Karma Bus: Queensland Dashes Shorten’s Only Hope

AN OBJECT LESSON in the dangers of politicians flagging the stupidity of the electorate has come back to haunt Bill Shorten, with a Galaxy poll in Queensland — the epicentre of a strategy to turn Malcolm Turnbull into a Coalition liability — showing federal LNP support now running above the landslide level recorded by Tony Abbott in 2013. Queensland was Shorten’s only hope to become Prime Minister. That hope, deservedly, has been dashed.

Whilst in many ways it is better at prosecuting raw politics than the Coalition is, it never ceases to amaze me just how stupid the ALP can be: and that wanton stupidity has, fittingly, rebounded on Labor with a vengeance.

Some weeks ago, the ALP’s alleged brains trust devised a strategy they thought was just brilliant: with an eye on the suave, urbane, inner-city Sydney-based Malcolm Turnbull, Labor decided that Queensland voters (and voters in regional Queensland seats especially) would find themselves with little in common with the Prime Minister; as the theory went, voters north of the Tweed would find the articulate and indisputably refined Turnbull a character they could not connect with.

The swag of seats the ALP stood to snatch in Queensland, according to this half-arsed plot, was significant, and provided Labor and its useless “leader,” Bill Shorten, could prise the Queenslanders away from the popular Turnbull, then government would be theirs for the taking.

What a pile of shit.

I alluded to this crack-brained scheme a few weeks ago, when elements within the ALP were urging Shorten to “pick a fight” to save his “leadership” and to give Labor a chance to win the looming federal election; at that time I made the observation that suggesting voters in outer suburbs and regional towns couldn’t connect to a figure like Turnbull was tantamount to an insinuation that people in those areas are too stupid to identify with an aspirational and entrepreneurial Prime Minister — and that as sure as night follows day, it would backfire.

Like a visit from the proverbial karma bus, it appears that that is indeed what has now happened.

A Galaxy poll of federal voting intention in Queensland has found a 9% swing, after preferences, to the Coalition in the nine weeks since the Liberal Party dumped Tony Abbott as leader: now ahead of the ALP by a 58-42 margin in the Sunshine State, if such a movement back to the government were uniformly replicated at an election, it would hold the 22 of Queensland’s 30 seats it won in 2013 with 57% of the two-party vote, pick up Clive Palmer’s seat of Fairfax, possibly Bob Katter’s seat of Kennedy (given it can be conclusively shown the Palmer United Party is the only thing that stopped Katter losing to the Nationals last time), and perhaps Lilley and Moreton as well.

Fully a quarter of the federal Coalition’s lower house seats are already situated in Queensland; on these numbers (and remember, Galaxy is among the more historically accurate opinion surveys), Turnbull could conceivably improve quite solidly upon even that.

The message gets worse for Labor, with 61% of Galaxy’s respondents agreeing that Turnbull has the best plan for Queensland, as opposed to a pitiful 14% saying that Shorten did; the same question, posed by Galaxy three months ago, elicited a 40-34 result in Shorten’s favour. It tends to suggest (and especially given the Government’s program under Turnbull hasn’t changed since he replaced Abbott) that the real issue is one of leadership — not policy.

And all of this has taken place against a backdrop of wider opinion polling that, in trend terms, shows Coalition support nationally running at almost 54%: a swing, albeit a small one so far, further toward the Liberal and National Parties based on their 2013 election landslide.

The perspective of Brisbane’s Courier Mail today, as it editorialises the false conclusions Shorten and Labor have drawn this year about their prospects in Queensland, is pinpoint in its accuracy.

Unless you belong to the cabal of ALP insiders or to the irretrievably rusted-on (but dwindling) band of Labor voters, it is impossible to argue that Bill Shorten, or Labor generally, has offered a single reason for people to vote for it aside from disaffection with the Liberal Party under its previous leadership.

That reason is now gone — and so is the cancer of the Credlin-Loughnane duumvirate, whose political “expertise” risked destroying the Coalition’s prospects and consigning the party to oblivion after a single term in office.

Without Abbott, the dastardly duo running things behind the scenes, and the cavalcade of dolts masquerading as astute advisers recruited for compliance with Credlin rather than any efficacy in executing political strategy, Shorten has been shown up as the empty vessel he really is.

And frankly, any political party embarking upon a “strategy” that is essentially predicated on the gullibility and stupidity of voters — to say nothing of the implicit accusation that Queenslanders are too unsophisticated to appreciate someone like Turnbull — beggars belief.

Aside from the shocking insult it lobs at everyone north of the Tweed, it ignores that fact that Labor’s last Prime Minister was worth well over a hundred million dollars, was a Queenslander no less, and was embraced by voters in 2007 in Labor’s best result in that state since 1990.

It also ignores the fact that Malcolm Fraser — probably worth more than Turnbull and Rudd put together — all but obliterated the ALP in Queensland in 1975, repeated the feat in 1977, and held up in Queensland tolerably for the Liberals three years after that.

The notion of wealthy people being spurned at the ballot box by the supposed uncouth rednecks of the Deep North hasn’t been true in the past, and it isn’t true now.

In any case, the fact these considerations were half-baked into an ALP election strategy at all speaks volumes.

Even under Turnbull, the Coalition is not invulnerable; readers know I believe the Prime Minister made what could prove a serious tactical blunder by not calling a pre-Christmas double dissolution election. The longer this term of Parliament runs, the greater the risk the wheels on the Coalition cart will start to wobble, if not perhaps come off altogether.

And a change in the ALP’s own leadership arrangements, which is certainly on the cards — even were it to an unreconstructed socialist like Tanya Plibersek — could change the political dynamic completely, and make it impossible to predict the outcome.

