Newspoll: Life Ebbing From Malcolm Turnbull’s Government

LEST ANY DOUBT remain over the government’s luck in winning the July election, Newspoll finds Labor leading the Coalition, 52-48; as PM Malcolm Turnbull’s fortunes continue to slide and those of opposition “leader” Bill Shorten somehow edge higher, all indicators since 2 July suggest Turnbull’s “win” was a mere punctuation point on a downward spiral. Should it continue, the Liberal leadership will soon enough be a speculative proposition.

Ten days out from the 2 July election, a reasonably senior figure in Liberal Party circles rang me to gauge my views on the likely outcome of election; with characteristic bluntness, I told him I thought we were fucked — and added that if Bill Shorten could get the ALP to 72 seats or better, it was almost impossible to see how Labor could be prevented from forming a government.

Happily, the ALP fell three seats short of the target I nominated, probably (and perversely) because its so-called Mediscare campaign was the point an over-confident and just-too-clever Shorten overreached badly, scaring just enough punters out of switching sides in the final week to deliver up the narrowest majority election win* in Australian political history.

Once polling day was out of the way, two articles in this column dealt with the situation into which Turnbull had strode: the first, suggesting the Coalition would have been better off in opposition than minority was of course quickly overtaken by the tiny outright majority his government scored, but the second — based on the premise that Turnbull’s victory would be one to regret — remains very much a telling one.

And frankly, the Liberal Party would probably be better off in opposition, rebuilding under a new leader, and waiting for Hurricane Shorten to renew the carnage that is Labor’s appalling Rudd-Gillard era track record of economic and social leadership.

Today’s Newspoll in The Australian finds the ALP leading the government 52-48 after preferences; an increase in its share of the two-party vote of 2%, this equates to a swing to Labor of 2.4% since polling day that if replicated at an election would deliver up an extra 12 seats to the ALP for a total of 81, and a 12-seat overall majority in the House of Representatives.

Just in case anyone thinks I’m jumping straight to conclusions based on one poll, it should be noted that the weekly surveys conducted by Essential Research have shown Labor at a 52-48 lead ever since the election; ReachTel has been a sliver kinder to the government (albeit still showing it trailing 51-49 in its last findings) and with three months now basically gone since polling day, it does rather look as if people have settled in their judgement that whatever else they might think of the election, its outcome and what has since transpired, they don’t want Malcolm Turnbull.

I’m not going to run through every little detail of today’s poll, suffice to observe that the Coalition primary vote of 38% (42.1% on polling day) is its lowest share recorded by Newspoll since Tony Abbott was replaced; Abbott actually fared better in his final Newspoll, with 39%, for an overall result little different to this one.

It was a run of 30 consecutive losing Newspolls, Turnbull said, that justified a change of leadership in the Liberal Party.

Which, if I’m sarcastic about it, was just as well, because Turnbull’s true personal approval numbers sure as hell couldn’t justify it: Newspoll’s recent pre- and post-election findings well and truly prove that Turnbull’s standing in the electorate has returned to the abysmal levels at which it stood at the end of his first stint as Liberal leader seven years ago, with just 32% (-2%) of respondents saying they approved of his performance, and 55% (+2%) disapproving.

Tony Abbott, in retrospect and by contrast, looks only marginally less popular: and on a good day, even as support for him within his party evaporated, he actually fared better than Turnbull’s numbers now.

It is true Bill Shorten is now (fractionally) more popular — albeit through the clenched teeth of voters — than Turnbull, with 36% of respondents approving his performance and 51% disapproving, with both of those numbers moving one point in the right direction; and it is true that Turnbull remains “preferred PM” among Newspoll respondents (for now at least), with 44% of them nominating the Prime Minister as opposed to 33% for Shorten.

Yet even Kevin Rudd remained preferred Prime Minister over both Turnbull and Abbott prior to his own dumping as PM in mid-June 2010, so there goes the veracity of that fig leaf as any kind of justification for Turnbull to cling to.

As leadership becomes more and more central to the way politics in this country is reported, the observation simply must be made that far from the exciting, broadly popular and (dare I say it) innovative leader Turnbull promised to be last year, it has become clear that he remains in fact the jaundiced, failed and rejected specimen he had become by the time he was dumped in favour of Abbott late in 2009.

The voters — who initially flirted with flocking to him in droves — have worked Turnbull out; the army of Lefties who claimed to intend to vote Liberal to support him is nowhere to be seen (as predicted). In fact, the only time Turnbull was ever going to win an election convincingly was five minutes after sinking the knife between Abbott’s shoulder blades, and in this sense the political ineptitude and stupidity of not calling a December election, as insistently called for in this column at the time, is now breathtakingly clear for all to see.

I still believe that Tony Abbott, whom I supported for many years until his refusal to dispatch Peta Credlin from his office, would have lost the most recent election.

But even had it done so under Turnbull, the ALP would now be accruing electoral demerit points under its obscenity of a leader. Instead, the Coalition now shows every sign of embarking on a three-year torturefest that can only end in a thumping defeat.

