‘Annus Horribilis’ Looming For Turnbull, Coalition

ANOTHER RESHUFFLE — a task seemingly cursed for Malcolm Turnbull — and bad polls are not the only threats to his position in 2017, but are headline items in an ominous list featuring a threadbare agenda, a hostile Senate, a likely WA state election loss, One Nation, and continued fracturing of Coalition support. Turnbull is unlikely to last the year as PM. The Coalition is set to pay for ills and misdeeds this column has increasingly warned against.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, if ever (and I have been watching politics like a hawk since my early teenage years more than 30 years ago), Australia is in the grotesque position of having a Prime Minister who will not only be torn down as a result of persistent dreadful polling, but has personally provided the imprimatur for doing so.

In nominating 30 consecutive losing Newspolls as the pretext for engaging in the daylight assassination of former PM Tony Abbott less than 18 months ago, Malcolm Turnbull should have known that not only would the same yardstick be applied to him, but that if it did he would not survive a run of 30 losing polls, or anything approaching it, and having notched up the first six consecutively after last year’s election and prior to Christmas, it seems only a matter of time before Turnbull’s numbers, figuratively and literally, come up.

Edging toward late January, we are yet to see the first Newspoll for 2017, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that when the first survey for the year appears, it will be a case of “seven down, 23 to go;” the early polls we have already seen are not good for the government — Essential showing it behind Labor to the tune of 57-43, and ReachTel in smackdown territory with the Coalition trailing 46-54 — and even if Newspoll simply maintains its year-end 48-52 result from December, which seems unlikely, the aggregate of these polls makes it difficult to credibly claim that Turnbull’s government is not at least leaching further support to the opposition.

This column broke the news pf a putative move against Labor “leader” Bill Shorten in late 2015 — stating he would either quit or be replaced in a leadership coup — and wore the opprobrium and some ridicule that followed the failure of this development to eventuate.

But Shorten was gone for all money, and the move was indeed afoot; what one can never mitigate against in politics is the capacity for events to intervene: and with a perfectly timed raid by Federal Police on the home of then-Turnbull minister Mal Brough, Shorten was afforded the wriggle room (and the issue) he needed to mount a rearguard action to fight off the move against him — and survived.

I tend to think that despite Labor’s closer-than-expected run at government at least year’s election, Shorten is unlikely to “lead” the ALP to another election; his approval levels remain crushingly low, and this charlatan and opportunistic, insincere dirtbag simply carries too much baggage — from Labor’s last election campaign, from his time as a union thug, from unanswered questions emanating from his past and his personal life — for the ALP to be able to afford to front another election with such a liability weighing it down.

In any case, the ALP vote (which failed last year to even reach 35%) is too low for Labor’s backroom spivs to be comfortable with, and I think any renewed push to get rid of Shorten will signal that the ALP not only regards itself a genuine threat at the next federal election, but that it is getting serious about returning to office.

And besides, the idea of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister isn’t just ridiculous, it is offensive.

But this is where any itinerary of battlefield markers that might give succour to Turnbull starts and ends; the truth is that Malcolm has a big problem, and in turn, that big problem is comprised of a multitude of smaller ones that are apparently beyond the capacity of the Coalition to deal with — at least whilst the current Prime Minister remains in his post.

One of the consequences of taking an essentially threadbare agenda to an election is that now the bills concerning union governance and oversight have passed Parliament (if in an unsatisfactorily distorted form), the Turnbull government is likely to be seen to drift; “jobs and growth,” whilst hardly original, must have seemed like an irresistible mantra to Coalition “strategists” unable to elicit anything of substance to work with from their minions, but a three-word slogan, as we have oft heard previously, is no substitute for an otherwise empty policy cupboard in government.

Key areas like industrial relations, education and — yes — taxation are years overdue for comprehensive, root-and-branch reform; but in almost every case, Turnbull’s government has no particular policy upon which to overhaul them.

The “jobs and growth” policy, brutally distilled, amounts to a modest tax cut for business (that will never pass the Senate), a hacking away at self-funded retirees to recoup far less money than the political rancour the change generated was worth; and a vague promise to extract “value” from the burgeoning welfare spend that eats up four dollars in every ten spent by the Commonwealth.

I heard junior minister and serial disappointment Kelly O’Dwyer on Melbourne radio station 3AW on Wednesday afternoon, talking about the so-called “Google tax” that is meant to bring miscreant multinationals to heel by forcing them to pay (wait for it) their “fair share” of company tax.

Yet O’Dwyer herself candidly admitted this measure would reap just $100 million per annum at a time the budget deficit is running at more than $40bn per year, and Commonwealth debt at almost half a trillion dollars; the measure will make next to no impact on the national finances whatsoever.

But antagonising major global corporations for whom it is cheaper to do business in most other places in the world — remember, Australia’s uncompetitive company tax rate of 30% is higher than almost every comparable OECD country — could well motivate them to scale back, sack workers, and withdraw the contributions they make to the local economy by operating here.