But for now at least, Queensland has signalled that it will not tolerate Bill Shorten as Prime Minister, and this aligns with the other Coalition strongholds of New South Wales and Western Australia also rushing back toward the Liberals, and even Labor-friendly Victoria and South Australia indicating solid movements in the Coalition’s direction.

The smack in the head this result doles out to Shorten and Labor is no less than they deserve.

It is a dangerous pastime for politicians to explicitly tell voters that not only are they stupid, but that their stupidity is the pivotal ingredient in strategic election planning.

Queensland, with its surfeit of marginal Coalition seats, was — on balance — Bill Shorten’s only hope to become Prime Minister.

That hope has been dashed, in a stunning repudiation of the strategy he and his party had cooked up.

One could indeed say the karma bus has paid Shorten a visit. It could hardly be regarded as unwarranted.


Galaxy, With 52% For Labor, Demands “Deficit Tax” Rethink

THE MURDOCH PRESS is carrying the monthly Galaxy poll today, and it isn’t pretty for the Abbott government; with 52% of the vote after preferences, Galaxy finds Labor would win an election held this weekend. It’s not difficult to pinpoint the culprit: the foolish plan to introduce a “deficit tax” in next week’s federal budget, and if this stupid measure is not abandoned prior to budget night, an election loss is likelier than not to materialise.

If I were a Liberal Party MP, about the only thing I would be impressed about in light of the Galaxy Poll in today’s papers is that if personal approval and “preferred PM” questions were canvassed, Galaxy has declined to publish them.

This poll is that bad for the government, despite 48-52 ordinarily being a retrievable position, and the fact part of the survey was conducted prior to the tabling of the recommendations of the Prime Minister’s Commission of Audit suggests the figures Galaxy has released today could in fact represent an overstatement of its findings of Coalition support.

Readers know that I am at pains to emphasise extreme caution when it comes to the interpretation of opinion polling, and in the other 99% of cases I only generally do so in the context of trends identified either in the historical findings of each polling outlet and/or by considering them on a “weighted basket” basis to extract more meaningful conclusions from them.

This is different, as I think readers will agree as we go along.

The Murdoch papers publishing the monthly Galaxy tables today note that primary vote support for the Coalition is sitting at just 39% (-4% from a month ago) and the lowest level recorded since Malcolm Turnbull led the Liberal Party almost five years ago; it sees ALP support at 37% (unch), the Greens on 11% (+1%), the Palmer United Party (why are people even being presented with that as an option?) at 6% (+2%) and “Others” on 7% (+1%).

As noted at the outset, and based on Galaxy’s methodologies, this adds up to a 52-48 election-winning ALP lead after preferences.

On the specific question of a “deficit tax” (a “temporary levy” on incomes over $80,000) Galaxy finds that 72% of its respondents would consider doing so to constitute “a broken promise;” significantly, 52% of Galaxy respondents identifying as Coalition voters took that view as opposed to 41% who did not, and I would note — coincidentally or otherwise — that 41% is almost exactly the primary vote the Coalition scored at the 2007 federal election, lost decisively to the ALP in its moment of Kevin `07 madness.

In other words, it is only the bedrock level of Coalition support that is identified in these findings as potentially prepared to unconditionally exonerate the government if it proceeds with the measure.

(Galaxy also asks whether respondents think that in the “current budgetary environment” the Abbott government should proceed with its controversial paid parental leave scheme; predictably enough 23% said it should and 65% said it shouldn’t, although I’m not concerned about that: I don’t think the policy was responsible for winning too many votes across to the Liberal Party last year and I doubt it will cost many votes if it’s either scaled back, deferred, or abandoned altogether).

Forget the feigned outrage of the pious, sanctimonious leader of the Communist Party Greens, Christine Milne, who claims the Greens will oppose a “deficit tax” on the basis such an initiative constitutes a breach of a promise of no new taxes (which it nonetheless does): the Greens love anything they perceive as “hitting the rich,” and will vote for this in the Senate so quickly Milne’s head will spin.

Forget, too, the opportunistic, hypocritical and abjectly pathetic position picked out by opposition “leader” Bill Shorten that his party will also oppose this measure: Shorten’s party is as committed to slugging “higher income earners” as the Greens are and spent six years in government inventing creatively new ways to do so, including an attempted codification of who “the rich” actually are. Labor’s only motive, if it opposes this measure, will be to inflict chaos and mayhem on the government irrespective of the purported principles it now thunderously claims to champion.

And as I have already pointed out, part of this survey was conducted before the Commission of Audit released its report, and before the notion of an imminent “deficit tax” had fully sunk into the public psyche.

I don’t know whose bright idea this measure was: Malcolm Turnbull has been quoted in the press as expressing shock when informed of it, and senior ministers (Kevin Andrews is one name I’ve seen singled out) are also reported to have had the good sense to demand an explanation as to what the hell this proposal is supposed to be achieving.

Finance minister Matthias Cormann is said to be a champion of the “deficit tax;” whether he, Treasurer Joe Hockey, an adviser in the Prime Minister’s office or even some underling spiv somewhere in the bowels of government has come up with it, whoever was responsible for putting such a stupid concept on the table deserves to be told to pack up their desk on Monday morning and shown out the back door of Parliament House.

I think readers know I would never put too much stock on a single poll. But gut political instinct, combined with talking to a huge number of people — knowledge of the public mood is key to sound political judgement — along with reactions in the media over the past week and now in polling showing an immediate collapse in Coalition support all conspire to convince me I am absolutely right in my judgement.

Here is why a “deficit tax” will cost the Liberal Party government in 2016 if the whole stupid idea isn’t immediately removed from the 2014 budget and never revived.

1. Prior to and during the 2013 election campaign, Tony Abbott was explicit. No new taxes. No nation has ever taxed its way to prosperity. He was right. And he and his colleagues can call it whatever they like, but an impost over a four-year period and set to raise several billion dollars is a new tax.