In this sense, I attracted considerable opprobrium late last year for breaking a story that suggested Bill Shorten was set to quit the ALP leadership, as his own flaws and the fallout from the union Royal Commission rendered him seemingly unelectable; of course, the Federal Police raid on the home of Turnbull minister Mal Brough signalled a get-out-of-jail-free card for Shorten, and he survived: with more than a little subsequent help from the supposedly bold new government Turnbull appeared determined to steer into rocky waters.

But the plot was definitely on — and has been widely reported since — and just as Shorten was a dead man walking late last year, so too he may become again.

Labor doesn’t need the mythical 40% primary vote to win an election, thanks to preferential voting, and even with its winning position today it still doesn’t have it, mustering 38% in this Newspoll.

But there are already those who muse behind the closed, tribal ALP door that if they replace Shorten with a more substantial and less cynically opportunistic figure, victory in 2019 will become that much more achievable.

And they are probably right.

For Turnbull, the danger now is that it won’t matter what his government achieves, or how much of the wafer-thin agenda it took to the election it manages to legislate; Malcolm Turnbull is a lame duck and a damaged leader, devoid of credibility, and the voters know it. His political opponents know it. A growing number of his MPs know it. The risk is that, just like Julia Gillard, any “achievements” he can boast merely drive the nails deeper into his own political coffin.

Personally, I think that whilst the polls will bounce around — and they will, especially if the fatuous Shorten gets the political comeuppance he deserves, and his colleagues begin manoeuvring to get rid of him — Turnbull’s trajectory will continue downwards, and he will take the government and the Liberal Party down with it.

At some point, the Liberal leadership — despite public protestations to the contrary from all and sundry — is going to become a live commodity; at some point, Liberal MPs (or those with any brains, at any rate) will realise that the albatross around their necks is a dead weight with which they should never have saddled themselves, and at that point, the Coalition’s last real leadership prospect — Christian Porter — is going to become much better known to ordinary voters.

But whichever way you cut it, Turnbull’s election “win” in July is likely to be costly, and — without putting too fine a point on it — is likely to be a source of regret for the Coalition in the years to come.

The Liberal Party’s fine tradition of sound, astute governance is not in good hands, and could well suffer enormous damage by virtue of the fraught political circumstances in which it currently operates — just as I said in this column on 8 July.

Today’s Newspoll is just the start of a very frightening storyline. What Turnbull’s minions do about it — if anything, at least to the extent it might matter whilst the PM remains in his post — is a classic case of “believe it when you see it.”

I’m tipping that you won’t.


*Pedants will argue that the 62-60 result achieved by Bob Menzies in 1961 was an equivalent outcome, but Turnbull’s 76 of 150 seats is proportionately a wafer thinner than the Menzies win in 1961. In any case, Menzies continued to govern with a friendly Senate: something Turnbull, whatever alliances his team may strike, cannot rely on. Thus, the continuing Menzies government was a stronger one than the outfit currently charged with the government of Australia.


False Dawn Finished: Coalition Falls 10 Pts Behind In Newspoll

TWO POSITIVE POLLS for the Coalition in two weeks have been shown up as the rogues this column always called them as, with Newspoll in The Australian today finding the Abbott government losing ground and now trailing Labor by 10 points after preferences; the result reflects the government’s standing in the electorate, highlighting the importance of the looming budget. It is also likely — ominously — to reignite Liberal leadership speculation.

Somewhat poetically, when the Newspoll figures came through at about 10.30pm in Melbourne last night, I was part-way through writing another article, one with Joe Hockey as the central figure; yet whilst the Hockey piece remains important (and will most likely appear in this column this evening), Newspoll’s message was clear enough for me to stop what I was doing — and write something else instead.

That message, of course, is that the more things appear to change, the more they stay the same; and in this vein, Newspoll’s finding that the Coalition sits ten points behind the ALP after preferences should surprise nobody.

And ironically, the Hockey article — the portion of which I have already completed will probably be adjusted slightly before I finish the rest of it — is integral to the government’s problems in a “moving forward” kind of way (and my apologies again, but we seem to be using that Gillardesque phrase a bit too much of late).

Two polls in two weeks — a Newspoll last fortnight showing a four-point improvement in the Abbott government’s electoral stocks followed by an abomination from Fairfax-Ipsos purporting to show the Coalition about to hit the lead — looked suspiciously like rogue findings, and I instantly called them as such when they were published; I have said as much in this column using rather more guarded language, but in private conversations in the past fortnight I’ve been quite blunt and emphatic that I don’t believe the polls and that I thought these two outliers should be disregarded altogether, and so it has now proven to be.

My rationale? Aside from anything else, the Coalition — and Prime Minister Tony Abbott — had done nothing since last month’s abortive leadership spill attempt to warrant, justify or explain away such substantial movements toward them in the eyes of the voting public.

There is nothing to be surprised about, therefore, in Newspoll’s finding that Coalition support on the two-party measure has declined by two points since its previous survey to sit at just 45%.

If anything, with Labor and the Communist Party Greens sharing 51% of the primary vote — effectively giving Labor primary support of close to 50%, on the underlying assumption that 80% of the Greens’ vote will flow to Labor on preferences anyway — 45% may even be a generous estimate on the measure for the Coalition, remembering that historical precedents suggest the government can really only rely on about half the 11% cast for “Others” to build on its 38% primary vote among Newspoll’s respondents.

