ANOTHER BIG MOVEMENT to the Coalition in Newspoll — appearing in The Australian today — is unlikely, as I criticised a similar finding a month ago, to be rogue; rather, as some 30% of the national electorate is readying to vote in a NSW state election on Saturday, it holds a clear sign the Baird government will be re-elected. The poll offers a sliver of hope to the Prime Minister. It remains to be seen if he and his colleagues can capitalise on it.
Opinion polling is a notoriously inexact science — as most readers know — and in an apparent reversal of the prevailing wisdom that the Abbott government is dragging down the stocks of its state-based Coalition counterparts across Australia, it seems today’s Newspoll sees the opposite phenomenon: one popular Liberal state government dragging the federal Coalition up with it as voters in that state are focused on an actual election, rather than the usual hypothetical caveats that apply to polling exercises.
Every indicator from Newspoll today (and you can see the tables here) sees improvement in the Abbott government’s numbers, including the headline finding of a four-point movement after preferences that slashes Labor’s lead to sit at just 51-49: and whilst it’s only an estimate, if NSW voters are readying to re-elect their Liberal state government by, say, a 54-46 margin and such a buffer has bled into the federal figures, that would be enough to offset a 56-44 result for the ALP in the rest of the country.
Of course, such considerations are not as cut and dried as that, but this column is a discussion about politics — especially when talking about routine polling, unless I’m doing something especially forensic with it. I simply think that this movement back to the federal Coalition can’t be dismissed as a rogue result, as wary as I am of it: and that means something else must be distorting its findings. In that sense, it is only necessary to look north of the Murray River to ascertain what that factor might be.
I think there is a mix of things going on here, and whilst I might be wrong to infer the relatively better standing of the NSW Coalition is colouring federal voting intentions in this particular poll, there are sound reasons for thinking so.
For one thing, the two most recent state-based opinion polls conducted in NSW — one by Galaxy, the other a Fairfax-Ipsos survey — both found the Baird government set to receive 54% of the two=party vote in Saturday’s state election: and whilst the state Coalition could be forced into minority if its vote dips below 53%, the movement against the Liberals in that state appears to have halted.
For another, NSW is not generating any of the kind of headaches for the conservatives in its own right that the unpopular, divisive, confrontational LNP government in Queensland did; Campbell Newman was regarded dimly in the end by most Queensland voters, fairly or unfairly. Baird, by contrast, is the most popular political leader in the country at the present time.
And despite Labor’s best efforts to replicate the stunning upsets it engineered at state elections in Victoria and Queensland, the effort in NSW is less cohesive, and the latest example of this can be found in former ACTU leader and senior Labor minister Martin Ferguson tearing strips off NSW ALP leader Luke Foley over his irresponsible and populist standpoints on energy policy, utility sales and relations with the union movement.
But just as NSW seems intertwined with this particular survey, so too is there plenty happening in federal politics to mirror and augment that influence.
It seems some in the Labor Party — to say nothing of the electorate — are finally beginning to wake up to the stupidly dishonest populism and rank opportunism of their so-called “leader,” Bill Shorten, who seems to think he can coast into the Prime Ministership by sitting back and waiting for the Abbott government to make mistakes; it’s a theme we have explored in this column before.
But just as Labor hardheads realise — thanks to “reforms” to their party’s leadership selection process designed by Kevin Rudd to enable him to rule forever, elections notwithstanding — that they are saddled with Shorten, it seems the penny may have finally dropped that the utter dearth of meaningful policy ideas and a sheer vacuity in Labor’s dealings with the electorate have left it dangerously exposed to the risk of being gazumped.
It is perhaps no surprise that the federal Coalition has enjoyed better weather whilst Prime Minster Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, sunned herself — literally — on a holiday to Fiji; it is a great shame she didn’t stay there.
But if the amateurism and poor judgement that have marked the Coalition’s first few months this year again return to characterise its day-to-day behaviour, it will add impetus to calls from those hellbent on seeing Credlin dismissed from her post.
And all of this comes in the run-up to a critical federal budget that many Liberals are dismayed will be delivered by Joe Hockey as treasurer, given the spectacularly ham-fisted fuck-up last year’s effort has proven to be, and especially in light of recent rhetoric from the government suggesting it will be a ho-hum exercise that will do little to rock to boat.
Or make a serious attempt at fixing the budget without squibbing some obvious hard decisions, for that matter.
In this vein, Hockey’s antics in Question Time yesterday (following an apparently leaked story that suggested Foreign minister Julie Bishop’s aid budget is set to be slashed, in a revelation that was “all news” to her) did little to inspire any confidence.
In fact, the japing good time Hockey appeared to be having for himself was a poor look, and it is to be hoped he puts as much energy and effort into crafting a budget worth implementing this time rather than the disparate and unsaleable series of measures aimed at enraging Coalition voters in marginal seats that he passed off as fair and appropriate ten months ago.
And there are signs — the furore over the foreign aid issue one in a long list of them — that the federal Liberal Party is silently falling in behind Bishop, rather than Malcolm Turnbull, as the likeliest replacement for Abbott should his leadership finally be judged terminal.
In turn, this means that any leadership switch in the government is increasingly likely to be accompanied by the dual positives of the departure of Credlin from Canberra and the avoidance of an unedifying brawl between Liberal moderates and conservatives over the merits of Turnbull as an appropriate frontman to attempt to sell to sometimes sceptical branch members and constituents.
So where does all this leave us?
Tellingly, Shorten’s approval numbers — as they always do when the Abbott government’s mistakes are not explicitly driving its poll fortunes — have collapsed, and with just 36% approving and a rising 47% disapproving of his performance, Shorten is once again trending to be only marginally more popular than Abbott.
Is it any wonder the blowtorch is beginning to be applied to this most lightweight of Labor show ponies.
Abbott’s numbers — despite a second consecutive small improvement — are dreadful, as they almost always have been for the past five and a half years, although it is a perverse fact they are no bar to winning an election. Abbott himself has proven as much.
But a conjunction of circumstances has conspired to offer the Abbott government some clear air: what it does with it, of course, rests in its own hands, and the return of Credlin and the imminent 2015 budget should not be underestimated as fertile and febrile resources with which to plunge the Coalition back into the abyss of scathing public opinion.
Yet all of this adds up to the Abbott government being confronted, for the first time in some time, with a sliver of hope: and should Baird survive in majority government on Saturday as seems increasingly certain, there might even be — dare I suggest it — a modicum of momentum behind the government, and a little wind in its sails to boot.
As has been the case for most of the parliamentary term thus far, however, the Coalition will be the master (or mistress, with a nod to Credlin) of its own fortunes: and whilst the chickens might be wandering ominously toward their roosting spots in Labor’s coop, it is the Coalition that will continue to drive the shape of electoral opinion in the immediate sense.
What it does with the tiny opportunity that appears to exist is entirely its own decision.