2. As we have discussed in this column before, $80,000 is by no means a high annual income in today’s Australia. In fact, by setting the threshold of what is euphemistically being sold as a “temporary levy” at that level, the Coalition — if it proceeds with this act of political lunacy — will actively and disproportionately target both its core base and a sizeable proportion of Liberal-inclined floating voters in marginal constituencies. This does not amount to a shrewd strategy.

3. A huge proportion of the people on incomes over $80,000 per annum who will be hit with any “deficit tax” are also situated in families with children who currently receive family tax benefits that are also slated to be chopped back in the budget. In other words, not only will a “deficit tax” disproportionately target Coalition voters, these people (or many of them) will actually be hit twice, making something of a mockery of claims by Hockey that he will “spread the pain around fairly.”

4. The Liberal Party has come to office with a mandate to fix the ungodly mess Labor made of the budget. It secured that mandate by convincing voters that government borrowing and spending are out of control (which they are). It has a clear mandate to slash government spending; even to do so savagely. It most explicitly does not have a mandate for a “deficit levy.”

5. Abbott rightly crucified the Gillard government in particular for its breach of confidence with the electorate in introducing new taxes that were ruled out; for conducting itself with what I have in the past relished calling a fundamental level of dishonesty. So you sow, so too shall you reap, and if Abbott allows his government to proceed down the “deficit levy” path he runs the risk of destroying it.

And 6. At the most basic level, people may like Abbott or hate him; readers know I have been an ardent supporter for decades. But whether the punters shared my view or not, they trusted him. Enough took his word to elect him in a landslide.

There is probably a school of thought in the inner circles of the government — let’s face it, there usually is when a new government delivers its first, tough budget — that by doing this now, people will forget by the time they next go to the polls.


In 1993, Paul Keating won an “unwinnable” election, in part, by promising cuts in personal income tax to match those offered by the Coalition, only without a GST to pay for them; six months later his Treasurer, John Dawkins, introduced a budget that raised sales tax on all taxable goods sold in Australia, and the tax cuts were forgotten about.

The 1993 budget was the single greatest contributor to the defeat of the Keating government three years later; nobody forgot about it: they remembered, kept their baseball bats handy, and put them to devastating effect on 2 March 1996. The Howard government was the result.

It’s certainly true this Galaxy poll shows no movement to the ALP but in political terms, it doesn’t need to: if Labor picks up enough preferences to top up a 37% primary vote (which, to be honest, it almost did in 2010) then a win is a win is a win. And 52% of the two-party vote is significantly better than Julia Gillard achieved, and would be more than enough to deliver Labor government.

Even if by accident.

The “deficit tax” does not represent a “Gillard moment” for Tony Abbott.

Rather, the appropriate analogy is with Keating, 20 years ago; and just as those who were aggrieved by Keating’s betrayal maintained their anger in the wake of the 1993 budget, the same thing will happen to Abbott if he fails to dismiss the “deficit levy” as nothing more than a thought bubble that got a bit too much airplay before it was deliberately burst.

There are some things opinion polling simply isn’t required to ascertain. This issue is one of those. If the Abbott government proceeds with its proposal for a “deficit tax” it will face almost certain defeat in 2016. It gives me no pleasure to say so, but the ramifications of this silly idea are as stark as that.



Galaxy Poll: The Road To Nowhere For Labor

GALAXY has released a poll for the Sunday Murdoch papers, taken after the culmination of the ALP’s antics on Thursday; it shows Labor remaining behind the Coalition 45-55, growing support for Tony Abbott’s call for an immediate election, and the Labor Party speeding down a road to nowhere.

With the benefit of 24 additional hours to reflect on what took place in Australian politics this week, I’m still shaking my head in disbelief; I have seen a lot in politics over almost 30 years, and nothing surprises or shocks me, but this was something else.

Whichever way you cut it, I’m absolutely certain the ALP signed its own death warrant on Thursday: that is, of course, if its exit papers weren’t already well and truly stamped, which they probably were.

The disunity, the bickering, the simmering tensions and the hostility — to say nothing of the plotting and scheming and intrigue going on behind (supposedly) closed doors — betrays a deeply dysfunctional political outfit that will be lucky to hold together following the coming poleaxing it is set to receive at the hands of fed-up and angry voters.

And we all know that Labor is hardly adept at governing in its present state.

With these initial observations in mind, Galaxy has a poll taken to gauge the public response to this week’s shenanigans, and if your politics are of the Labor stripe, the message isn’t pleasant and the picture is not a pretty sight.

It finds primary support for the ALP at bang on 32% — exactly the level sacked minister Simon Crean stipulated it was impossible to win an election from, and which level could not be consistently recorded merely as the result of ongoing leadership instability.

He’s right, of course; the ALP’s problems are more deeply seated than that, but we go on.

Support for the Coalition sits at 47% (-1% since the last Galaxy survey a fortnight ago); the Greens are on 12% (+1) with “Others” unchanged at 9%.

On one level, you could take the kindly view and say it could be worse for the ALP in the circumstances; but a 55-45 lead to the Coalition — replicated at an election — would still hand Tony Abbott 96 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, and the consequent 44-seat majority would be enough to ensure at least two terms, and possibly three, before the ALP could even get within cooee of again forming government.

Galaxy finds Tony Abbott leading Julia Gillard, 37-33, on the “preferred Prime Minister” measure; the relatively high “undecided” vote (between two leaders who have faced off against each other for three years) tends to underscore the presence of Kevin Rudd in respondents’ calculations — which reflects more on Gillard than on Abbott.

But where this poll starts to get interesting is when it begins to drill down into respondents’ preferences, having regard to the brouhaha we witnessed this week over an abortive potential coup to remove Gillard and replace her with Rudd.

