THE FIRST NEWSPOLL for 2016 finds that whilst Bill Shorten’s personal ratings are up slightly, his party would be poleaxed at an election; Malcolm Turnbull retains a whopping lead as preferred PM, and although finding resistance to tax changes, the poll confirms that despite high visibility over summer there is no enthusiasm to elect Shorten. At the start of an election year, Labor appears to remain on course for a belting at the ballot box.
An interesting feature of the social media ecosystem is that traffic from one site to another brings readers to this one from all sorts of places; one of those today — and here’s a link — is William Bowe’s excellent Poll Bludger blog in the Crikey! portal, and whilst I don’t have much time for Crikey!‘s usual blatantly biased left wing view of the world, Bowe’s aggregator of polling and his application of it to electoral movements to predict likely outcomes is a valuable resource indeed.
One of his commenters last night posted a link to The Red And The Blue, stating they’d love to come here and see what “real frothing apoplexy” looks like if Labor were to win government later this year, and surely enough, all the lefties have obediently been trotting in to get a pre-emptive look at my site; regrettably for them, there will be no “frothing apoplexy” this year — at least none that emanates from a Labor federal election win.
I am increasingly certain, GST changes or not, that the government will be re-elected, although that comes with the very big asterisk that the longer Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull takes to announce an election date, the less certain such an outcome will grow.
But for now, the highly reputable Newspoll has posted its first results for the year in The Australian and the numbers provide little succour for opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, with the Coalition retaining unchanged the 53-47 result, after preferences, that it recorded prior to Christmas.
Numbers first, and then some comment.
Newspoll finds primary support for the Coalition running at 46% (up one point from its survey in early December, two months ago); it find the ALP also up a point to 34%, with the
Communist Party Greens and “Others” both down a point, to 11% and 9% respectively, to produce the headline 53-47 figure that closely mirrors the 2013 election result.
53% (+1%) of Newspoll respondents approved of Turnbull’s performance, which is somewhat remarkable given he chose to lie low over the break, only resurfacing in the public eyeline in the past week during his trip to Iraq and the US, with 31% (+1%) disapproving; by contrast, 25% (+2%) approved of the way Shorten is doing his job, with 60% (-1%) disapproving: and as Shorten has done the opposite to Turnbull — maintaining a very visible presence throughout the summer — one would have to say that he might have been better off eating and drinking and spending time with his family than bothering voters at a time they traditionally eschew politics.
On the “preferred PM” measure, Turnbull (59%, -1%) continues to head Shorten (20%, +6%) by almost 40 points, and I would make the observation that almost all of the improvement in Shorten’s number comes from the “undecided” pile rather than taking support from Turnbull, which suggests the rise comes exclusively from intending Labor voters anyway and could hardly be feted as any kind of triumph.
There are two things I want to discuss in relation to these figures, the first being the Newspoll from the same point in the electoral cycle in 2013, which found — unbelievably — that the then-Gillard government had all but closed out a much bigger deficit than Shorten now faces to trail the Tony Abbott-led Coalition by a 49-51 margin; it seems we might have missed commenting on it at the time, although I clearly recall dismissing it as a rogue result in articles following the poll’s publication: and so it proved to be, a fortnight later, when Newspoll saw Labor slip back to 44% on the two-party measure of voting intention.
The reason I raise it is that during the Christmas/New Year break of 2012-13, Gillard and a coterie of her colleagues spent as much of the silly season trying to blaze their way onto the front foot and to seize back some electoral turf as Shorten has done this year; an unkind reading would be to suggest that both enterprises were a waste of effort, given Gillard was dumped in favour of Kevin Rudd five months later (and Labor at an election in a landslide shortly after that), and given Shorten seems destined to suffer one of those ignominiously terminal outcomes later this year.
But however unlikely the Gillard bounce was (and notwithstanding the obvious point that the January 2013 Newspoll was indisputably rogue), some kind of movement in Labor’s favour, however fleeting, seems in hindsight to have been generated from the flurry of activity that took place that year.
By contrast, Shorten’s heavily political “Christmas message” — the man will never learn, as the Kenny Rogers song proclaimed, that there’s a time to know when to hold ’em, and to know when to fold ’em — followed up with a carefully cretinous campaign of accosting supermarket shoppers to talk about lettuce leaves and the GST has delivered, in round terms, absolutely nothing.
It’s just a thought, mind. But the traditional silly season period, historically, is better for (and better used by) the ALP, which in years past has made an artform of translating pictures of its MPs in hardhats and festive costumes at community events into at least transient — if fleeting — support.