Perhaps this is the bottom line of “jobs and growth:” destroying them by trying to head off a cheap one-line attack from the ALP and the vapid Shorten.

What little agenda the Turnbull has indicated it will pursue will be distorted, emasculated and/or voted down by the Senate, which seems to think its role centres on causing terminal damage to the elected government in the lower house; the Senate has long abandoned any pretence of being a “states’ house” — the role envisaged for it by the founders of Federation — and even the claim that it is a house of review, where “diverse” voices fashion “better” policy outcomes, should be roundly dismissed: the misuse of proportional representation to create a political battering ram is certainly not the role that was envisaged for the upper house, which has played a central and increasing role in bring politics and politicians into abject disrepute in the past decade.

To the left, nauseating bleating about the inability of Coalition politicians to “negotiate” with the Senate can be sneeringly dismissed: it doesn’t really matter who leads the Liberal Party in one sense, for the Senate will, in most cases, find some spurious pretext upon which to vote down legislation or mangle it to render it useless.

Where “budget repair” is concerned, the Senate has even more self-interest in preventing such an enterprise from ever occurring: minor independent and small party MPs (who would never be elected under a reasonable and robust electoral system) have a vested interest in using the Senate to see truckloads of money shovelled out with their names attached to it.

And wherever Labor and the Communist Party Greens are concerned, these entities have now repeatedly shown they will do literally anything to stop the Coalition from repairing the damage they themselves inflicted on the national finances when last they were in office — up to and including causing significant and compounding damage to the national interest in the medium to long term by wrecking Australia’s once-envied financial position.

To the right (and I use the term loosely), Malcolm Turnbull enacted piecemeal “reform” early last year to the method by which the Senate is elected, at the high cost of all of what little political capital he had left to spend, and which predictably made little appreciable difference (if any) to the outcome of a double dissolution: the Senate crossbench, whilst milder in its stridency, remains hostile to the government, which now controls less than 40% of its votes, and for a measure that was meant to make it harder for peripheral candidates to be elected on a sliver of the vote, the Senate now incorporates 20 independent and minor party Senators.

Some success!

For all the talk on the Left of Turnbull having “sold out” to the Right of the Liberal Party, the fact is that those positions Turnbull has maintained — like maintaining the rigorous border protection regime set up on Abbott’s watch — are, pragmatically, policies that have been maintained simply because dismantling them would bring disastrous consequences: and this is not hyperbole, for we have seen what happens when such measures are abandoned, and the 1,200 deaths at sea that are a monument to crazed left-wing obsessions are a price Turnbull is rightly unprepared to risk a repeat of.

But when it comes to measures apart from things like border protection and trying to get some accountability from Australia’s burgeoning welfare spend, nobody can categorise Turnbull as a “hostage” to the Right in any way; obsessed with the sham of climate change, obsessed with turning Australia senselessly into a republic, long known for his desire to legalise gay marriage without obvious concern or attention to institutional and social repercussions, the Prime Minister who promised a “thoroughly liberal” government seems bogged down with fancies centred on changing the state and legislating social change.

The whole climate change fiasco, which is likely to collapse this year if the US walks away from it altogether, as seems likely, has for years been a battering ram with which to abuse “deniers:” hardly the sign of either a rigorous policy or a constructive force in our polity.

But with one thing and another, the electoral gods are lining up to punish Turnbull too.

The departure on Friday of NSW Premier Mike Baird will perhaps affect the federal Coalition little, save for some renewed tensions between the various factions within that state; even so, three NSW Premiers in six years is as poor a contribution to the stable governance of the state — the valid reasons for Baird’s resignation notwithstanding — as the four ALP Premiers in the six preceding years who collectively helped create the perpetual sense of chaos in Australia’s largest state.

Western Australia heads to the polls in seven weeks’ time for an election even Liberal Party insiders are beginning to privately concede is likely to be lost; defeat for the Barnett government — even narrowly — will be as humiliating for Turnbull as the landslide four years ago against Labor proved for then-PM Julia Gillard.

The July election saw the Liberal Party go backwards federally in WA for the first time since the GST election of 1998: hardly a badge of honour for Turnbull in what has consistently been one of the party’s two best-performed states.

And if a state election in Queensland results in the re-election of the Palaszczuk government, irrespective of the role One Nation might play, then Turnbull will be in real trouble not because of any overlap in federal-state issues but because this time, the resurgence and rise of One Nation appears to be fuelled by the paucity of policy and the leftward frift that are characterising Turnbull’s government.

And this brings us to the slow leaching of Coalition support to the parties of the far Right, and the near-certain prospect Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi will wreck the Coalition by walking out to start his own “conservative” party — and probably destroying the Turnbull government in the process anyway.

I have long said that whilst entities like One Nation attract rednecks and bigots, the bulk of the support they draw comes from disaffected voters who don’t fit the “bigot” mould but simply want to be listened to: something today’s two-party divide, with is confluence around the politically correct rhetoric of the Left, its choreography and its saccharine, risk-free objectives doesn’t deliver.