A modest improvement in Abbott’s personal ratings does no more than return them to the same (dismal) levels they have mostly sat at since he became Liberal leader in December 2009, with 28% (up 3%) of respondents approving of the job he is doing and 63% (down 5%) saying they don’t.

But Labor “leader” Bill Shorten makes ground on the personal approval numbers too, with 39% (up 4%) saying the approve of the way he is doing his job and 42% (down 7%) indicating they don’t; and on the “preferred PM” question Shorten’s lead puffs out that little bit more, with 44% (+1%) preferring him to Abbott on 33% (-2%).

Readers can access the current Newspoll tables here.

Aside from anything else, every finding in this Newspoll — including the slightly better but still decrepit approval numbers for Abbott — is an embarrassment for the Coalition, cock-a-hoop as it has been over the iron sulphite bauble of a poll-driven “recovery” that has proven to be the mirage any astute observer could have divined at a glance in the past two weeks.

And if nothing else, it underlines the real and urgent imperative faced by the Coalition to stop messing around with Bill Shorten — “marginalisation” strategies in particular — and to find some way to turn the mountain of meaningless bullshit and vacuous drivel that constitutes Shorten’s contribution to the national debate against him.

This is a bad poll for the government, and not simply because, in isolation, it shows the Coalition ten points down in a hypothetical electoral contest.

Rather, it simply returns the Coalition’s numbers squarely to the average of what they have been for the past year: and whilst an election held this weekend might produce a result that deviates by a point or so either way from Newspoll’s findings, the trend lines across the reputable polls have been so settled now for so long that it is inconceivable that they herald anything other than a thumping defeat when the Liberals next face the polls — unless something changes, and drastically so, very quickly.

And no, I am not talking about a leadership change.

But a leadership change is exactly the discussion these numbers will spark anew; the continued mutterings in the wake of the first attempt to get rid of Abbott — fuelled, no less, by some pretty ordinary actions emanating from the Prime Ministerial bunker — fell silent last week not because Abbott had somehow hit his straps, but because the erroneous Newspoll published in The Australian a fortnight ago bought him time: a window of opportunity held open by the ridiculous 51-49 ALP lead “identified” by the Fairfax-Ipsos survey a week later.

The mutterers — to be blunt — will now resume their muttering.

As readers know, I had all but written Abbott off; I do think his performance has been much improved in the past week or so, but it doesn’t change the fact that almost all of the things that a month ago were contributing to the government’s apparently inevitable eventual meeting with its own political mortality remain very much still in place.

The unmitigated political liability of his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin.

The coterie of advisers, “strategists” and “tacticians” recruited under her strict personal decree who have been found out — courtesy of the government’s fraught political plight — to be mostly useless.

The liability of Treasurer Joe Hockey who remains in his portfolio after delivering easily the worst federal budget of any Liberal Treasurer last year in the party’s 70-year history.

Other ministers who continue to occupy senior roles, at the expense of some brilliant backbench talent, who could and should have been dispensed with in the botched reshuffle undertaken before Christmas.

For all the “resets” and “restarts” and “barnacle removals” Tony Abbott has announced in the past three months, it is telling that not one change of any real consequence to the Liberals’ electoral fortunes has actually been made; fiddles, semantics, scapegoat mounting and a lot of talk about change, certainly, but the real changes to ensure his administration’s fortification and survival have been squibbed: it has been more of a priority, it seems, not to stand on the toes of maaates than it is to make the hard calls required to fix the misfiring government.

But when the leadership rumours recommence in the next few days — replete with posturing, leaks and denials from all and sundry — Abbott will only have himself to blame; NSW Premier Mike Baird must be wondering what he has done to deserve it, given he — like Campbell Newman six weeks ago — is set to face voters in his state armed with a huge majority that polling suggests may be all but eliminated.

And the problem of the May budget — bearing down like a freight train with faulty brakes — takes on a fresh urgency altogether, and I stand by my position that not only must Hockey be replaced, but that no Liberal can have any confidence that a second budget delivered by Hockey would be any less politically suicidal than the first one was.

I hope those Abbott government people who had a day off yesterday with a public holiday enjoyed it, and are a little fresher for the extra time to relax.

They are going to need to be: this poll is disastrous. It will only be a matter of days before the fallout from it is felt.


Liberal Spill: Bringing Party Meeting Forward A Day A Desperate Act

BRINGING FORWARD the meeting of Liberal Party MPs — which is set to consider a spill motion against Prime Minister — by a day, to 9am tomorrow, stinks of desperation; it is a tacit admission that numbers are running strongly against Tony Abbott, as he moves to chop off momentum away from him. The move could be the final nail in his coffin, emboldening those reticent about challenging him to now do exactly that.

I am in the middle of finalising what would ordinarily be this morning’s article for this column; I will, after publishing this short piece, continue to do that, as I believe the subject I am covering remains highly salient in the context of moves to dump Prime Minister Tony Abbott through a backbench revolt that seems designed to encourage a substantial candidate to put his or her (or their) name forward.

But reports have emerged (and will be shortly confirmed at a press conference) that Abbott is attempting to move the meeting of the Liberal Party’s MPs forward by a day, to 9am tomorrow, and this cannot be permitted to pass without comment.

