the opportunity as anything other than the very last one he will get.

 

For Pity’s Sake, Tony, Go — And Go Now

THE UNHAPPY CONSENSUS across the Liberal Party that Tony Abbott has now irrevocably lost the majority support of the parliamentary party raises the prospect of resignation; we say — for pity’s sake — that the Prime Minister should go, and go now, for the humiliating spectacle of being cast aside in the indignity of a leadership challenge will demean this fine man, his party, the government that must continue, and the country at large.

I had hoped — I had always hoped — that it would never come to this; as an unabashed and enthusiastic supporter of Tony Abbott since his entry to federal Parliament in 1994 and through a career that took him to the Prime Ministership two decades later, I always thought that were Abbott to ever be entrusted with the leadership if this country he stood to become one of its best Prime Ministers: surprising many people in the process.

It seems that noble aspiration will count for naught, with reports that began to appear in the Murdoch press last night that Abbott has now lost the majority backing of his MPs mirroring reality to deadly effect: and rather than watch him being torn down in the next few days (or weeks, if he somehow survives that far) I would beseech the Prime Minister to resign; to go, and to go now with grace and dignity, to accept that the cards of future leadership will fall where they will, and to enable the party, the government and the country to move on.

Readers have shared the great attention we have given to the festering issues within the government that have led to this point, and I have taken great care not to sensationalise or distort their import, efficacy, or the destructive extent to which forces theoretically invisible to the public gaze have conspired to destroy Abbott’s tenure as Australia’s leader.

I make it abundantly clear to those readers who criticise me for simply discussing the real events, emotions, competing agendas and egos that have driven dissent with Abbott that a mere emphasis on “not being Labor” is not enough; that trite assertions that the Liberal Party cannot afford to replicate the indulgent farce of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years have been used as a pretext for, and justification of, other behaviour which has brought the party to its knees across the country, and which is little better than the farcical ALP government that preceded Abbott’s.

It is now clear that Abbott faces stark yet similarly unpalatable options: to bunker down and seek to remain in office in the face of the certainty of defeat in a leadership challenge; or to bring the curtain down on his own position at the head of the Liberal Party, and to resign, and this column reluctantly finds the latter course preferable.

After all, and despite whatever valid criticisms might be made (and irrespective of the vapid and personal hatred deployed against him for years by political adversaries), Abbott has still achieved some fine outcomes that represent a legacy that ought to be protected, not shredded on the altar of internal partisan politics.

The abolition of the carbon and mining taxes — as he is wont to regularly proclaim — have kept faith with the voters who elected him to office, even if the abolition of the latter came at great residual cost by virtue of the deal required to secure its passage through the Senate.

His government’s effective management of the flow of asylum seekers has seen the pledge to “stop the boats” summarily honoured, and whilst it is fashionable at present for the Left to kick and scream and shout over the continued presence of children in Australia’s detention centres, the irrefutable fact is that no children were in custody when the Liberals left office in 2007, the number in detention has fallen by 90% since the party’s return to office 18 months ago, and the number in detention will again fall to zero within a very short timeframe.

And as mishandled as the attempt has been, Abbott’s government has at least tried — and failed at the altar of the Senate, off the back of a horrific and poorly contrived budget — to redress the debt and deficits legacy bequeathed it by Labor: a reprehensible pattern of behaviour that has now left Liberal governments with a terrible mess to deal with in 1996 and again in 2013.

But the fatal mistake Abbott has made was to abrogate the government of this country in favour of loyalty to an unelected adviser; even then, had this unorthodox and politically fraught move worked, nobody would criticise it — and Abbott would stand vindicated for making it.

The reality is that abysmal decisions on personnel, strategy, tactics, policy, communications and management of the political agenda have flowed unabated from that single mistake, and whilst Abbott’s sense of loyalty to those around him is noble and in many respects admirable, it has led to the sequence of events that has now culminated in the loss of faith in his leadership across wide sections of the party — even those staunchly supportive of him personally — and the crushing reality that the party wants a new leader.