Shorten has done very badly, at a time the government had lost a minister (Jamie Briggs), stood another aside pending Federal Police investigations (Mal Brough), and was starting to grapple publicly with the fraught but necessary issue of tax reform, which by its nature will require a recalibration of the GST arrangements as part of any attempt to refashion the national tax base to make it more efficient, more sustainable, and which ignores regressive and piecemeal Band-Aid type “fixes” like airy-fairy hits on “the rich” and allegedly miscreant multinational companies.
This brings me to the second point I want to make in relation to today’s Newspoll.
The survey carried the question “if the government were to introduce tax cuts for all income earners and compensation to low-income-earners (sic) and welfare recipients as part of a package of tax reform, would you be in favour of or opposed to raising of the GST from 10% to 15%?”
37% of respondents were in favour, with 54% opposed; 9% were undecided, and whilst at first blush this appears to sound the death knell on any move to alter the GST, it bears remembering that similar surveys from mid-1997 onwards — when then-Prime Minister John Howard announced an intention to take a tax reform package, including a 10% GST, to an election — found even greater opposition to a GST than these numbers do (from memory, support for the idea sat stubbornly in the low 30s for most of the time until the 1998 election).
It remains to be seen what kind of fist Treasurer Scott Morrison might make of any attempt to sell a GST reform package; changes to taxation arrangements (and the looming budget) will, in the absence of a March or April election, represent his first major tests in his new portfolio.
And it remains to be seen whether the defective communications apparatus that so badly cruelled the Abbott government’s ability to sell anything has been swept away or not (and either way, my door is open where selling GST changes is concerned — I’m very happy to make myself available for that task).
But there are two very big advantages the Turnbull government has in hand from the outset where selling GST change (and corresponding cuts to PAYE and company tax, and compensation for low-income earners and welfare recipients) is concerned.
One is the hard fact that when the GST was introduced in the first place, the sky didn’t fall in; most voters quickly realised they hadn’t been duped or lied to, and notwithstanding the fact that some states reneged on commitments to abolish “nuisance” indirect taxes — nothing to do with the Howard government at all — the vast bulk of precisely what was promised was delivered: and the apocalyptic consequences peddled for years by Labor under Kim Beazley never materialised.
It’s a precedent the Coalition can own, sell, and turn on Shorten like a blowtorch if correctly handled.
And two, only the most rusted-on Labor supporters (and Greens, of course) deny that there is anything other than a massive structural chasm in the federal budget that has to be repaired, and repaired quickly; people are coming to accept — even if grudgingly by some — that either spending has to be cut, or taxes lifted, or a mixture; and with the government already being quite explicit about the fact it does not seek to increase the overall tax burden, it is obvious that budget repair will be achieved (or at least, attempted) through spending cuts: and this means nightmare scenarios of the GST impoverishing people and seeing them thrown onto the street are simply vicious lies.
Just like they were in 1998.
Of course, it remains to be seen what shape the government’s tax package takes, and I suspect it will be a couple of months before this is known irrespective of when an election might be held.
But broadly, and with some knowledge of all of the options being examined, the bottom line is that for almost all voters, a higher and/or broader GST will result in no overall change to their personal circumstances at all.
The two groups of people who will experience change are the very richest people who spend the most — the group Labor has spent years in a mouth-foaming fury of hatred pursuing — who will pay more tax the more they spend; and the poorest people (be they on welfare or just not earning much) who will end up a bit better off once the compensation measures and pension increases filter through.
The challenge Turnbull and his team face is to communicate those basic realities simply, clearly and persuasively, and even with this poll showing 54% of respondents opposed to any change, we already know — from 1998 — that such opposition (or worse) is no bar to winning an election.
Especially against arguably the least suitable candidate to pitch for the Prime Ministership since the 1950s, and against a party whose most recent time in office was marked by sheer fiscal incompetence and an inability to respond to changing economic realities that occurred on its watch, preferring instead to boobytrap the federal budget to cause its conservative successors an exacerbated version of the problems it refused to tackle itself.
One thing I know is that wandering around supermarkets with slogans like “lettuce be free of GST” and claiming that lettuce that is tax-free is delicious, whereas lettuce that is taxed is inedible, is probably not the smartest way of doing things if you aspire to be the Prime Minister of Australia.
Personally, I think the only distinction between Shorten’s lettuce “jokes” and the awful “things that batter” gaffe committed by Alexander Downer in 1994 is the lack of any allusion to domestic violence on Shorten’s part. His performance over summer was that bad. And whilst poor Alex paid for his unfortunate slip with his chance to be Prime Minister himself, Shorten doesn’t have any excuse for offering such vapid arguments, or for interfering with people when they want to get on with their holidays.
In truth, most people would prefer to be mugged with a wet lettuce leaf than see Shorten “leading” the country, and today’s Newspoll contains very little indeed to encourage the ALP that those sentiments will change at any time soon — if at all.