In such a fraught and fluid environment as exists around the Liberal Party right now, this is a do-or-die move on Abbott’s part that is as likely to backfire spectacularly as it is to achieve the desired aim, which is to catch the renegade Liberal MPs on the hop and to prevent their momentum from achieving the critical mass required to ensure the spill motion they are set to move against him succeeds.

As supportive of Abbott as I have always been and remain, it is impossible to see this move as anything other than an abject act of desperation made from a position of mortal weakness; if Abbott was as certain as he has publicly proclaimed of defeating the spill attempt there would be no need to seek to reschedule a meeting that has been set down for Tuesday for many weeks.

It is also tantamount to an admission that Abbott is already at grave risk of being thrown out of office this week.

I think this panicked late play should be seen for what it is — a gamble in the desperation stakes — that is far likelier to embolden his opponents in the party than it is to deny them.

Having probably already staked their careers on launching the challenge against the Prime Minister, they will now go for broke: after all, going down in a screaming heap without achieving anything that addresses their concerns and grievances would amount to a pitiful return on such an enterprise.

And with some quarters of the party making it known that Malcolm Turnbull is set to declare for the leadership late today anyway (whether he is or not), this move by Abbott will force Turnbull’s hand if that is his intention, and potentially drive votes to the spill motion from MPs desperate to avoid a protracted period of instability.

In the end, this is Abbott’s “crash through or crash” moment. To the extent it makes any difference at all, it could well be the final nail in his coffin, and rather than crash through could see a good man who squandered his opportunity fall flat on his face.


I will be completing, and publishing, the originally intended Sunday morning article within the hour.


Liberal Spill: Win Or Lose, Abbott’s Leadership Is Doomed

ONE RELENTLESS CONSTANT underpins the Liberal leadership genie that has now been released from its bottle: the fast-approaching election due in 18 months, at which the Coalition — on present polling — is set to suffer a shattering and brutal defeat. The pending vote to spill leadership positions that currently lacks a challenger is merely the start of a process that will end with a new leader. Win or lose on Tuesday, Tony Abbott is finished.

I would like to emphasise at the outset that ideally, this column would robustly advocate for Tony Abbott’s continued tenure as Prime Minister; I have been staunchly supportive of Abbott for many years and remain, even now, instinctively thus inclined.

And I should point out for the benefit of the Liberal MPs, staffers and branch members across the country who read this column that I am not pushing any particular barrow at all today; this article is to analyse and make comment, although I might share a subjective thought or two as we go. (One never knows).

Prime Minister Tony Abbott may have appeared determined yesterday afternoon, stung into action and galvanised to deride the newly tangible threat to his continued leadership of the Liberal Party after two obscure backbench MPs announced they will move a spill of his position at the party room meeting due on Tuesday.

As is his wont, it seems his line of defence is to declare that the Liberal Party is not Labor, and that the chaos of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years is not something the Liberals can afford to indulge in; and as he observed drily in a brief media conference, the backbenchers set to move the spill are perfectly entitled to do so under Liberal Party rules.

But the fact a spill is happening at all demonstrates that even if Abbott prevails on Tuesday morning, his grip on the party has slipped; and a weighing of the particular circumstances of this leadership spill against the circumstances that seem to have provoked it leads me to conclude that even if he wins on Tuesday, Abbott is doomed anyway.

Either way, the apparent desperation in some of the tactics being used is too visible for Abbott’s own good.

The declaration that he and deputy leader Julie Bishop — whose own position is also subject to the spill — will “stand together” to see off the threat had holes in it within minutes of being made at Abbott’s press conference yesterday, as word filtered out that contrary to what Abbott had said, Bishop has merely undertaken, on the grounds of Cabinet solidarity, to vote against the spill motion.

Damagingly, it has become clear that in the event of the spill motion being successful, Bishop privately reserved her right to resign from Cabinet and stand for the leadership; the whispering and backgrounding that has informed much of what has appeared in the press in recent weeks continued even yesterday, with suggestions Bishop had been bullied and manipulated into the presentation of a public position she does not in fact hold.

It is no wonder, then, where the latest iteration of her famous “death stare” was directed as the pair faced reporters.

Abbott and Bishop

Cabinet and the wider ministry — publicly at least — appear to have fallen in behind Abbott, with the principle of Cabinet solidarity being bandied about by those closest to the Prime Minister to try to ensure their votes are used to defeat the spill motion, and with 102 Liberal MPs eligible to vote, this on its own ought to provide 35 of the 52 votes required to put the insurrection down.

Already, ministers and several backbench MPs have been issuing almost identical statements declaring that they support the Prime Minister, do not support the motion to spill the party’s leadership, and echoing Abbott’s words about getting on with the Coalition’s clear plan and eschewing Labor-style chaos.

Yet this support, whilst highly visible, does not account for dozens of other backbench MPs who have either remained mute or publicly declared in favour of a spill.

And with the relative privacy afforded in a secret ballot, public utterances may be one thing — but it can neither be known nor quantified how many of those outwardly loyal ministers might choose to vote to spill Abbott’s position when the moment to decide materialises.