And a new leader it will have: the only variable now, quite literally, is whether before or after the impending state election in New South Wales.

The stark example set in Queensland of a state government that lost office despite a seemingly unassailable majority should be ignored at peril; the fact a similarly ensconced Liberal government in a second state now stares stonily at the growing prospect of suffering the same fate should sharpen the resolve of those placed to do something to avoid it — Abbott especially — and to do whatever is required to evade it.

And that — with an eye to the grim reality that his government, in its current and persistent configuration, faces not just defeat itself but has contributed to the defeat of other Liberal governments and will continue to do so — demands Abbott’s resignation.

An open ballot on the Liberal leadership runs the real risk that an outcome that is anathema to a wide section of the party may eventuate, with the attendant risk that dysfunction under Abbott will be superseded by open warfare under Malcolm Turnbull if he emerges the victor but that vote — coming as it will with the federal party also facing down a heavy eventual defeat — is one the party is entitled to have.

And there is no bar to Abbott in using his influence in resignation to work to ensure that a candidate arguably better aligned with the Liberal Party’s longer term interests than Turnbull emerges victorious from such a vote.

But the message from the weeks and months that the problems inherent in Abbott’s government have festered and percolated is clear.

Regrettably, it is time for Tony Abbott to leave office; and for his own good, and for the good of his party, the ongoing government it must form, and for the country as a whole, this column urges him to go now: for pity’s sake, to take the honourable if undesirable path of resignation, and to leave office with his own dignity — and the fabric of the party he has been privileged to serve, and which has been privileged by his many years of fine service — intact.

 

Liberal Leadership: Someone Drops The C-Word

PERHAPS INEVITABLY in the fevered climate surrounding the leadership of the federal Liberal Party and the Prime Ministership, Peter Costello’s name has been raised as a potential addition to those already in the mix to replace Tony Abbott; Costello remains an exceedingly unlikely starter, but in grim circumstances every option demands consideration: and Costello, to be sure, is a better candidate than any MP in the Liberal party room.

It’s the week for comment on the run this week, it seems, as this morning sees me lined up for a very heavy schedule indeed (and to those who inquired privately, the trip to the dentist yesterday resolved the problem at hand but raised another of replacing four ancient amalgam fillings at a cost of well over $1,000 — something to look forward to indeed).

Three years ago — and with leadership speculation swirling around Tony Abbott as it intermittently has since the day he became Liberal leader in 2009 — we briefly spoke of the prospect, speculated in the press at the time, of Peter Costello returning from his political retirement to lead the Liberal Party at the 2013 election and returning victoriously to Canberra as Prime Minister.

At that time, I could not foresee circumstances in which Costello might ever return to Canberra: having chosen not to contest the Liberal leadership after the defeat of the Howard government and after subsequently sitting out the leadership change to Malcolm Turnbull nine months later, Costello left Parliament in 2009 to be remembered — to many — as perhaps the greatest Prime Minister Australia never had, and thus he seemed destined to remain.

Yet in what seems to be the final phase of Tony Abbott’s tenure as Prime Minister, the prospect of a Costello return has been floated once again by Daily Telegraph journalist Alan Howe, and whilst nobody can be blamed for exploring every possible alternative to Malcolm Turnbull (who, after all, is completely unsuitable as the leader of a party composed mostly of conservatives and libertarian liberals) the notion of Costello emerging as Prime Minister remains, sadly, an improbable illusion.

Costello would need to be tempted out of his lucrative political retirement, for starters: a consideration that offers no cause for criticism, given the stellar legal career he gave up to go into politics in the first place, and which no-one could take issue with him for wishing to pursue now.

There are those who will speak of duty, of course, and whilst Costello would certainly change the political dynamic, to pretend he is under any obligation in this regard is fatuous.

Now 57 years old, Costello is the same age John Howard was when he first took office back in 1996: one the one hand, the additional experience he has accrued since then more than counters the charge he faced in 1995 — when he declined to contest the leadership to allow Howard a clear run — that he was too young and inexperienced, then aged just 37.