Asked who would lead the ALP to the election, 59% overall nominated Gillard against just 21% for Rudd, which is fair enough given the coup attempt was botched (by Rudd’s lieutenants) and given Rudd has now essentially ruled out ever contesting the Labor leadership again (not that he had any alternative).

Asked whether Labor did the right thing replacing Rudd with Gillard in 2010, 32% said yes and 53% said no, which predictably enough is coloured by 28% of Coalition voters saying it did, and 61% that it didn’t.

Ask the Labor voters though, and 46% said replacing Rudd with Gillard was the right thing to do, and 43% said it wasn’t — very evenly split.

Respondents were asked whether they thought the Office of Prime Minister had been damaged by ALP leadership instability; 71% said yes and 21% said no, but it was much closer with Labor voters, who returned a 56-39 answer to the question.

Asked whether Gillard is now the only legitimate leader of the ALP or a lame duck, the overall result (26% saying she was the only legitimate leader, with 60% saying she’s a lame duck) was again a closer affair among Labor-inclined people, who split 47-39 in favour of Gillard’s legitimacy.

And finally, questioned about whether Rudd has been honourable and true to his word in relation to the leadership — or whether he is acting like a prima donna — the overall result of 55-29 in favour of Rudd being an honourable chap was actually reflected, within a few points, across all parties’ support, even Labor’s.

The point is that this Galaxy poll points to a Labor Party deeply divided down the middle, if its findings are in fact reflective of Labor sympathies in the electorate at large.

In many ways, Rudd vs Gillard is Labor’s own version of Howard vs Peacock in the 1980s; in that rivalry, the support of the party oscillated between the two, but the real reason it caused the Liberal Party so much damage is that the party was riven right down the middle for a decade.

Just like Labor is now.

As I have been writing — and harking back to my opening remarks, shaking my head in disbelief — I have been trying to think of an episode as pointless, destructive and as devoid in any logic or rational strategic thought as what occurred this week.

Howard and Peacock provide the answer.

After Malcolm Fraser lost the 1983 election, Peacock and Howard contested the Liberal leadership, with the urbane, more experienced Peacock beating Howard 36 votes to 20.

The rivalry between the two men dated back to their time as ministers under Fraser, and the relationship between Peacock as leader and Howard as his deputy was an uneasy one; Howard himself has since publicly stated that Fraser urged him to challenge Peacock after the 1984 election was called to “knock him off.”

Instead, Peacock faced Hawke in 1984, and won back some ground for the Coalition. But tension was never far beneath the surface, and in September 1985 Peacock confronted Howard in the party room, alleging Howard had been insufficiently loyal after a comment he had made to the press.

Effectively, Peacock challenged his own deputy: in a vote intended to replace Howard with Queenslander John Moore, Howard prevailed; Peacock resigned, Howard was elected leader, and the rest of the political world gasped in astonishment at what had transpired.

It had been mindless, brainless, inexplicable, and it had already been simmering away for years; the end result was to keep the Liberals from power for 13 years until Howard — ironically — led them from the wilderness in 1996, having been deposed himself by Peacock seven years earlier.

Those who recall will know the feud didn’t end with Peacock’s defeat in 1990, either.

It’s not widely known outside political circles, for example, that John Hewson’s leadership was backed by Peacock (to help block Howard ally Peter Reith), or that Alexander Downer’s ill-fated stint leading the Liberals carried the explicit imprimatur of Howard, who pragmatically backed an ally believing his own time might have passed, before returning as leader himself in 1995.

The reason I tell this story is because right now, the ALP is in a virtually identical position; the Rudd-Gillard rivalry was alive and well some years before the pair led Labor to office in 2007, and as Howard and Peacock showed, opposition — where Labor will soon dwell — is no bar to a fight over the spoils of electoral failure.

I tend to think the ALP will continue its stolid, stoic march toward defeat; fighting quietly behind the scenes and leaking gently but lethally when indicated, the party is little more than a rabble, and one set to be dealt a harsh lesson by voters very soon.

Simon Crean was right — Labor couldn’t continue the way it has done in recent times, and expect to win. But it will, and it won’t, respectively.

And the generation of Liberals 20, 30 years ago provide a reasonable indicator of how the ALP’s bickering might pan out.

In the meantime, on Monday night there is Newspoll; it’s almost guaranteed to be a shocker for Labor, and its message of electoral Armageddon artificially amplified by the fact that the previous Newspoll — a relatively cosy 48-52 deficit to the Coalition — was a rogue.

Indeed — in light of the non-coup which Labor undertook on Thursday — I described the coming Newspoll that night as “a barrel of fun for the ALP about which it is now effectively hamstrung from doing anything.”

So it will be, and it’s inconceivable that the poor polling experienced by Labor can do anything but continue apace now until it is removed from office.

So we wait for Monday night; I will post as soon as I see the figures.

In the meantime — and speaking personally — it would be nice to post about a different subject tomorrow night! We’ll see what the day brings.

But I leave readers with the thought that the next test for Gillard Labor is her reshuffle; based on the systematic removal (voluntarily or otherwise) of an increasing number of the MPs loyal to Rudd from consideration, that too promises to be an exercise fraught with danger, and seemingly an open invitation to Gillard to do herself even more damage.

AND ANOTHER THING: Kevin Rudd may have promised, effectively, to never contest the ALP leadership again; following John Howard’s defeat at the 1987 election, Andrew Peacock said publicly — having been beaten, 41-28, by a Liberal Party re-endorsing Howard as its leader — that he might be interested in becoming Liberal leader again in “10, 20 years’ time.” The reality is that less than two years later, Peacock’s allies instigated a brutal overnight coup, ousting Howard, and Peacock went on to lose the “unloseable” 1990 election to Bob Hawke. Think about it…Labor is on the same slippery slope.