I don’t think for a moment that this move against Abbott is confined to 10 or 15 disgruntled backbenchers, as the Prime Minister and his communications people have sought to portray; I think the spill, isolated of any other factor as it stands, is likely at the very minimum to attract at least 40 of the 52 votes needed to succeed; probably more.

The plotters might be disorganised insofar as their lack of a candidate thus far is concerned, but I don’t believe they are stupid enough to have embarked on this course without at least enough support for a spill to inflict a first strike that will fatally wound Abbott even if he survives to limp along for a few extra weeks or months.

I am deeply impressed by those Liberal MPs who are devoutly supportive of Abbott, and who have declared as much publicly, especially backbenchers like Tony Pasin from SA, Andrew Nikolic in Tasmania, and Dan Tehan in Victoria.

By the same token, however, I find it inconceivable that everyone in Cabinet will vote against the spill motion, and if it proceeds — even without a candidate — there is a reasonable and not unlikely prospect of it succeeding.

There’s a federal election due in 18 months which — right now — is looming as an unmitigated disaster for the Liberal Party, and present polling trends suggest the Coalition would risk suffering its worst election defeat since 1983.

We have expended thousands of (virtual) column inches here over a period of months identifying and examining the reasons for the government’s spectacular fall from public favour, what might be done to redress it, and how the government — under Tony Abbott as Prime Minister — might reconnect with both its predominantly conservative core constituency and the overall electorate more widely.

I cannot resile from the position — backed by hard evidence readily available in the cold light of day — that to the extent the Prime Minister has made attempts to remedy these issues, it has been to the minimum degree possible whilst simultaneously presenting his endeavours as a panacea and studiously avoiding a proper overhaul of his own office: which I maintain with great vehemence is the real source of the problem.

The ministerial reshuffle featured a token scapegoat (former Defence minister David Johnston) and the injection of a small number of new faces, but overwhelmingly it was a fiddle: conceived in paranoia, with Abbott’s leadership a central consideration, it failed to remove Joe Hockey from the Treasury portfolio in the wake of the 2014 budget, and even though this column argued Hockey should have been moved sideways rather than sacked the imperative to get him out of Treasury was stronger than any need to fire Johnston.

Other token fiddles have occurred; the “knights and dames” issue that triggered the wave of outrage last week which seems to have lit the fire under the push for a spill has seen Abbott announce that knighthoods will remain, but the job of identifying recipients will pass to the Order of Australia Council.

The Prime Minister has abandoned his much-lampooned “signature” paid parental leave scheme, which is a token if ever there was, coming as the move did at a time no-one was up in arms about this policy publicly.

Two new media figures were recruited to the Prime Minister’s Office in an attempt to fabricate the appearance of a dilution of chief of staff Peta Credlin’s involvement in this aspect of its operations when in fact, Credlin remained as central as ever to its daily function.

Similarly, Credlin did not attend the two-day Cabinet sessions during the week, and reportedly will not attend the party room meeting on Tuesday when the spill motion is considered.

Yet these are absences that have occurred only under threat of duress, and I have no doubt that were Abbott to survive — and at whatever point a “business as usual” environment is declared — Credlin’s attendances would immediately resume.

Those who have been more perceptive of the damage her influence has wrought upon the government politically — I am talking about electoral politics, not the silly internal games that have been played, which are a luxury when travelling 10 points behind in the polls — have been dismissed as disruptive, dissident, self-motivated non-team players who are “damaging the party” when in fact, these are the people who recognise that leaving Credlin in charge of the entire operation will ultimately see the government fall into the abyss.

Yet appeasement is all the Prime Minister has offered; the latest crumb flicked from the table was an announcement (in the wake of the veto of Health minister Sussan Ley’s preferred candidate to head her ministerial office) that Credlin would no longer have input into the appointment of staffers. Whilst welcome, and long overdue, it stinks of desperation and invites the charge of grudgingly delivering far too little, far too late.

The fact Credlin remains on the government payroll at all is illustrative of the total absence of astute political judgement where her impact on the government’s fortunes are concerned.

If you add up the “dissident” backbenchers who are angry or concerned about the way the government is being run and worried it will lose next year, along with those ministers who will never back Abbott in a secret ballot, as well as those in the parliamentary party pursuing gripes (however justified or otherwise) at the periphery of the Coalition’s sorry political state, I think the chances Abbott’s leadership will be thrown open on Tuesday are very solid indeed.

There is no point in suffering death by a thousand sabre cuts simply to prove a point, and no political purpose — other than pride — in refusing to move on if the writing is clearly visible on the wall.

If the spill motion on Tuesday receives any more than 35 votes, which is a third of the parliamentary Liberal Party — and it will — Abbott would be wise to contemplate calling a leadership ballot, and declining to nominate as a candidate; better to depart the scene with one’s reputation for decency and actual contribution intact than being ripped to shreds in the immediate future.

I am not going to get into considerations of candidates and so forth at this time.

But if Credlin, and others around Abbott, really do have the best interests of the Liberal Party rather than their own at heart, then they should consider how to swing the votes of the Right behind Julie Bishop in any direct vote on the leadership, and to puncture — once, for all and forever — the ghastly prospect of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister.