And Costello — four years younger than pretender Malcolm Turnbull — remains young enough to potentially serve multiple terms as Prime Minister in any hypothetical return, something Turnbull might struggle to do, given the electorate evicted John Howard at 68.

Yet on the other, one of the great synergies Costello once offered as a touchpoint with the electorate — a man from middle Australia with a young family whose issues largely mirrored this classic Liberal Party constituency — is no longer relevant, with Costello’s children all now of adult age and he and his wife getting on with their lives as so-called empty-nesters.

I really like the idea of Costello returning to Parliament to lead the Liberals, but there are two big problems I see with any attempt to make it happen; the prospective reticence of the man himself notwithstanding, of course.

Firstly — having failed to secure the Liberal leadership during the party’s last period in office and subsequently declining to serve in the post as opposition leader, Costello would face a powerful campaign against him on the basis that when faced with a stint in opposition, he’d thrown his toys out of the cot and refused to play; I think this is neither fair nor justified, but for all its blather about “fairness” the ALP cares little about such notions when the opportunity to score political points exists.

I don’t think Costello can be criticised for his post-Howard career trajectory; following the election defeat in 2007 he was explicitly clear he would not serve as Liberal leader, explicitly clear he would leave Parliament at some point to pursue business interests, and proceeded to do exactly as he said.

Keeping one’s word is hardly a hanging offence. Changing one’s mind, to be clear, isn’t either. But rightly or wrongly, Costello would never be allowed to live it down were he to return to active politics.

And Secondly, the issue of finding a seat for him might be harder than it seems, with Kevin Andrews’ seat of Menzies already the subject of pre-emptive horse trading in the event he is appointed as ambassador to the Holy See; the seat in Melbourne’s north would be suitable, and any diplomatic post for Andrews could always be announced earlier than usual as a pretext to vacate the electorate and parachute Costello in at a by-election.

But is it questionable as to whether Andrews — a Howard-Abbott loyalist not necessarily well disposed toward Costello — would move willingly to make it happen; and even if he was prepared to quit his seat to smooth the way for Costello, the need for the latter to be in Parliament in this scenario is immediate, with a fresh ballot on the Liberal leadership perhaps only a matter of days away.

Still, it is interesting that Costello’s name is being discussed again: and not for the first time, perhaps the man himself now regrets his decision to depart Canberra when he did. Certainly, he could have made a brilliant Prime Minister, and in fighting Labor one would expect a far tougher (and more authentic) effort than the present Coalition approach represents.

And at the very minimum, no-one would expect Costello to have any truck whatsoever with the ridiculous “govern-by-adviser” farce that has played out under Tony Abbott: and just like Julie Bishop, a Costello leadership could be expected to begin with the insidious Peta Credlin being booted from spheres of influence in Canberra forthwith.

I think — with regret — it remains unlikely that Costello will re-enter the fray to become Prime Minister and, that even were he now prepared to do so, that firm obstacles remain in his path that are likely impossible to overcome in time for it to come to all that much.

It therefore comes back to a question of Malcolm Turnbull on the one hand, and Julie Bishop (in a moderate-Right deal that sees Andrew Robb as her deputy) on the other.

For those who wish to avoid a Turnbull leadership under any circumstances, I can only encourage as much support as possible, as vocally as possible, for Bishop: at some point very soon and to justify a move to deny Turnbull, Ms Bishop is going to need all the support — among MPs and in the country — she can muster.

 

New Move Against Abbott Imminent, Likely To Succeed

A FRESH ATTEMPT to remove Tony Abbott as Liberal leader and Prime Minister could be a matter of days away, as anger builds in the parliamentary party over his failure to meet commitments given to elude defeat a fortnight ago; a second move against Abbott is likely to succeed, and for even Abbott loyalists who wish to see the Prime Minister succeed, the reality must be faced that if he is brought down he will really only have himself to blame.

