Victoria: Napthine Takes Poll Position In Latest Newspoll

NEWSPOLL has published findings from its latest bimonthly survey of state voting intentions in Victoria; conducted for The Australian, it finds the Liberal-National Coalition back in a winning position under new Premier Denis Napthine in a disastrous result for the state ALP.

For the first time in 12 months — since a 50-50 result last August, immediately prior to the poll ratings of ex-Premier Ted Baillieu heading into a tailspin — Newspoll is showing the Coalition under new leader Denis Napthine in an election-winning position, leading Labor 51-49 after preferences.

The result puts the conservative parties almost back to the support they recorded at the 2010 state election, at which they won 45 of Victoria’s 88 lower house seats (and an upper house majority) with 51.6% of the two-party preferred vote.

And with an electoral redistribution nearing finalisation — and new boundaries that would appear to favour the Coalition slightly, the creation of two new safe Labor seats notwithstanding — 51% may well be enough for Napthine to win if repeated at an election.

Newspoll shows the Coalition primary vote unchanged at 43% from its survey two months ago (Liberals 40%, +2%, Nationals 3%, -2%), Labor on 35% (-2%), Greens on 12% (unch), and “Others” on 10% (+2%).

Napthine’s approval rating moves up to 53% (+3%) and his disapproval to 26% (+7%); the trend continues Napthine’s solid start in the role under Newspoll, and reflects the fact more Victorians are forming an opinion of his performance: and his approval rating remains, solidly, better than double his disapproval number.

Opposition leader Daniel Andrews, by contrast, sees his approval rating drop seven points, to 35%; his disapproval number rises six points to 34%, whilst 31% of respondents remain undecided.

It suggests the spike in his numbers two months ago was a rogue result.

And on the “preferred Premier” count, Napthine (49%, +3%) heads Andrews (26%, +2%).

Readers can access the Newspoll tables here.

Taken overall, this poll offers tremendous encouragement to the Liberals; it vindicates the decision to replace Baillieu, and it validates the argument that Victorians — having tossed their long-term Labor government out three years ago — remain disinclined to restore the ALP to power if the governing party presents well enough for them to avoid doing so.

The issue of Liberal-cum-Independent member for Frankston,  Geoff Shaw, and the allegations of misconduct he faces remain an irritant to the government that does not appear to be hindering Napthine’s ascension to the Premiership.

Napthine has embarked on his role as Premier with great energy, and — whilst not exactly mirroring the whirlwind pace of the Kennett years — has recreated an atmosphere of excitement around Victoria, and a sense something constructive is happening.

The imminent commencement, for example, of the first stage of the East-West Link — connecting Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway to CityLink and the Western Ring Road — is the first major project commenced in Victoria for some years, and promises to be a boon to motorists in relieving the congestion that has steadily brought the city’s traffic to a standstill since Kennett’s removal from office.

And if the pace of Napthine’s Premiership — and the increasingly positive way in which it is received — continues at speed, then the Labor Party in Victoria faces a big problem.

I have written in this column previously –and repeatedly — that some of the utterances of Labor leader Andrews are juvenile, to the point of childishness.

He is a poor and vapid performer in front of the media, and after three years in the job could have been expected to polish his skills — and the suitability of some of his rhetoric — in this area.

He gives every indication of being completely out of his depth in a leadership capacity.

There is a time bomb lying in wait come next year’s state election campaign: Andrews’ own words as Health minister in the Brumby government, and a fracas at the time over doctored hospital waiting lists that is almost certain to come back to bite him.

Andrews exhibits no real evidence of a capacity to deal with these things.

But more worrying for Labor is the fact there is no clear alternative leader in its ranks.

When Baillieu was moved on, the Liberals had Napthine, deputy leader Louise Asher, Transport minister Terry Mulder, and Planning minister Matthew Guy (if a lower house seat could be found for him) who could all have seamlessly filled the role of Premier.

Labor has no such luxury, and no apparent leadership prospect — especially since former minister Tim Holding left state Parliament earlier this year.

And it must be said that any “bounce” for state Labor from Kevin Rudd’s return has, at the very least, been masked by the local ALP’s performance if these figures are anything to go by.

Given a state election is now a little over a year away in Victoria, these results will cause great consternation in ALP ranks, and especially because they simply resume a trend of bad numbers for Andrews and Labor that was interrupted by Baillieu’s demise.

If Andrews can’t lift his game there is nowhere else for him to go but downwards — barring an unlikely implosion on the Liberals’ part — and nowhere else for Labor to turn.