There is an election to win in 18 months’ time; if Abbott must be replaced, the likeliest candidate to carry the Coalition to victory must be elevated in his place.

Turnbull has proven an abject failure as leader once before, and his stellar poll numbers are built on the false premise of support from people who certainly like him, but who would never vote Liberal even if hell froze, charcoal sprouted, the sun rose in the west or pigs flew — irrespective of whether Turnbull was leading the party or not.

Bishop has her drawbacks, but nothing that could not be compensated for by the astute selection of a ministry to support her. The same cannot be said of Turnbull.

And with Tuesday likely to deal a fatal blow to Abbott’s authority as Prime Minister whether he scores a Pyrrhic victory or not, that reality should be central in guiding Liberal MPs on who his eventual replacement should be, and why.


Why Heavy Kevvie Won’t Rule Forever — Or, Perhaps, At All

VOTERS impressed enough with Kevin Rudd’s so-called “reforms” of the ALP to vote Labor should tread warily; Rudd’s moves are no guarantee they’ll get what they vote for, and no guarantee he’ll end the year as PM if re-elected. Readers can do their own research, but here we show where they should look.

Yesterday I wrote about the grand and splendid plot Kevin Rudd has devised to insulate himself from ever again being involuntarily deposed as long as he remains Prime Minister; presented using the populist carrot of rank and file Labor members directly voting on the party leadership, Rudd’s “reforms” are unlikely to ever become reality.

Indeed, Rudd — should Labor win the looming election — is unlikely to be Prime Minister at Christmas time.

It is instructive to commence my remarks this morning with a little perspective; last week — when Rudd’s stunt of the day was a federal intervention into the NSW branch of the ALP — I warned that he had been returned to the Labor leadership for the express purpose of winning an election, and that that was it.

Curiously — for an individual so deeply loathed and reviled by a massive proportion of the people around him — Rudd and his God complex seem genuinely blind to the fact that nobody has forgiven and/or forgotten, and nobody has abandoned old hatreds in a flick of the switch to obsequious capitulation and subservience to Rudd.

They detested him then, they detest him now, and anyone who thinks otherwise does so at their peril.

Including — and especially — Rudd.

I’m not going to talk about the endless, empty bubbles of meaningless hot air Rudd has been running around spruiking; not today, anyway.

But to complete the cycle from my article yesterday, I am going to talk about the changes we discussed in that piece and why they’ll never happen.

Remembering the ALP has supposedly unified behind Rudd for one final, desperate shot at staying in office, it’s telling that cracks are already appearing in the facade.

One Labor backbencher, retiring Bendigo MP Steve Gibbons, has already questioned the provision for a leadership spill under the proposed regime if 75% of the party’s MPs petition for one as unworkable; when it comes to Rudd, where there is one dissenter out in the open, there are many more lurking in the shadows.

One of the party’s vice-presidents — TWU head Tony Sheldon — has publicly indicated his insistence that unions be dealt into the mix along the lines of the British Labour rules, wherein trade unions’ votes are worth 33% in leadership contests.

Its other vice-president, Jane Garrett, “warned” against the British Labour model.

Cabinet minister Joel Fitzgibbon has raised the existence of a little-known Labor Party rule that nobody is a bona fide member of the ALP unless they are also a member of a union.

Whilst Fitzgibbon admits the rule is rarely enforced, the fact it even exists provides a pretext for spurned unions to turn post-election bloodletting at the ALP into a legal circus, raising the prospect of an ugly brawl playing out in Courts across Australia as the validity of memberships are challenged, interpretations of rules questioned, and the whole thing descending into an almighty farce.

Yet all of this pales into oblivion beside a simple reality: any change, irrespective of what people say and agree now, cannot and will not come into effect until it has been ratified by an ALP National Conference: and the next one of those isn’t due until next year.

And there’s the rub.

Even with the hints of disquiet leaching from the supposedly united edifice, everyone at the ALP will at all costs avoid a public fight with Rudd over these changes prior to the election; that is certain.

In turn, this means that Rudd will take his big bold “blueprint” to a Labor caucus meeting on 22 July, and emerge from it with a ringing (and unanimous) endorsement of it.

There will be an enormous amount of showmanship surrounding this event; and a veritable fanfare will be provided by a willing media.

The song and dance act accompanying it will be couched in terms that the changes will happen! Labor is being modernised by Kevin Rudd! Ordinary ALP members will vote for their leader! Union control over Labor will be smashed once and for all! Vote for Rudd and be guaranteed he’ll be Prime Minister for three years! Join the Labor Party NOW!

But behind the scenes and after the event, the story will be rather different.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is carrying a story today outlining measures Rudd is determined to take after the election to crush once and for all the influence of the NSW ALP over the federal party; in light of its historic role within the Labor movement it is inconceivable these people will sit back and meekly watch as their powerbase is destroyed.

The union movement — which now covers between 13 and 18 percent of the workforce, depending on whose figures you use — might not enjoy the support it once did, but what it still retains is access to power by virtue of its effective 50% stake in the ALP.

These people and these organisations are the ones most hostile of all to Rudd; indeed, the impetus for his removal from office in 2010 was largely the handiwork of many of their standard bearers.