Three New Polls Point To Landslide Defeat For Labor, Gillard

One day late — an IT glitch delayed Essential publishing its report — but the numbers are in and they’re damning; with an average 55-45 split against the Gillard government, these polls are a disaster for Labor, and underscore the magnitude of the task the government faces approaching a difficult election.

By now most readers will have seen some or all of the numbers; indeed, I made fleeting comment of them the other night in my article on Gillard’s announcement of an eight-month election campaign.

Even so — and notwithstanding we haven’t done a “poll watch” for a while — regular readers will know I am loathe to take individual polls in isolation, but together they can be useful to validate each other’s numbers and to show trends in voting intent.

To that end, we now have Newspoll from The Australian showing the Coalition ahead of Labor by a 56-44 margin after preferences (up 5% since its previous survey three weeks ago); Galaxy and Essential are showing Coalition leads unchanged from their previous surveys of 54-46.

It is unknown when Nielsen will next publish a poll on federal voting intent, so we have three of the four main polls to work with — and that’s enough this time.

I’m calling the average of these at 55-45, on the basis Essential’s survey numbers are rolling (i.e. this week’s result is an amalgam of surveys undertaken last week and this week), and because its primary vote numbers show a slight edging up of the Liberal vote at the expense of Labor (which in turn is partly due to the rounding Essential does that sometimes sees its numbers add up to 99% or 101%).

Speaking of primary votes — Newspoll has the ALP down 6% to 32% and the Coalition up 4% to 48%, with the Communist Party The Greens unchanged on 9%; Essential’s numbers are for the Coalition unchanged on 48% (with that 1% increase in the Liberal component I mentioned, from 44% to 45%), Labor down one point to 34%, and The Greens unchanged on 10%; and Galaxy shows Labor up a point to 35%, the Coalition unchanged on 48%, and The Greens down a point to 10%.

Newspoll last published a poll three weeks ago, showing the Coalition lead at 51-49 and the government gaining ground; at the time (despite not discussing it here) I called it as a rogue poll: smack in the middle of the silly season and school holidays, it was too far out of kilter with the late polls that came through at the end of 2012 to be regarded as reliable.

So it has proven.

The point is that with all three polls now effectively telling the same story — and the numbers are so similar as to be at the lower end of the margin of error — I’m fairly confident they cancel each other’s errors out.

At 55-45 in the Coalition’s favour, we’re talking about a 5.1% swing to the Liberals and Nationals based on the 2010 election result; if uniformly replicated at an election this weekend, this would see Abbott easily elected, with the Coalition taking 94 of the 150* House of Representatives seats and achieving a majority of 38 over all other parties.

Galaxy and Newspoll asked questions about approval or otherwise of the respective leaders, with Newspoll asking the question of who respondents preferred as Prime Minister (which was Gillard by a 41-39 margin, down from 45-33 last time).

Unsurprisingly, both polls recorded increases in the popularity of Tony Abbott and decreases in his unpopularity number, and decreases in Gillard’s personal approval and an increase in the corresponding disapproval figure.

It’s fairly obvious that these movements are across the board; Labor has lost a large amount of ground so far this year.

It’s no surprise, given its shambolic start and the issues, scandals and stunts feeding this type of research: the abandonment of the surplus promise, the knifing of a sitting Senator, ICAC hearings airing the party’s filthy laundry in NSW, the charging of Craig Thomson with fraud offences, the stunt announcement of an election date and the rash of additional resignations from the government are all feeding into this.

It’s well known that I believe this government is terminal, and that its position is irretrievable; for two years now, its numbers in reputable opinion polling have fluctuated between modest defeat and absolute annihilation.

With these polls, the trend is in the direction of the latter.

Labor is counting on ill-discipline and uncosted policies from the Coalition to get it across the line; it won’t get the former — Tony Abbott has been nothing if not disciplined, and will continue to be — and in regard to the latter, it’s becoming likely that the desire to get rid of the ALP at all costs will trump any counting errors that may (or may not) appear in Coalition policies.

Everything it has tried to use as a circuit-breaker (including the silly announcement of the poll date) has failed and/or backfired; even the malicious, dishonest “misogyny” slur against Abbott now appears to be rewarded with the only thing it deserves: a loss of votes.

I’d expect Labor, and its erstwhile leader in particular, to look and sound increasingly panicked in the next few weeks.

Expect some shrill announcements, a fair bit of overkill and — as we have come to expect — the odd stunt or three, and a large helping of spin to go with them.

As for a leadership challenge, however…we might talk about it later in the week, but for now I’m still thinking about the possibilities of it.

Even so, were the ALP to venture down that path, they would have one chance: to get it right, to put the right candidate up against Gillard, and to make damned sure whoever it is wins; another unsuccessful leadership ballot will render the government even more dysfunctional than it already is, and bring the business of governance to a grinding halt until a general election can be held, be it on 14 September or otherwise.

*Assumes electorates of New England and Lyne — currently held by Independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott — being won by the National Party.

Gillard Stunt: Pointless Election Announcement To Compound ALP Woes

In a typically cynical yet inexplicable move, Prime Minister Julia Gillard “called” an election on Wednesday for 14 September; this less-than-clever manoeuvre will rebound on Labor, and as the past few days have shown, provides a heightened capacity for events to explode in Gillard’s face.

WHY DID SHE DO IT? I’m at a loss to find a single positive reason for this politically foolish announcement. My initial thought was that it was a distraction to kill ongoing comment over her actions to preselect Nova Peris to the Senate — stirring up a hornet’s nest in so doing — but now I don’t think it’s even about that.

Gillard says it’s about providing certainty and getting on with the job of governing, but as any follower of politics in this country knows by now, it’s impossible to take any of Gillard’s pronouncements at face value: there is always an ulterior motive.