Another relatively quick post from me this morning, as I am on the run again today: and with a cracked tooth of all things to contend with, I have a lot to pack into a truncated day ahead of a meeting with the dentist late this afternoon.

I wanted to draw readers’ attention to an article being carried in sections of the Murdoch press today, which relates the developing story of a further attempt by Liberal MPs to oust Prime Minister Tony Abbott ahead of the state election to be held in NSW one month from now.

Readers know that despite decades of active support and advocacy for Tony Abbott, I have all but given up on him in the wake of the failed spill motion against him a fortnight ago; horrified by his retention of the incendiary Peta Credlin as his Chief of Staff and his failure to move Treasurer Joe Hockey to a different portfolio, the prospect of a second strike against Abbott has, in my view, rapidly escalated from “likely” to “certain:” and almost guaranteed to succeed.

It seems Abbott’s reticence to honour the commitments he made in return for being permitted to remain as leader has brought enough of his MPs to the same view for another challenge to be pulled on — and pulled on fairly quickly.

And I can’t say I am surprised.

It seems assurances, understandings, undertakings — however carefully nuanced or otherwise cleverly contrived — to get Credlin out of the Prime Minister’s Office were worthless; some minor fiddling around his divisive adviser’s role was never going to hoodwink MPs into failing to see that, in the main, this most malignant of tumours was always intended to remain embedded deep in the government’s internal organs: and that its politically counterproductive effects would continue to be felt.

The sacking of Liberal Party hero Philip Ruddock was, despite Abbott’s protestations about renewal and doing Ruddock “a favour,” was never going to hide the fact that the Liberal elder had been singled out and executed as a scapegoat for the first challenge.

The issue of shipbuilding firm ASC — apparently dealt back into consideration to build a new generation of submarines to placate MPs from South Australia — looks a bit too clever by half, with nondescript suggestions that 500 jobs will be thrown ASC’s way as part of an eventual contract that will nonetheless still go to a foreign firm as the dudded MPs in that state now realise.

And with details of acrid, hostile meetings of MPs with Abbott, who is said to “slap down” continuing criticism — and who has seen to it that press reports of him since the abortive putsch have described him as being at “the peak of his powers” — it was only a matter of time before we returned to the issue of the Liberal leadership.

Indeed, it seems Abbott and his junta have gone out of their way to poke the very MPs who voted down the spill attempt in the eyes.

As we discussed the other day, the NSW election is a real and salient problem; the Baird government’s polling has moved onto a virtually identical trajectory to the one Queensland’s LNP followed at the same stage of that state’s electoral cycle, and it presents a painful consideration in terms of any fresh move on Abbott.

Leave it too late — in the name of giving Premier Mike Baird some clear air — and the risk is that the percolating enmity over the federal Liberal leadership helps cost the party government in NSW; pull the challenge on now and get it out of the way quickly, and the risk is that NSW Labor is handed a potent “disunity” card to play against the Premier as it seeks to achieve a win as unlikely as that pulled off by its northern cousin last month.

If the change has to happen, I think doing it sooner rather than later is the cleanest and smartest option: at least if the boil is lanced, the wound may heal enough before NSW voters go to the polls to mitigate the risks of cross-infection.

It would also allow a new Prime Minister to quickly remove Treasurer Joe Hockey, in whom I believe voters, Liberal MPs and the party rank and file can have no confidence that a second federal budget delivered by him would be any better or more politically adept than his first disastrous and toxic effort was.

We will follow this as it develops, and let me assure people that far from taking any joy in this, the “here we go again” sentiment in which I write this is tempered by great disappointment that of Abbott — who I think could have been an excellent Prime Minister — it is a tragedy that it should all have come to this.

In the end, however, he has abrogated government in this country to an unelected adviser: and from that single reprehensible error, virtually all of the Abbott government’s problems, directly or indirectly, have sprung.

I would encourage those resolutely opposed to the prospect of Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister — as I am — to do all they can to voice support for Foreign minister Julie Bishop in their respective circles; and to contact the offices of Bishop and Trade minister Andrew Robb to encourage the pair to run a joint ticket in order to put down any move on the top job by the member for Wentworth.