The visceral hatred the unions nurse toward Rudd isn’t going to go away: the hand-picked union candidate in Gillard has been torn down, at least partly as a result of Rudd’s subterranean sabotage of her leadership, and a few glib words that might fool an ordinary voter with little interest in politics will scarcely mollify a battle-hardened trade unionist.

In fact, Rudd’s declaration of war on them in pushing these measures is, in some ways, the final challenge to the unions’ legitimacy as a social, political and economic force; neutered within their own citadel and experiencing incessant decline in the wider community, the clout of the union movement would be as good as finished.

Anyone who has faced off against devout and militant union types knows “capitulation” is a word that simply doesn’t exist for them.

And so, by sheer weight of the circumstances of legality, vested interests, power that still remains (as at today’s date) and of human nature itself, there is absolutely no way Rudd will get these changes through an ALP National Conference.

The sole carrot to sell his “reforms” is the provision of a members’ vote on the leadership.

That carrot is offered with the wager, on Rudd’s part, that people are too stupid or too disinterested to see the fact that all his changes amount to is a guarantee of security for himself.

If implemented, his changes will — one way or the other — create an absolute shitfight for the ALP, and one from which it might never emerge intact, but with Rudd, anything that doesn’t consolidate his perceived entitlement to the Prime Ministership is of no interest.

This is the revenge Rudd seeks: to smash forever those who dared to cross him.

In any case, the “faceless men” whom Rudd seeks to reform out of existence won’t brook it.

If any reader is still in doubt, look at what Rudd will take to the election as his proof these changes will occur.

A meaningless statement of support from his MPs — some of whom won’t be MPs once the election is out of the way — and statements of support from many of the very people who were instrumental in brutally evicting him from the Prime Ministership three years ago.

People like Bill Shorten, who — in a follow-up act to his involvement in that coup — was “loyal” to Julia Gillard’s leadership until about an hour before the ballot she lost to Rudd.

People like AWU heavyweight Paul Howes, who is no friend of Kevin Rudd.

The sort of “support” that is literally subject to change at an hour’s notice.

And as I pointed out last week, if — if — Rudd somehow manages to engineer a Labor win at this year’s election, he’ll be a dead man walking, and quickly removed from office.

Interventions into the NSW ALP and party “reform” might sound good to the uninformed, but the Labor hardheads will never allow it to happen: it is just the nature of the beast.

As for Rudd and his “reforms,” I simply observe that whilst you can’t polish a turd, you can roll it in glitter, and that is all Rudd is doing: it’s all bullshit, but covered in fairy dust and dressed up with a story, he’s betting just enough people might buy it.

If you’re thinking of voting Labor, please — do your homework on the issues I have raised.

ALP Leadership: Heavy Kevvie’s Grand Plot To Rule Forever

KEVIN RUDD claims changes to the process for selecting a Labor leader he proposes will modernise and democratise the ALP. They will do nothing of the sort; but they will entrench Rudd forever, election wins permitting, and far from strengthening Labor in the long run, they will weaken and damage it.

“We have a leader; the matter was settled (in a party room ballot).”

This — in essence — was the defence of Billy Snedden, the affable but ineffectual leader of the Liberal Party from 1972 until 1975, whenever the question of his performance was canvassed among his parliamentary colleagues.

Eventually, of course, Malcolm Fraser put him out of his misery; successful on his second challenge in March 1975, Fraser’s ascension to the Liberal leadership revitalised the Liberal Party, and sealed the fate the Whitlam government would suffer whenever it returned to the polls (which, as we all know, happened sooner rather than later).

The point is that even in 1975, it is unlikely Fraser would have ever won a leadership vote among the rank and file of the Liberal Party; and even if he could, under proposals Kevin Rudd seeks to implement in the ALP, Fraser would have had to wait until Snedden had fought (and probably lost) another election against Gough Whitlam.

I start with this story because it is one of many in Australian political history, on both sides of politics, that make proposals Rudd is pushing on leadership ballot procedures in the ALP look like the paranoid, egomaniacal and control-freak measures they are.

It is understandable that even now — and despite his protestations to the contrary — Rudd still smarts from the knife wound inflicted in the midnight coup that deposed him from the ALP leadership and Prime Ministership three years ago.

He has said that revenge doesn’t motivate him: a threadbare claim beyond ludicrous.

Even so, the measures he seems hellbent on ramming through to permanently alter the mechanisms by which a Labor leader may be removed aren’t modern, aren’t democratic, and can only be interpreted as a naked attempt to rule forever — and to hell with the long-term consequences for his party.

For those unaware of these or to recap, simply stated, they are:

  • A Labor leader who wins an election is guaranteed to serve a full term in office, death or resignation notwithstanding;
  • Such a leader will only face a leadership ballot if they either call one or a petition for a vote is signed by 75% of Labor MPs;
  • Any leadership candidate at such a ballot will need to be nominated by 20% of the party’s MPs before their nomination is deemed to be in order;
  • Leadership voting for the ALP leadership will be equally weighted between the party’s MPs and its rank and file membership, with each bloc having a 50% stake in the selection of a leader.