John Howard managed to tame and eventually see off this threat from One Nation by accommodating some of the more reasonable outcomes it sought whilst slapping down the more extreme elements. There is no indication Turnbull is even prepared to tackle the problem, let alone be able to prevail.

If just one lower house MP follows Bernardi (who, at the weekend, removed all Liberal Party branding from his social media platforms) into a rump “conservative” group, Turnbull will face justified calls for an immediate federal election on account of losing his lower-house majority; if two or more desert (and I am told there are up to four who will likely walk out the same day Bernardi does) then the Coalition’s position will become untenable regardless of what it might cobble together in terms of crossbench support.

There are those who think Bernardi is about to split the conservative side of politics and consign it to opposition for 20 years; I am not quite so pessimistic, although the pieces will have to be picked up — from opposition — and that process will probably still take at least three terms: long enough for the ALP and Greens to resume their nation-wrecking program of high debt, high taxes, social division and this time, with no glittering Howard-era set of numbers to inherit, economic carnage.

That’s a hell of a price to pay for an adventure in new conservative parties: but as ever, when you boil what Bernardi seems to be contemplating right down, it is anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, anti-abortion and pro-guns — the agenda of a protest party, not one seriously inclined to govern.

To be sure, we haven’t even talked about external threats to Australia — be they military, economic, or just Trump — but we don’t have to.

The point is that there are so many perfect storms lined up with Turnbull’s fiefdom and due to strike this year, it is nigh impossible to see him surviving even part of the onslaught.

You can argue about events beyond control and all the rest of that type of excuse until the cows come home, but Turnbull has been PM for almost 18 months, and most of these land mines on the road ahead have been sown by his and his ministers’ actions during that time.

I have $20 riding on whether Turnbull is still Prime Minister come Easter time: if he isn’t, I’ll collect. As a conservative Liberal — and one who has no intention of deserting the party to join Bernardi’s mad little game — it gives me no real joy to say so.

But at some point this year, the total unsuitability of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister is likely to catch up with him. The disintegrating government barely re-elected last year would arguably have been better off losing. But it didn’t, and life goes on.

If that includes Turnbull at the helm after Easter, I’ll be stunned. If he makes it as far as that, the end will follow soon enough.

It’s time to get your running shoes, on Malcolm. You are going to need them.


Newspoll Confirms Trend: Coalition Lags Labor

A SECOND CONSECUTIVE NEWSPOLL today showing the Coalition and Labor deadlocked at 50-50 tells just part of the story; with Coalition support in slow but constant decline since December, recent polling aggregates suggest the Turnbull government now lags the ALP. With confusion and conflicting directions over policy, strategy and electoral direction, the messianic appeal of Malcolm Turnbull — if it ever existed — appears to have vanished.

The last time we saw a Newspoll — two weeks ago — I was blunt about the malaise that has been afflicting the government of Malcolm Turnbull, and just as blunt about the need for it to get its collective finger out; last week, we gave close consideration to whether the Prime Minister could lose this year’s election, and with two additional polls that have appeared in the meantime, the prospect he might do precisely that appears to be growing likelier.

First things first: I’m not going to rattle through every indicator in the Newspoll published in The Australian today — readers can access those details here — but people with whom I have had offline conversations since publishing on Newspoll a fortnight ago have overwhelmingly insisted the 50-50 result recorded in that survey, after preferences, simply had to be a rogue result.

Readers will know I have called out rogue results many, many times over the past five years, and almost without exception, those calls have been correct: yet two weeks ago I did not believe or sense Newspoll was at all in error, and a repeat today of exactly the same numbers on most indices — primary vote, two-party vote, the “preferred PM” measure — suggest that at the very minimum, the result a fortnight ago was not rogue at all.

It may seem a little odd, given we rarely discuss the Essential poll in great detail, but today I am going to do just that in referencing the latest Newspoll figures; readers have heard me say dozens of times that a single poll in isolation is of little value, but a basket of them is enormously useful in identifying trends and cross-validating the findings of each of the polls that comprise it.

Rather than bleat on about today’s Newspoll — before we get to some analysis — I would like readers to check out the weekly findings published last week by Essential Research; this is a very different poll to most of the others we talk about insofar as it is a rolling survey: half of “this week’s” findings are actually the surveys conducted last week, whilst the research compiled this week will go on to form half of “next week’s” findings.

The idea is that by producing a rolling survey rather than a fresh one each week, bumps and dips and flutter are evened out to produce more reliable data. At least, that’s the theory.

But it does enable us to guesstimate, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, what Essential’s findings “this week” actually were, and its published findings last week of a 50-50 split between the Coalition and Labor followed two consecutive batches of 52-48 leads to the Coalition.

Whilst rounding might add or knock off a tenth of a percentage point or two, it means that for Essential to produce a 50-50 result last week, its actual weekly research had to include findings in the vicinity of a 52-48 lead for the ALP.

And what that means is that the trend in the past three or four lots of polling that has been produced has seen the 51-49 Coalition advantage I estimated last week slip even further, to the point a 49-51 deficit (and certainly no more than about 49.5% of the two-party vote) is where the Coalition actually now sits across the reputable polling data available.

