EARLY POLLING showing new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull trouncing Labor’s “Billy Bullshit” in the personal approval stakes — and the Coalition leading, 51-49, for the first time in 18 months — provides succour for those who sought a circuit breaker for the government; the Liberal Party can be pleased with initial voter reactions to its new leadership arrangements. Where Labor and Bill Shorten are concerned, these numbers are an indictment.
One poll a revival doth make; and as the saying goes, one swallow dies not make a Spring.
But the early voter reaction to new Liberal Prime Minister, whilst heartening for the Coalition, is at root a reflection on opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, whose “achievement” in rebuilding the ALP’s position has been instantly exposed as illusory, intellectually lazy, and validates the train of thought we have canvassed here for months that people were indeed prepared to vote Labor, but only in the absence of a more palatable choice.
First things first: Galaxy has published a poll overnight suggesting primary vote support for the Coalition has risen three percentage points since its previous survey last month, to 44%; Labor support falls by the corresponding amount to 36%, with the
Communist Party Greens (11%) and “Others” (9%) unchanged — producing the 51-49 headline result that sees the federal Coalition hit the lead for the first time in a reputable opinion finding since April last year.
It finds a preference among respondents for Malcolm Turnbull (51%) as Prime Minister easily outstripping support for Labor’s vapid union parrot (20%), and as solid as that result is, it’s about the only thing that could temper a ReachTel finding one day earlier of preference for Turnbull (61.9%) over Shorten (38.1%), although ReachTel’s rating of both leaders is inflated by the fact it strips out the “don’t knows” and support for other candidates.
Like Galaxy, ReachTel also found a three-point movement to the Coalition after preferences — to an even 50-50 — off primary support for the Liberal and National Parties of 43.3% (+3%), 35.9% (-1.6%) for Labor, and 11.9% (-1.5%) for the Greens.
Heading into tomorrow’s by-election in the Western Australian seat of Canning — which, through the Liberal leadership change and constraints around my time, we haven’t really paid much attention to — all of this augurs well for the Coalition, and media reports yesterday suggested that Labor itself has all but given up on taking the usually marginal seat made vacant by the death of a popular long-term Liberal MP.
In terms of getting overly excited, the true test will be the polling three, six, nine months from now: nobody should be getting carried away, although Turnbull would clearly be happier with these figures than if the initial poll findings on his watch had stagnated, or moved the other way.
But the real story in this — with no disrespect to the new Liberal PM — relates to the ALP, and in that sense, these findings are an indictment.
Like many strategic minds in the Coalition, I don’t expect the initial public euphoria around Turnbull to last; the so-called “sugar hit” appears to be materialising on cue, and a better test of his support will be if the government can lock down the extra support being generated by the week’s events.
The precedent of Kevin Rudd from June 2013, and the earlier example of Andrew Peacock in 1989 — the closest equivalents to Turnbull’s ascension, replete with stratospheric pre-leadership coup poll numbers — should serve as a warning to anyone who wants to get carried away.
Yet the obvious observation to make here is that with Turnbull pulling in between double and triple the support of Shorten in the head-to-head measures, this heralds a return to “normal” poll settings for a first term government: new oppositions typically struggle to make much headway, and Shorten — denied the easy meat of an unpopular Prime Minister compounded by an utterly dysfunctional back office — is recording the kind of dismal numbers his insipid and insidious version of “leadership” truly warrants.
We already know Shorten is a liar, a backstabber, a treacherous plotter and a man obsessed with power and personal ambition, with a woeful personal record of “loyalty” to leaders he has served since entering Parliament, and whilst some will accuse Turnbull of the same things, it must be noted on the record that he conducted his challenge to Tony Abbott from the front this week rather than getting behind the departed PM to lodge a blade between his shoulders as Shorten deftly did during two ALP leadership changes during its last stint in office.
This, in and of itself, might be dismissed, albeit cynically, as the mere cost of doing business in Canberra by some.
But when it is remembered that Shorten has advanced very little new policy, aside from trashing the public health system by abolishing the private health insurance rebate, in an unbelievably spiteful act of class hatred — and has compounded that debauched stance by signalling the revival of discredited policies on climate change and asylum seekers that were roundly rejected by voters in 2013 — it’s hardly adventurous to assert that little Billy Bullshit offers virtually nothing to mainstream Australia.
Labor, it must be conceded, may very well still win next year’s election irrespective of the change to the leadership arrangements in the Liberal Party this week.
But the instant evaporation of ALP support (and, more ominously, the total disintegration of Shorten’s standing as “preferred PM”) exposes the potential limits of bloody-minded opposition at all costs and the pursuit of power for its own sake.
Readers have heard me say many, many times now that Labor cares about power, not people; it should come as no surprise that the instant a fresh adversary arrives on the scene with a potential message in any way different to the unpopular Abbott’s, indications are that voters lose interest in such a vacuously naked lust for the Treasury benches.
Free of meaningful policy and led by a dubious individual of highly questionable character, Labor may well have cruised to victory against Tony Abbott — mostly on the back of the former Prime Minister’s own deficiencies, and those of the people around him who were charged with delivering better outcomes but who were simply not up to the job.
Now, Shorten and his party are going to have to come up with a new strategy — and quickly — for just as time was running out for Abbott to retrieve his position prior to this week’s events, the sands in the hourglass now begin to run against Labor.
More of the empty, pathetic drivel Shorten has become synonymous with simply won’t cut it, and to this end, his attempts this week to characterise Turnbull’s government as a “right-wing Liberal Party” deserve to be exposed for what they are: a direct copy of the mindless rant British Labour is using to cajole the BBC — just as biased to the British Left as the ABC is to the Australian Left — to use identical terminology against David Cameron’s Conservative Party.
The problem with a virgin brain — to use the analogy from Don’s Party — is that no original thought ever penetrates it: and in this regard once again, it appears Shorten is indeed possessed of such an attribute.
Unlike Abbott, with his scripted, targeted lines that lacked spontaneity, Turnbull is a gifted debater who will tear Shorten to shreds if he persists with this kind of garbage.
Like Abbott, however, it seems Billy Bullshit knows no other way than they way he has always done things, and in this regard it will cost him heavily.
For now, the Coalition is reaping its reward from the leadership change, irrespective of whether you agreed with or supported it or not, and at the very least it returns what had become an entrenched and one-sided political climate to a contest, and one that has to favour the Coalition given the lacklustre opponent it faces and the red herring Turnbull promises to quickly expose him to be.
It should come as no surprise that rumours abound of forces aligned with Tanya Plibersek spending the parliamentary Spring recess making enquiries of her colleagues to ascertain how many of the 48 signatures that are required to trigger a leadership ballot under the ALP’s arcane new rules might be forthcoming.
Plibersek might or might not be a more formidable opponent than Shorten, but right now the utterances of the latter have gone from being delivered in smugly sanctimonious piety to sounding shrill, hysterical and panicked in the space of a mere few days.
Billy Bullshit is about to be exposed for the unelectable charlatan he is and, all other sentiments aside, the prospect of Turnbull ripping the hopeless Shorten to pieces is an inviting one indeed.