First things first, though: importantly, for those readers not versed in the finer points of Australian elections and the law which governs them, I point out that 14 September, as it stands, is just a date; it has absolutely no legal standing, or binding certainty, as the date of the coming election whatsoever.

It may eventually prove to be the actual date, but that won’t be confirmed for months.

It is certainly true that some sections of the media law which governs the coverage of elections are triggered by an announcement of the kind Gillard has made; accordingly, Tony Abbott will now be given greater media coverage in line with requirements for this to be equal between the parties, and this can really only work to advantage the Coalition.

But one thing all readers should be clear about is that 14 September is not binding; the Prime Minister has simply announced a date.

So let’s not allow any delusions to set in that she’s actually even “done” something here.

As I explained a few days ago after Dobell MP Craig Thomson was charged with fraud offences, the actual “calling” of an election is a complex process involving a dissolution of Parliament and the issue of writs and other legal steps that cannot be taken in relation to a 14 September election until much nearer the date; with a half-Senate election also due and which for constitutional reasons can only be called after 1 July, the formal measures to “call” the 2013 election can’t be taken until July at the earliest.

(Unless there is an early election for the House of Representatives only, throwing the two Houses out of sync electorally; it’s still possible, but increasingly unlikely).

Let’s move on…from here, for the sake of simplicity, we will assume the election will occur as Gillard has said it will on 14 September, and so I will refer to “14 September” in the context of it being the likely election date.

The first effect of Gillard’s announcement is to clash with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement); it’s the holiest day of the year for Jewish people, and will force most of Australia’s 107,000 Jews to vote by post rather than in person at the day.

Not all will be affected; the more orthodox sections of the Jewish community certainly will be, whilst less strict Jews, as I understand, may vote in person (Gillard’s MP and marginal seat holder in Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby — a Jew — says he will “boycott” polling day owing to it coinciding with Yom Kippur this year).

The timing won’t enhance Gillard’s standing in a community which is normally slightly pro-Coalition overall, but is now enraged at the ALP’s abstention from a vote at the United Nations last year to admit Palestine as a member state. The Jewish community had wanted the bid opposed by Australia (which is also the position of this column).

The Jewish community is largely concentrated in six electorates in Sydney and Melbourne, although beyond that it’s thinly spread far wider; this consideration won’t have any practical bearing on Labor prospects in Liberal seats such as Wentworth (NSW) and Goldstein (Vic), but it could add to the mix of headaches faced in marginal ALP electorates such as Kingsford-Smith (NSW) and Danby’s seat in Melbourne.

A greater motivator for Gillard to announce a date now is the Labor leadership; nobody would deny her government has got off to a horrific political start to the year, and consideration of the security of her tenure is likely at the forefront of Gillard’s reasoning in attempting to lock her party in behind her.

But the first real opinion polling for the year is filtering through as I write; we’ll look at it tomorrow, but Newspoll is showing a 56-44 Coalition lead (an increase of 5% in three weeks); Galaxy is showing an unchanged Coalition lead, 54-46. Essential is due tomorrow afternoon.

So it’s clear the government starts the election year facing a herculean task to remain competitive and — in a quick comment on those two polls — it’s obvious that the “bounce” Gillard got from smearing Tony Abbott as a misogynist is now gone, and that the government’s other shenanigans have caught up with it.

Obviously, the massacre that Labor has looked like suffering for most of this parliamentary term is still well and truly on track to materialise.

Little wonder Gillard is looking over her shoulder.

And what won’t help her on this score is the fact that MPs loyal to Kevin Rudd have been over-represented in the ranks of Labor’s departing sitting members; the clear signal is that the Prime Minister is replacing them with Gillard candidates — guaranteed to support her, or at least follow her lead in electing a successor following an election defeat.

This may turn out to be a gross strategic miscalculation; until they actually leave Parliament, these MPs retain votes inside the ALP party room; in any move against the Prime Minister — by Kevin Rudd or anyone else — they would still be able to vote against her.

Labor types have let it be known that the 14 September announcement is all about locking Tony Abbott into the Liberal leadership, and forcing him to release details of costed policies; if this is true, then a colossal error of judgement has been made.

The ALP doesn’t need to “lock” Abbott into his leadership; he isn’t going anywhere. More to the point, former leader Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t have support in the Liberal Party room to mount a challenge and — even if he did — would likely fail, given his poor record as leader the first time and the likelihood the Liberals’ poll lead would evaporate overnight.

Tony Abbott mightn’t have the best personal opinion numbers right now, but the ALP would be well-served in remembering that John Howard’s in 1995-96 were little better, and in 1985-89 were simply abysmal. Howard went on to win four elections and spend nearly 12 years as Prime Minister, and this is one history lesson Labor ignores at its peril as it comforts itself with the myth of the “unelectable” Tony Abbott.

Who, incidentally, went one seat short of turning the present administration into the first one-term government in Australia in 80 years in 2010 in a virtually single-handed effort.

As has been widely reported in the mainstream press, all the election announcement has done is provide the Coalition with a timetable to plan its own campaign around; Abbott and his colleagues won’t release anything until they are good and ready, irrespective of the amount of mouth-foaming fury this elicits from their opposite numbers in the ALP.

And that, of course, is as it should be.

The charging of Craig Thomson is a more difficult issue to discuss in the context of Gillard’s election announcement; it seems obvious Thomson knew the charges were coming, given his public statements; Gillard claims to have had no knowledge that they would be laid the day after announcing the 14 September date.

What should we believe? I’m actually inclined to take Gillard’s denial of knowledge that Thomson would be charged on Thursday at face value, although I would add the rider that if Thomson did, indeed, know — broadly speaking — that he would be charged, but was uncertain of the timing, that it’s likely Gillard had at least that level of forewarning also.

Anything else, I’m afraid, beggars belief.