So, conclusion #1: the post-leadership change lead the Coalition has enjoyed over the ALP is now gone.

(Update, 2.37pm: Essential has just released this week’s survey results, which you can access here: they are marginally better for Turnbull than we have been discussing, but still place the Coalition at 50-50 and still, on account of the rolling nature of the survey, hold the average trend figure for the Coalition below 50% of the two-party result).

It is a very great pity that Essential does not measure approval and disapproval of leadership figures every week, for here, too, the Coalition finds itself in trouble in Newspoll; Turnbull — whose net Newspoll rating peaked at a whopping 38 points in November — barely remains in positive territory now, with 44% of respondents giving him the heads-up and 41% disapproving. That 3% net rating is a 7% deterioration in a fortnight, and a massive 35% down in less than four months.

Opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, by contrast — who, just four months ago, was staring down the barrel of being forced to quit by his party — continues to retrieve ground in small steps, with 30% (+2%) of Newspoll’s respondents approving of the job he is doing, and 55% (-2%) giving the thumbs down: it mightn’t seem like much, and Shorten’s numbers are rising at less than half the rate Turnbull’s are falling. But his net approval of -25% has improved from -38% this year, and whilst a shrewd judgement suggests he will never be popular, another five or ten points in the turnaround would be sufficient for Labor to argue its “leader” is no longer a drain on the party’s vote.

Or its election prospects.

Conclusion #2: the wild knockout effect of an uber-popular leader, which some Liberal MPs were unwisely seduced by in September, is also gone. In fact, there is a very real risk that Turnbull will resume the status of an albatross around the Coalition’s neck that he constituted seven years ago in the wake of the Utegate scandal.

It’s not hard to see how this could have happened.

Since resuming the Liberal leadership, Malcolm has given every indication of being content to chug along, happy to simply be Prime Minister — a position to which he has aspired throughout his adult life — and for a time, people were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt as the shaky, haphazard and clueless Abbott era came to an abrupt halt.

But the problem with this approach is that unless it is followed up (and rapidly, given the circumstances of Turnbull’s ascension and the fact it coincided with the commencement of the final year of the Coalition’s first term) with a solid, clear and comprehensive suite of policies that not only differentiate the new government from its predecessor, but which appeal more to the angry voters the leadership switch was intended to mollify, a very real risk of harsh electoral judgement is invited through inaction.

The policy ideas, to put it most kindly, have appeared, floated by, and disappeared; scandals, both foreseeable and unexpected, have materialised; the same inability to communicate with voters that marked Tony Abbott’s tenure remains barely reformed; and even the flat-footed approach to political strategy and tactics that dug the Abbott government into a hole in the first place appears breathtakingly intact.

Who’s for a double dissolution to pass stalled policies without first racking up repeated defeats of all the key items that are a priority to pass? Turnbull’s government seems determined to countenance just this scenario, moving inexorably as it is toward elections for both Houses on 2 July. But its legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission is now said to be unlikely to be re-engineered as a trigger, and one of those that already exists (the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation) already has a constitutional question mark over it.

That leaves just the Registered Organisations laws that would force unions to the same degree of accountability as the business community — nothing to be sniffed at — as the sole pretext for such a poll, although with its rhetoric about $30bn in stalled budget savings, Turnbull’s government is treading dangerous political ground: these measures date from the shocking Hockey budget of 2014 that proved so repellant to voters. Fighting an election on that budget now, with Turnbull’s and the government’s stocks in near-freefall, would be a breathtakingly courageous (or wantonly suicidal) step.

But above all of these factors, it has become clear that Turnbull took office without a plan; the accusation that he stands for nothing — if a little unkind — is beginning to resonate. At best, it seems nobody in the Turnbull camp was ready to proceed with governing if their move against Abbott succeeded. And of course, ill winds (ministerial scandals, contrary interventions from Abbott on the backbench, the book by Niki Savva released yesterday) are easily enough to blow a rudderless ship off course.

And to compound all of this, Turnbull has very little room to manoeuvre anyway.

There is a pre-election budget coming up from which Treasurer Scott Morrison has already ruled out any sweeteners or other electoral largesse; the traditional bait offered to voters in an election year will not be threaded onto the hook if Morrison is true to his word.

Faced with the problem inherited from Labor of haemorrhaging government finances that was never effectively addressed by his predecessor, Turnbull has already ruled out all of the most efficient and/or productive revenue-side reforms that might push the budget back onto a sustainable footing.

Chillingly, those issues that Turnbull so spectacularly mishandled when Liberal leader in 2008 and 2009 — climate change and gay marriage — are yet to find definitively renewed positions from the government, although on the latter count, vacillating between the plebiscite promised by Abbott and potentially dumping it in favour of a Senate vote, the portents are ominous.

And out in the great blue yonder — that endless abyss of the political unknown — the scope for something, literally anything, to leap out of the murk and punch the Coalition on the nose remains all too real. Just look at the scandals Turnbull has already had to deal with, for a start.