In the end — for conservatives — the Right has no plausible candidate to replace Abbott, and no plausible leadership prospect for the first time in decades.

The next best thing is to do the deal with Bishop to retain one of its own as deputy, along with promotion for a handful of additional up-and-comers from the Right, to ensure it is better placed at future leadership contests.

I will say more as this percolates away in coming days and will be back this evening to talk about something else.

But if Abbott is now cut down, he will have only himself to blame: and with the chances of a second move against him almost certain to succeed, this column restates its view that a Bishop-Robb leadership team represents the very best alternative open to the Liberal Party at this point in time.

 

Newspoll: Unwise To Describe Coalition Bounce As “Recovery”

A SIZEABLE LIFT in support for the Abbott government in today’s Newspoll should not be mistaken as a recovery in its fortunes; there are rogue factors at work in Newspoll’s numbers, and either this survey — or the 43-57 shocker recorded by the government a fortnight ago — is erroneous. Whichever way the numbers are sliced, the Coalition remains on track for an electoral belting. It would be unwise for Liberals to find succour in this result.

It is with happy relief I find myself not proceeding — as planned — with another article about Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff Peta Credlin; I’m sick of it being an issue and I am sick of her, and I find it unbelievable that some way has not been found to force her (and the Prime Minister with her, if that’s what it takes) out of Canberra where she can inflict, directly or indirectly, no further damage upon the Coalition’s electoral prospects.

At least, that’s the theory.

Even so, I would wager there are many in the Prime Ministerial bunker who will be celebrating today: the false dawn of the latest Newspoll, appearing in The Australian, has brought news of a “surge” in support for the government: and whilst I’ll take rising support over falling support any day, this poll is a nonsense.

Its finding that after preferences, Coalition support has risen four points to 47% is unexceptional; this merely restores the government’s position to where it was four weeks ago: and where, give or take a percentage point or so, it has remained deadlocked ever since the disastrous, election-losing hash Joe Hockey made of last year’s federal budget.

It restores the Coalition’s numbers to a level that would see it lose in a landslide rather than face obliteration, in other words.

And either the poll a fortnight ago was rogue — and the reaction it recorded against the leadership ructions within the Liberal Party was overstated — or this poll is, for nothing that has transpired in the past two weeks could be construed as remotely responsible for a swing toward the Coalition that would see it retain an additional 18 seats at an election: for that is the difference between a swing of 6.5% to Labor and one of 10.5% if the movement away from the government were uniform.

Even a swing of 6.5% — which this poll suggests — translates to the loss of 29 seats to Labor and an ALP majority of 18 seats, and this is at the gentler end of polling outcomes the Coalition has faced over the past nine months.

It seems obvious there is nothing worth celebrating here.

Yes, Tony Abbott has made some inroads on the “preferred Prime Minister” measure: yet despite closing the gap by 10 points, he still trails Bill Shorten, 35-43; such a treacherous specimen is the Labor “leader” and so dishonest his narrative with the Australian public, it is an indictment that Shorten is preferable to anyone on the question of national leadership.

Yes, Abbott’s personal approval rating has increased: by a solitary percentage point, to 25%. But his disapproval rating remains at a record 68%, and for a Prime Minister in office less than 18 months, the figure is galling.

Those personal approval numbers are a hint that the voting intention numbers in this Newspoll may be the rogue findings, not last fortnight’s, but time (and more corroborating polling) will tell as it always does.

And, yes, Shorten’s personal approval numbers have taken a hit — 35% (down 7%) of Newspoll respondents say they approve of him, and a record 49% (up 9%) say they disapprove.

Yet for a man with no policies, whose story on the debt situation and structural deficit position the country faces is more or less one of complete denial that the problems even exist, and whose only instinct is to block every Coalition bill (barring those that enable him to prance around in a masquerade of statesmanship, like yesterday’s announcement of bipartisanship on national security issues), it is a miracle Shorten can find anyone to support him at all.