In that context, and to be fair to Gillard, it is inconceivable that she (or her minders) would think an election announcement would cover her against the fallout from Thomson being charged; after all, the Craig Thomson matter has been a public circus that has played out for years now, and has galvanised the opinions of ordinary folk across the country.

And significantly, it’s the Thomson charges and the “shock” resignations of Chris Evans and Nicola Roxon that continue to be discussed; if anything, the election announcement has — temporarily — been cast aside.

So far from announcing an election date being an attempt to shield the government from the Thomson charges, it’s fairer to say the Thomson charges are an unwanted hand grenade that has exploded in the Labor nest at precisely the wrong time.

This is the political problem with events; plan until you’re blue in the face, and things just happen.

Speaking of Roxon and Evans — and the grin of delight at news of Roxon’s departure still sits smugly on my face — I would suggest that if Gillard had the degree of advance knowledge of their resignations as she claims, why weren’t the resignations cleared up before Christmas?

Specifically, why was Roxon made Attorney-General barely a year ago if Gillard had a year’s knowledge of her intended resignation, as she says she did?

And if the resignations were intended as a clearing of the decks, why isn’t there any evidence of succession planning either for the Senate leadership of the ALP, or for the causal Senate vacancy Evans will shortly create?

I tend to think the reality is somewhere in the middle; that there probably was some warning that the duo intended to quit, but its timing was rather shorter than is being presented to the media and to the public.

Either way — like most things handled by Gillard’s government — the resignations have been dealt with poorly, in an abject public relations disaster, and have simply created yet another political problem for the ALP.

My own assessment of the reason for Gillard’s announcement of an election date — notwithstanding the other points I have made here — is that it was intended as a move to put Gillard on a presidential pedestal, in yet another attempted makeover of her persona; to attempt to draw a line under the litany of disasters, scandals, broken promises and self-immolating stunts that have been the hallmark of her government; and to seek to avert (on the “I dare you” template) similar crises that might lob into the ALP’s lap between now and 14 September.

Sadly, it is, at its root, just another stunt; like all the others it will compound Labor’s woes, not ameliorate them.

The scope now exists for Australia to endure months of meaningless campaigning — despite Gillard’s solemn promises of “certainty”  — punctuated by further scandals afflicting Gillard’s government, and as a backdrop to the spectacle of more resignations, disendorsements and hatchet jobs occurring on the Labor side of the political divide.

It is difficult to see anyone or anything — other than Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party — deriving any benefit from Gillard’s election date in the next seven months.

Finally, I would simply make the observation that Gillard may not keep her date with the voters on 14 September at all; despite the guarantee of “certainty” and getting on with governing, it would be entirely consistent with her proven elasticity with promises and the repeatedly self-obsessed method in which her government operates, should a favourable opinion poll present itself, to race off to the polls — and to hell with the consequences.

And of course, if she were rolled in a leadership coup before August, all bets would be off.

AND ANOTHER THING: What’s with the new glasses Gillard is being seen wearing everywhere in the past few days? There might be a legitimate reason for it, but there’s a smell of an image makeover about it too. Does she want to look more authoritative, or in control, or even aloof? The PM should ditch the spin and the specs, and stick to contacts.

Triple Whammy: New Polls Shatter Gillard Bedrock

Three new opinion polls in the past 48 hours — from Galaxy, Essential Research and Newspoll — have all recorded hefty movements away from Julia Gillard and Labor. Surely, given the poll-driven nature of the ALP, Gillard’s demise is now a simple question of when.

The first raft of multiple polls in quite some time is in tonight, and its message is damning for the Prime Minister; each of the three polls in isolation conveys bad news, but bundled and averaged — and any discrepancies thereby cancelled out — the figures spell disaster for the Labor Party under its present leadership.

Tomorrow’s Newspoll for The Australian is the worst of the three, although it should be pointed out that Newspoll researchers were still conducting fieldwork yesterday following Gillard’s pitiful attempt at shoring up her position by “jettisoning” Messrs Thomson and Slipper.

Even so, these polls are diabolical; let’s look at the figures, then talk them through.

Primary Vote

Newspoll — ALP 27% (-2%); Lib/NP 51% (+3%)

Galaxy — ALP 30% (-4%); Lib/NP 49% (+2%); Greens 13% (+1%); Others 8%

Essential — ALP 31% (unch); Lib/NP 50% (+1); Greens 11% (unch); Others 8%

Two-Party Vote

Newspoll — ALP 41% (-3%), Lib/NP 59% (+3%)

Galaxy — ALP 44% (-2%), Lib/NP 56% (+2%)

Essential — ALP 43% (-1%), Lib/NP 57% (+1%)

Preferred Prime Minister

Newspoll — Gillard 36% (-3%), Abbott 41% (unch)

Galaxy and Essential did not ask this question in their current opinion samples.

At time of writing, I do not have the approval/disapproval figures for Abbott and Gillard from Newspoll (our early source @ghostwhovotes doesn’t always publish these immediately) but what we’ve got gives a clear enough picture.

Look at the ALP primary vote; it doesn’t even average 30% across the three polls, and — bearing in mind Essential’s methodology typically produces kinder results for the ALP than do the other polls, an aggregate primary vote of 28-29% for Labor is probably about right based on these numbers.

All three polls show movement away from Labor on both the primary and the two-party measures; it is true that these movements are modest, but they continue a slow but continuous trend of movement away from the ALP that began as soon as the Rudd challenge to Gillard’s leadership was concluded.

The trend line for the two-party vote on these numbers is roughly 57.5% to the Coalition; a swing away from the ALP of 7.6% since the 2010 election, and one which if replicated at an election would see the coalition win 107 of the 150 House of Representatives seats, Labor 41, Katter 1 and Adam Bandt to retain the seat of Melbourne for the Greens.