It all comes back to the central thesis this column has argued since Turnbull became Prime Minister: get to the polls, and quickly, for any bounce was likely to be illusory, and almost certain to vanish just as quickly as it appeared.

This has now become fact, and Turnbull — never particularly popular at any point in his first outing as Liberal leader, and very unpopular indeed for most of it — is now reverting to type, and taking the Coalition’s stocks down with him.

Newspoll and Essential have registered this phenomenon and it is ongoing, not presenting as a blip: that is the real story from today’s poll, and from the others that have preceded it in the past couple of weeks.

Last week, Turnbull did a deal with he Communist Party Greens to secure passage through the Senate of sorely needed electoral reforms in exchange for not holding a federal election until after June.

With the very real political imperative to get to the polls as quickly as possible that is now impossible to deny or argue against, this might just prove in hindsight to have been the fatal misjudgement in what has been a constant stream of miscalculations from the government — and Turnbull himself — this year.

Very soon, the need to get to an election quickly to secure a fresh mandate might become the need to get to an election ASAP to limit the electoral carnage. Once we start having that discussion, the Liberal leadership transition last year will have become pointless.

It is not too late to retrieve the situation but Turnbull and his colleagues — as I argued candidly, if inelegantly, last week — must now get their fingers out.

The time to act is now. If they fail to do so, the electoral price could be steep. And as unfit as Shorten may be to ever serve as Prime Minister, less popular individuals have won federal elections in recent times: and won them very handsomely to boot.

Tony Abbott would have the franchise — and the last laugh — on that front.


Final Polling: Big Coalition Win; 53.5%-46.5% Lead

SIX YEARS of Labor government is set to end in landslide defeat today, if the final opinion polls across all mainstream pollsters are accurate; with an average lead of seven points after preferences across the polls, Tony Abbott is set to be elected in a win that will rival John Howard’s triumph in 1996.

Over the past 24 hours, I have been watching the special election eve survey results from each of the major polling outfits filter through; there is some variation between them, but nothing beyond the margin of sampling error — or anything even approaching it.

I am only going to focus in detail on the two-party figures, because — after all — every seat in the House of Representatives will be determined on a two-candidate final count.

At the business end of the process it’s votes that ultimately matter: approval ratings and “preferred Prime Minister” contests are useful in the middle of the cycle, but tomorrow Australians will vote for who they will — and with neither leader recording messianic ratings, those questions now seem redundant.

I will however make the observation that across all of the latest polls, on average, Tony Abbott ends up with a modest lead over Kevin Rudd in the “preferred PM” stakes.

Indeed, Abbott ends this campaign more popular than Rudd.

And that’s an absolute indictment on Rudd and the ALP, with Rudd purportedly the most popular politician in the country, and Labor supposedly having executed an electoral masterstroke by restoring him to its leadership to contest today’s election.

Instead, it may well have worsened the inevitable defeat.

In this final round of special polls, the two-party preferred breaks (all in favour of the Coalition) are: Newspoll, 54-46; Essential, 52-48; Galaxy, 53-47; and Nielsen, 54-46.

I saw a poll yesterday from industry newcomer Lonergan Research, effectively finding 51-49 for the Coalition; this, however, was a mobile phone only poll, and it is reasonable to expect its findings were disproportionately drawn from the younger age quintiles where ALP/Greens support is higher (even if the data was weighted to compensate).

And even the often-maligned Morgan poll — whose results are often inclined to wild and inexplicable fluctuations, quite literally, from one week to the next — has posted final figures showing a 53.5-46.5 result in the Coalition’s favour.

And that, dear readers — 53.5% to 46.5% — is the exact average of the Coalition lead over Labor, after preferences, across the four usual polls we follow, plus Morgan.

In turn, a 53.5% result for the Coalition today would represent a 3.6% swing away from the ALP and easily elect Tony Abbott Prime Minister.

Applying a 3.6% movement to the electoral pendulum sees the Coalition win 14 additional seats from Labor (plus those of Peter Slipper in Queensland and the two independents in NSW) for a total of 89 of the 150 House of Representatives seats, and a majority of 28.

It isn’t that simple, of course, and I expect Abbott to do a bit better than that.

The polling figures we are looking at today come at the end of a campaign in which the overall trend and movement has been back to the Coalition following the end of Kevin Rudd’s “honeymoon” as a restored PM.

That movement, however, can be broken into three phases: a marked movement to the Coalition immediately after the calling of the election; a very slight drift back to Labor about two-thirds the way through the campaign; and more movement to the Coalition this week to round out the run to the polling stations.

Based on these last survey results, that movement appears to be continuing, even now; this is the first reason 53.5% probably understates the current level of Coalition support.

A second reason is that the most recent findings — Newspoll, Nielsen and Morgan — all fall closer to 54% (and in the case of Nielsen and Newspoll, may well have been rounded down to that level for publication).

It’s an especially valid point in the case of Newspoll, which in 2010 published its findings to one decimal place (which I seem to recall was a 50.3% ALP lead). It hasn’t done so this time, so it becomes a matter of speculation.