Meanwhile, almost 80% of Newspoll’s respondents think Abbott is arrogant. Just half think he understands the major issues of the day. Only 40% think Abbott is even likeable, whilst just one in three believe he is in touch with voters.

And perhaps most damningly, given the position he holds, almost 60% declined to agree that the Prime Minister is trustworthy.

All of this speaks to the themes we have covered here — mostly in frustration, anger and despair at the predicament a conservative government finds itself in so soon after taking office — and underlines systemic failures in tactics, strategy, communications, media relations, and (as I have termed it before) good, old-fashioned sales and marketing.

The Prime Minister may have survived the coup attempt launched against him by rebel backbenchers, but with 40% of the Liberal Party voting to terminate his tenure it is clear that substantial and meaningful change is urgently indicated not just for Abbott to remain in his position, but for the government to have any prospect of retrieving its standing in the electorate.

To date, all that has been offered is fiddling; it has become clear in the two weeks since the spill attempt that nothing has really changed and, if the Prime Minister has anything to do with it, nothing will.

This is not just about the role of Peta Credlin, but also certain ministers; the whole contingent of advisers who have been a party to creating and perpetuating this mess; the “strategists” and “tacticians” who are clearly nothing of the sort; and elements within the party organisation that have failed to apply any restraint to these people when they should, in the ordinary course of events, be expected to enforce some accountability to the Liberal Party upon them.

Until some or all of these things are addressed, the government’s fortunes will not improve: after all, serving the same thing up day after day to the same people is going to elicit the same response. This is a lesson Labor in government spectacularly failed to heed. Unbelievably, it is a mistake this government appears hellbent on emulating.

And this is why — in the final analysis — I don’t believe these numbers, with the cheery message of recovering Coalition support they herald at first glance, are worth the paper they are printed on. I think last fortnight‘s numbers are rather nearer the mark.

If this is a “bounce” in the government’s electoral prospects, I’d hate to see what their abject disintegration might look like; at the very least, there’s nothing to get excited about when the message is that your party is still on track to be thrown out of office with a bang.

And despite the obvious temptations to the contrary, this is why it would be most unwise for anyone associated with the government to regard these figures as a “recovery:” they are nothing of the sort.

 

NSW: 11% Poll Swing Puts Baird In The “Newman Zone”

THE PERFECT POLITICAL STORM swirling around the Liberal Party risks engulfing a third state government, with a new Galaxy poll in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph showing an 11% swing against Mike Baird’s administration; the figures put the state Coalition at grave risk of falling into minority status — or worse — and will raise fresh questions around the adverse impact of the Abbott government on the fortunes of the Liberals across the country.

It’s a relatively brief post from me for now, as the renewed demands of a Monday demand my attention elsewhere; I will be posting again later this evening about — you guessed it — the Abbott government and the Prime Minister’s controversial Chief of Staff Peta Credlin, who has attracted an insidious comparison with Margaret Thatcher this morning in another newspaper to the effect she is not for “turning:” the obscenity of likening a politically destructive and jumped-up staffer to the greatest conservative leader of the late 20th century is too offensive to allow to pass without remark, and I simply don’t have time to do justice to the case this morning.

But a story in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph this morning conveys the findings of the latest Galaxy Poll on voting intention for the NSW state election — now just a month away — and its findings of an 11% swing against Mike Baird’s Coalition government would, if replicated, go most of the way toward costing the NSW Liberals the fat parliamentary majority they scored in the landmark 2011 rout of the ALP.

The reason these figures have attracted my attention lies in NSW’s relatively recent political past; it becomes salient to recall that the Greiner government — elected in a landslide in 1988 — was forced into minority in 1991 despite winning 52.5% of the statewide two-party result, and the Coalition lost office altogether four years later under John Fahey in spite of retaining 51.2% of the vote after preferences.