I have scored Melbourne off to the Greens on account of the collapse in the ALP vote (much of which would transfer to the Greens in that seat) and the fact Bandt would likely be re-elected on ALP preferences.

If these figures materialised at an election, Labor would be wiped out in WA and the NT; be left with one seat only in Queensland (if Rudd held on in Griffith); and suffer heavy losses across the remainder of the country, including 13 seats in NSW alone.

Since Julia Gillard’s carbon tax announcement in March last year — breaking a solemn election promise — there have been individual opinion polls tabled that are, solus, worse for the ALP. But the “basket” of concurrent figures across these three polls represent the single worst polling position, overall, that Labor has found itself in for nearly 15 years.

The only figures on the “Preferred PM” in these surveys — from Newspoll — sees Tony Abbott consolidate a lead over Gillard, increasing from two points clear to five points clear.

The other polls did not ask this question this time around. Even so, the Newspoll figure would give Gillard pause for thought, and her backers and detractors much to think about; this, traditionally, is a very difficult measure for an opposition leader to win, and Abbott has won it more often than not for well over a year now.

Galaxy asked respondents whether they wanted Independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott to support a no-confidence vote in the Gillard government and force an election; 52% said they wanted this to occur and 38% didn’t. Significantly, more than one in five respondents identifying as Labor supporters also wanted the early election option.

Galaxy also found that 58% of its respondents thought the ALP was desperately clinging to power; 37% said Labor was doing a good job in government in difficult times but again, 25% of “Labor voters” were of the view the government is desperate to cling to power.

Essential asked about an early election now as well, with more even results; a narrow plurality of its respondents favoured the government running full term. But 42% still wanted an early election now, which is hardly a vote in favour of Gillard and her government.

Looking at these numbers from an overall perspective, the picture isn’t pretty from an ALP perspective.

All the stunts, own goals, misjudgements and everything else are now flowing into Labor’s polling numbers, with the clear indication that the bad polls recorded early in this term of government are now firming, and becoming permanent judgements.

For Gillard — whose leadership is now being called into question — these numbers may just be the difference to tip party hardheads into commencing the process of replacing her. After all, the numbers can’t get much worse before something has to happen.

But for Labor, the real risk is that Windsor and Oakeshott start behaving like the conservative independents they purport to be, and withdraw their support for the government. Were that to happen, the polling numbers here might well become reality.

My sense is that we will see more numbers like this; they are not an aberration. It will be interesting to see how they affect the goings-on in Canberra in the coming week leading up to the resumption of Parliament for the budget session.

Newspoll: Coalition 57, ALP 43; Essential 56 Coalition, ALP 44

The week’s polls are in: Essential Research shows the Coalition at 56% (-1% from last week) and Labor at 44% (+1%).

As we have discussed, there aren’t any other findings from Essential; they don’t ask the approval questions of the leaders/preferred PM questions every week.

The slight movement back to Labor is — again — wholly inside the margin of error for these polls, which means the movement could well be meaningless.

That brings us to Newspoll, to be published in tomorrow’s edition of The Australian, which on the two-party vote shows the Coalition on 57% (+1% over the fortnight) and the ALP on 43% (-1%).

Including the polls last week, we now have Nielsen at 58/42, Newspoll at 57/43, and Essential at 56/44. It surely doesn’t take Einstein to see that these polls clearly point to the Coalition at 57% of the vote after preferences, especially given the three polls have recorded slight movement in both directions, yet wholly within the margin of sampling error.

This in turn translates to a swing of 6.8% since the election last year. If repeated uniformly at an election, the composition of the House of Representatives would be Liberal/National Coalition 102, Labor 47, and Independents (Katter) 1.

I’m presuming that the seats of Windsor and Oakeshott would both return to the National Party, and that those of Bandt (Greens) and Wilkie would return to Labor.

Even so, we’re talking about the second-largest win at an election in Australian history, behind only the landslide scored by Malcolm Fraser in 1975. And depending on how the votes might fall in individual electorates, it could well be the biggest.

This voting pattern is getting to be very settled now; clearly, it is going to take something monumental to shift voter sentiment back towards Labor — if, indeed, such a shift is even possible now.

My call some weeks ago that the polls would bounce around in a narrow band seems vindicated, although the band they’re bouncing in is slightly more advantageous to the Coalition than I had anticipated.

Breaking Newspoll down a bit, it isn’t hard to see what the problem is: Labor is again recording a mere 27% of the primary vote, as opposed to 47% for the Coalition and 14% for the Greens.

On the measure of the underlying vote, this equates to 51% for the Coalition, 37% for Labor, and 12% for “others” — which again means that Labor has already lost outright at the election even before non-Green preferences have been distributed.

And I gather Newspoll also shows Abbott continuing to head Gillard on the preferred PM question, 39-38, as well as recording slight deteriorations in both their personal standings.

It’s hard to see — in this case — how Abbott’s ratings have deteriorated, given he has been in Europe on holiday; still, that’s the finding.

Gillard, on the other hand, has been around: her attempted change of agenda, combined with the Craig Thomson scandal, have obviously hit the government.

As expected.

It’s fairly clear voter sentiment, as measured in the reputable polls, is now settled.

And with the whiff of scandal around the government now becoming a malodorous stench, it’s hard to see that changing.

ALP hardheads are bargaining on the introduction of their carbon tax next year as a circuit-breaker; the story goes that when the sky fails to fall in subsequent to that event, people will rush back to the Labor Party in retaliation against a Coalition scare campaign.

The problem for Labor is that it may not be in office on 1 July next year.

It may not be in office by Christmas this year.

And if it’s gone at any time in the next six to nine months, its carbon tax-inspired revival will be wishful thinking.

These poll numbers won’t be, though. They’ll be Labor’s worst nightmare come true.