But that speculation becomes a little less…er, speculative…when it’s remembered that at most of the elections won by John Howard, conservative support as measured by election eve polls was typically understated when compared to the actual results (which, of course, are determined by actual preference allocations rather than the statistical distribution of same based on the patterns at the preceding election).

And a third factor is that no election swing is uniform: the pendulum may move x seats on y swing, but with fluctuations from seat to seat, an efficient swing can yield more seats than the pendulum suggests — and that also applies in reverse, although today I doubt it.

My guess, therefore, is that the Coalition result will look more like 54%, or even 54.5%.

(And regular readers will know that I have long expected the actual election result to come in at around 54% for the Liberals, after preferences — even when the Coalition was pulling in 57-58% numbers in the polls early this year, and again prior to that).

Simply stated, if these numbers are broadly accurate — and there is little reason to believe they are not — the Liberal win today will be on the same scale as Howard’s in 1996, and may even edge toward that gold standard of election beltings: Malcolm Fraser’s in 1975.

Whichever way you cut it, though, even the polls we are talking about are already out of date; there are factors influencing people’s voting intentions even now, and if there is a continuing drift one way or the other there is still a full day of voting for more votes to shift from one column to the other.

But with all that considered, my personal prediction is that the Liberals and Nationals will collectively win 95 seats; the ALP 52; Adam Bandt will retain the seat of Melbourne for the Greens; and there will be one Independent (Andrew Wilkie), plus Bob Katter in Kennedy.

This adds up to a 40 seat Coalition majority: the same buffer secured by Howard in 1996.

If all of this comes to pass, the ALP will have many wounds to lick; and with Kevin Rudd defeated in Griffith (yes, I see that happening), its humiliation — and its punishment for six self-indulgent, dysfunctional and chaotically misspent years — will be absolute.

Essential: Steady At 52-48 To The Coalition

ESSENTIAL RESEARCH has released its weekly poll findings, which show — for the third consecutive week with Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister — the Coalition sitting on a 42-48 election-winning lead. The results are similar to all of the other polls taken since the leadership change in the ALP.

I’m going to keep this fairly short this afternoon, because that’s the point: the results are in line with everything else we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, and there really isn’t anything too extraordinary to note over and above our look at polling late last night.

Essential finds the primary vote for the Coalition unchanged from last week, at 46%; it finds the ALP now at 39% (+1%) and the Greens at 7% (-1%), with “Others” steady on 8%.

Aside from the stagnant 52-48 result after preferences, the noteworthy aspect of these findings is that for the third week running, the combined ALP-Greens vote has also remained the same, but with Labor picking up a percentage point of support at the expense of the Greens in each of those surveys.

This trend has also been seen to varying degrees in other polls, and from an overall perspective is consistent with the idea that the coming election will be a “polarising” election: that is, with two very clear major party offerings being presented and an electorate inclined to side firmly with one or the other, minor parties are prone to being squeezed out.

It is also representative of the general consensus that the Greens — whose policies have received disproportionate prominence during this term of Parliament — are likely to suffer movement away from them based on the 2010 election as a result.

Essential has also asked the leaders’ approval and “preferred PM” questions this week, for the first time since Rudd’s return as Labor leader.

It finds 50% of its respondents approving of his performance, as opposed to 35% who do not; conversely, Abbott’s approval sits at 39%, with 51% disapproving.

And on the “preferred Prime Minister” measure, Rudd heads Abbott, 50-35.

These figures — and any comment I might make on them — are, again, broadly similar to what I had to say last night in relation to the other polling we looked at.

Even so, the 51-49 average point of all the polls since Rudd’s resurrection is undisturbed by Essential’s findings.

As I said last night, we may have more of a sense of which direction things might be headed in another week; things get tougher for Rudd from here, and I note that just today as I write he is flying back to Australia from Papua New Guinea: empty-handed, having flown there to seek a deal from the PNG government on the handling of asylum seekers.

Boat arrivals and asylum seekers, of course, are the next issue Rudd is going to have to “deal” with, and given Labor’s fraught record on this derives directly from decisions taken when Rudd was initially Prime Minister, he’ll have his work cut out to present something convincing to a sceptical electorate.

So it gets tougher from here. Of course, the discussion could be turned on its head by the calling of a late August election, possibly as soon as this weekend.

Labor Poll Bounce: Nothing To See Here, People

AS EXPECTED, Labor’s opinion poll numbers continue their general improvement in the wake of Kevin Rudd’s return to the Prime Ministership; even so, the ALP has thus far failed to hit the lead, and the bounce — whilst entirely predictable — is scarcely likely to last.

I’m a day late in commenting on two new opinion polls, one from Newspoll in yesterday’s issue of The Australian and one from Essential Research, and I’m sorry: I was unavoidably otherwise busy yesterday. This post is, consequently, going to be short by my standards, and I will be back with something else a little later tonight.

Even so, there weren’t any surprises in the polls we saw yesterday.