Galaxy’s findings, therefore, of a 53-47 Coalition lead — an 11.2% swing since 2011 — should sound an attack warning siren at NSW Liberal HQ; just like the Newman government in Queensland, they portend a resumption of the gradual leaching away of Coalition support that was certainly interrupted by Baird’s replacement of Barry O’Farrell as Premier, but which perhaps has not been reversed to the extent earlier findings may have suggested or to the extent Liberal Party strategists might have hoped.

An obvious difference between the NSW Liberals and the Queensland LNP is that unlike their northern cousins, NSW’s Liberals boast the most popular leader of any conservative government in the country, and despite Galaxy finding some movement on the measure toward new ALP leader Luke Foley (himself in the traditional “honeymoon phase” of his leadership) Baird remains “preferred Premier” by a thumping 44-26 margin.

But the Galaxy findings — which, if applied and replicated uniformly at an election — suggest that the Coalition is on track to hold 51 seats to Labor’s 39, with three Greens and Independents; given 47 seats are required to win office outright in the 93-seat NSW lower house, it becomes painfully clear that despite his popularity, Premier Mike Baird actually has some very tight parameters to negotiate if he is to secure another term.

With a gaggle of its MPs embroiled in ICAC proceedings — some of whom have already left the Liberal Party and/or Parliament altogether — it is obvious that the Coalition’s edge on the corruption issue over the ALP has been comprehensively squandered: a point of difference that paints the parties in no better light than the party of Eddie Obeid and Ian McDonald that it dislodged from office four years ago.

But there are other disturbing similarities to the result recorded in Queensland last month; like the LNP, the Baird government is running on a controversial platform of privatising the so-called “poles and wires” that comprise NSW’s electricity assets — and this policy, whilst making good sense as a divestiture of assets that will be worth little more than the land they sit on in a couple of decades’ time — has shown its potency as a vote loser in Queensland in February, and in NSW repeatedly since it cost the Coalition dearly at an election decimation in 1999.

Ominous, too, is the fact Labor and the Communist Party Greens appear close to striking a tight statewide preference agreement — a crucial ingredient in working toward any election upset by maximising the number of votes that can be harvested, without exhaustion, under the state’s optional preferential voting system.

And all of this, in turn, casts the spotlight back toward Canberra, and the effect the Abbott government seems likely to continue to exert on the fortunes of yet another Liberal state government.

Preference deals and privatisation programmes should not, in and of themselves, be enough to consign a government with a robust parliamentary majority to either minority or defeat; the corruption issue, whilst an obvious negative, was arguably staunched with the replacement of O’Farrell last year.

And Baird’s popularity should not be underestimated.

But this state election is to be held in a continuing climate of leadership ructions within the federal Liberal Party, and against the backdrop of a deeply and increasingly unpopular federal Liberal government, whose impact on state elections in Queensland and Victoria cannot be described as decisive, but which almost certainly contributed to the Liberal Party’s defeat at both.

With the leadership issue continuing to simmer away — and ample suggestion that anger toward Tony Abbott among his MPs has built rather than subsided since the abortive spill attempt a fortnight ago, accused as he is of reneging on commitments made to remain in office — it seems clear that what is already a likely negative influence on state Liberal support could become an avalanche if any renewed outbreak of hostilities occurs between now and polling day in the Premier State.

This is one poll, and the usual disclaimers on that basis apply.

But we will watch voting trends in NSW with interest; and with the movement remaining so clearly toward Labor, one must wonder whether Baird and his colleagues have already slipped into the “Newman Zone.”

The 1991 and 1995 debacles in NSW take on fresh importance with these numbers, and are a reminder that however badly the Liberals crushed Labor last time, when it comes to a new election four years later, all bets are off.

The Coalition can’t afford to surrender yet another state to Labor in such an embarrassingly short period of time. But from the findings of Galaxy today, even a small additional movement away from the Liberals would risk precisely that.

And for this reason, what we will discuss about Credlin tonight — and the odious spotlight cast upon her in The Australian today — assumes a new and urgent currency.