A Newspoll finding of the Coalition and Labor evenly split after preferences, 50-50, still falls short of what might have been expected of the ALP numbers; it’s a one-point increase for Labor on top of the six-point movement recorded a week ago, and this in turn suggests the rate of the rise in the ALP vote under Rudd has levelled out.

Essential, on the other hand, finds no movement from its survey a week ago, with the Coalition maintaining an unchanged 52-48 winning lead after preference allocations. This, too, suggests that the spike in Labor’s figures has all but peaked.

It is true that on the “Preferred Prime Minister” question Newspoll find Rudd’s lead over Abbott widen slightly compared to last week to now sit at 53-31. However — as I have said before — this is traditionally a question whose results favour the incumbent, and coupled with the honeymoon effect Rudd was always going to experience, is no cause for surprise.

In fact, the only surprise from either of these polls is that the Rudd honeymoon still hasn’t managed to pull the government in front of the Coalition; I expected that to occur a week ago when the first polling under Rudd was released, and the fact a lead still hasn’t materialised makes it reasonable to ponder the prospect that 50-50 is as good as any bounce is going to deliver.

I simply reiterate what I have been saying ever since the prospect of a Rudd return as PM became a reality; that is, the bounce won’t last and — indeed — will start to fall away; on this point commentators seem divided. But some of us will be shown to be right, and others wrong, and I don’t think it will take long for the two groups to become clear.

In the meantime, the emphasis for the Liberal Party must be to stand firm and not to panic.

Since we last discussed this there has been an increase in the number of “Malcolm for Leader” efforts springing up across social media; leadership dissent in the Liberal Party now is the one surefire way to elongate — and build — on the poll bounce for Labor that will otherwise prove temporary at best.

And in any case, Rudd hasn’t covered himself in glory by his conduct as Prime Minister over the past week, as we have discussed.

For now, it’s the “Barbrady Principle” that applies; nothing to see here, people!

As indicated, I will be back a little later to discuss something else concerning Kevin Rudd and Labor.



New PM: Essential Joins The Opinion Poll Party

I’M KEEPING this to the point tonight; simply to add to the polling we have seen in the past 48 hours, Essential Research has also published its weekly survey, finding the Coalition ahead of the Kevin Rudd-led ALP, 52-48. It continues a trend of “closer, but not close enough” for the new PM.

For the third time in two days, here’s the same story: Labor knifes its Prime Minister, the polls show a big uptick in the party’s electoral prospects, yet Tony Abbott remains on track to win an election.

Readers can access the Essential polling tables here (with thanks to Twitter colleague @GhostWhoVotes); there were no questions asked around leader approval or “preferred Prime Minister,” but Essential does ask questions of their respondents around approval of the leadership change and its effect on changing voting intention that are worth a look.

The key thing I would point out to readers is that Essential is a cascading poll: every set of findings it publishes is comprised of last week’s survey results combined with this week’s; it tends to even out the trend line it charts, and helps alleviate the incidence of rogue polls.

This week, they have published both: the attached tables show Essential’s findings both as they would appear using the usual formula, and also as a single week result (which is a bit of a no-brainer given the leadership change requires a restart).

In any case, even the single week result shows Labor trailing the Coalition after preferences by a 52-48 margin; more than Galaxy’s 51-49, and more (I suspect) than Newspoll’s 51-49 given my theory (outlined last night) that rounding practices with Newspoll this week probably led to the Coalition vote being understated slightly.

I am told there is a Morgan poll showing Labor ahead that’s doing the rounds tonight; it raises a question: do readers want discussion of the Morgan polls included here?

I have always been reticent about doing so, on account of their consistent tendency to overstate the ALP’s position (not the deciding factor, so long as it is kept in mind when interpreting them) but also because of their proclivity to jump around all over the place presenting far more erratic trend lines than anything else in the market.

I’ll be guided by any reader feedback offered on this.

Essential’s numbers also follow a ReachTel automated poll taken just after the leadership change that showed the Coalition leading 52-48; ironically, ReachTel also has a history of overstating ALP support (albeit without the wild fluctuations in its trend lines).

It seems there’s a 52-48 level appearing at the average point of all of these, which we might discuss in greater detail once we have seen some research from Nielsen, and any subsequent findings from the other pollsters that appears in the interim.

Horror Newspoll: 58-42 To Coalition; Annihilation Awaits Labor

THE FORTNIGHTLY Newspoll for tomorrow’s issue of The Australian is out, heralding a disaster for the Gillard government; a 58-42 lead to the Coalition after preferences, which would all but wipe Labor out. It raises the question of whether the ALP will make one final attempt at leadership change.

It’s just a poll…but in the context of the post-budget climate — and the outcry last week over “reform” of public funding of election campaigns — Newspoll’s findings simply must be taken seriously by ALP strategists as the looming election seems increasingly certain to produce a Labor bloodbath.

Opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne attracted the ridicule of some when he claimed he had “reliable information” that one final challenge to Gillard’s leadership would occur “either on 3 June, or in the week of 3 June.”

Right or wrong his information might be, but if ever there were to be ideal conditions under which to execute another sitting Prime Minister, this poll provides them for Labor’s MPs.

And Labor, historically, is a party that has been obsessed with Newspoll and has executed several leaders in the past on the back of poor figures in Newspoll results.

Newspoll finds Labor now trailing the Coalition by 16 points — or 58-42 — after preferences; this is the ALP’s equal worst result on the two-party measure in a Newspoll since Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as leader, the 2010 election, and the broken promise on a carbon tax: take your pick which is the most historically significant marker.

This 58-42 split represents a swing to the Coalition of 2% since Newspoll’s last survey a fortnight ago.

It breaks down to see the Coalition recording a 49% primary vote (+3%) among Newspoll respondents — close to the historic 50% mark the Coalition vote has sat at or near several times now this year, and historic in that no party has achieved it at a federal election since Malcolm Fraser led the Coalition to power after the Dismissal in 1975.

The ALP records a primary vote of 30% (-1%), with the Greens on 9% (unch) and “Others” at 12% (-2%).

On the “preferred Prime Minister” measure — which will also fuel leadership rumblings within the ALP — Tony Abbott’s incremental improvements become a surge in this survey, with 43% (+3%) indicating their preference for him as opposed to 35% (-4%) for Gillard.

And the individual leaders’ ratings hold no joy for Gillard either; Newspoll finds just 28% (-3%) of voters approving of her performance, with a mammoth 62% (+3) disapproving; Abbott’s approval rating is static at 37%, with his disapproval number edging down one point to 53%.

For comparison, Essential Research also released its weekly findings this afternoon, which showed an unchanged Coalition lead of 55-45.

At the minimum, it suggests there is a floor under the Newspoll result, rather than any prospect of the Labor poll numbers drifting upwards.

Yet by the same token, the fact Essential is a rolling survey with its findings drawn from consecutive weeks of research could well mask any upward trend in the conservative vote, and may even overstate it.

Aside from the general shambles this government has proven to be, there are two specific issues I think have fuelled the Newspoll result.

The first is the issue of a Coalition-led motion of no confidence in the Gillard government; this was threatened at the time of the non-coup in March over the Labor leadership.

After much to-ing and fro-ing — including an attempt in recent days to convince “Independents” Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott to support such a motion — this tactic to force an immediate election has now been abandoned on the basis of insufficient support.

Yet I believe it has backfired on Labor, not the Coalition, as Windsor in particular has since made great noise about moving a motion of confidence in the government, talking about its “achievements” from a perspective that Parliament has delivered on “the people’s wishes.”

Clearly, it hasn’t — and this poll shows that very clearly.

The other issue, obviously, is the secret deal Labor tried to strike with the opposition to increase public funding to political parties — and to backdate the deal to April just gone.

Both parties rightly came in for criticism over this measure; there may be a case to make for increasing public funding if private (and especially union) donations are heavily curbed.

But the secrecy with which the deal was negotiated enraged voters; and when Abbott abandoned it, the efforts of the ALP, Greens, and Windsor again to turn the backdown into an adverse reflection on Tony Abbott’s character (and on their own righteousness) has since added fuel to the fire in terms of Labor’s rapidly decaying public support.

And this brings us back to the question of whether the ALP will make one last, desperate attempt to rid itself of Gillard in a hysterical gamble on averting the rapidly oncoming electoral train wreck.

As we discussed last week, Kevin Rudd is now the only feasible candidate to switch to; it’s too late in the cycle now for anyone else to expect to establish themselves as a cleanskin in time for an election that is almost due.

Proof of this — were it required — exists in the form of the present Prime Minister.

It’s significant that respected ALP stalwart (and Rudd supporter) Martin Ferguson announced his intention to retire from Parliament last week.

It sends a signal to the rest of the disaffected Rudd supporters in caucus which they may follow, and it sharpens the distinction between the ALP of old and the one Gillard and her union masters have been trying to shape by influencing preselections, enforcing disendorsements, and so forth.

And let’s not forget the fact that whilst he has his adherents, Rudd is detested and reviled by a significant percentage of Labor MPs — with good reason, and based on Rudd’s own behaviour.

I personally think that it is now too late for Labor to avoid defeat, and that irrespective of who leads it into battle, the defeat will be catastrophic.

Yet as I have said many times, the ALP, when cornered, is an exceedingly dangerous beast, and it tends to do something.

If a change of leader brought with him the prospect of salvaging even five or ten additional seats (including, in Rudd’s case, perhaps his own) and containing the losses to, say, 25 seats instead of 35, then if the numbers are there to roll Gillard, it will only take someone to call on the spill to attempt to do so.

Despite the non-coup in March, there is no lack of will on Rudd’s part to return as leader: his decision not to stand was an acknowledgement that the numbers simply didn’t exist at that time to do so, and not a sign of weakness — as Gillard jubilantly implied.

Whether they do now or not remains to be seen, but if enough MPs are prepared to dump Gillard, my expectation would be that it will happen before the week is out.

After all, Newspoll — on which so many Labor leaderships have thrived and died — has given the putative plotters the perfect pretext on which to strike.