It is unclear what — if any — differential mechanism is proposed for a leadership switch during periods Labor is in opposition. But given Rudd is mainly preoccupied with the retention of the Prime Ministership, he probably doesn’t care about scenarios involving opposition or the mess his changes could create for his party after it loses government.

And in any case, based on what is known, it seems there is no provision whatsoever for the rank and file members to instigate a leadership ballot, which is a big pointer to the fact that whilst Rudd’s rhetoric is dressed up in concerns that the membership should have a vote, they don’t have the right to demand one of their own volition.

Rudd’s changes would have precluded him from reclaiming the Prime Ministership two weeks ago: unless he could convince 20 more MPs than the 57 who voted for him to sign a petition, the ballot would never have occurred: Julia Gillard would have had no obligation to call one.

Paul Keating would never have become Prime Minister; Bob Hawke would simply have limped along to a massive election defeat in 1993, and whilst John Hewson would have been a fairly ordinary Prime Minister, helping Labor to return to government within a couple of terms, such hypotheticals can’t be foretold with any confidence.

And as there is no word of how leadership votes in opposition would work, under Rudd’s system it’s possible Hawke would never have become Prime Minister in the first place.

Drover’s dogs notwithstanding, of course.

But Rudd doesn’t care for such niceties; the objective is purely to entrench himself.

And just to prove it, here are four killer points — working, in order, down the four dot points listed above — that make a mockery of anything Rudd says otherwise.

  • Nobody can be removed for poor performance — and Rudd’s shambolic first period as Prime Minister was likely to end in electoral defeat had he not been overthrown;
  • Except for the handful of occasions on which party leadership votes were unanimous, the only instance I can think of on either side of politics of a candidate mustering 75% of MPs in any sense pertaining to leadership contests was in 1990, when Hewson scored 62 of 80 votes to beat second placegetter Peter Reith for the Liberal leadership;
  • The requirement for 20% of MPs to nominate each leadership candidate, at the minimum, restricts the number of people who can stand in leadership ballots (assuming, of course, people are honourable enough to support the nomination of one candidate only); and
  • The 50/50 weighting between the parliamentary party and the grassroots membership seems so blatantly contrived as a tool to bypass MPs who are a wake-up to Rudd, and who hate his living, breathing guts, to allow the members who never see the man behind the mask to disproportionately prop him up to scarcely need to even say so.

And of course, the fact the newly “empowered” membership would be incapable of doing anything about a leader taking the party over the electoral cliff just puts the tin hat on it.

The thing is that the changes Rudd seeks to implement put enormous weight on the party making the correct decision every time it has to elect a leader.

Could Mark Latham have overthrown Simon Crean in 2003, when it seemed Crean was positioning the Labor Party for an electoral belting?

(Latham, of course, being a study of sorts in his own right).

Could Rudd himself have overthrown Kim Beazley in 2006, when the prospect of a fifth Howard election victory still loomed as a distinct possibility?

And if the ALP ever found itself, in government, saddled with an utter loser or lunatic (Rudd being absented from consideration for a second), how could the party be assured of getting rid of such a creature?

In short, Rudd’s “reforms” address none of this.

Which is why, barring an election loss, all of this seems to be for his own benefit: to remain Prime Minister for as long as Labor might win at the polls, and to rule the country and his party indefinitely.

It isn’t good for the Labor Party, and it isn’t good for Australia.

And whilst Rudd has been at pains to point out he isn’t advocating the model used in Britain — and why would he, given the unions’ votes are worth a third of the contest there, and the unions were instrumental in removing Rudd in 2010 — it remains the case that what he proposes is a recipe for entrenched mediocrity whenever the ALP elects a leader.

The British system is still the closest to what Rudd advocates.

And its last two products were the hopeless Gordon Brown, who led Labour to its worst election defeat since the massacre it suffered at the hands of Margaret Thatcher in 1983; and the facile Ed Miliband, whose modest present opinion poll lead is dependent on UKIP continuing to leach Tory support from the Conservative Party, and there are signs that UKIP’s support may have peaked, with the Labour lead rapidly shrinking.

You can’t ignore any of this. And if I were a member of the ALP, I’d be aghast at what Rudd is doing.

Mortgaging Labor’s future political choices to secure Rudd’s personal position today will bankrupt the political effectiveness of the Labor Party in the future.

But at the end of the day, Kevin will have what Kevin wants, and if the “reforms” he is pushing are formally adopted, the Labor movement will rue the day it signed onto them.



Rudd, The “Yarralumla Prospect,” And Peter Slipper

KEVIN RUDD has been re-elected to the leadership of the Labor Party; the result raises more questions than answers, and will do nothing to avert the electoral rout the ALP seems destined to suffer. Indeed, Labor’s chaos — if it continues in office — seems set only to intensify.

If we go back to November 2011, I posted an article entitled “Here You Come Again;” it dealt — not for the first time — with ruminations emanating from the ALP about a possible leadership challenge and return as Prime Minister by Kevin Rudd.

Yesterday, that event materialised.

And in the occasional spirit of YouTube entertainment for the benefit of readers, I post the same clip as I did then, which will at least provide something to listen to whilst reading.

But the return of Rudd will provide no solution to the woes of the ALP, nor provide it the prospect of scoring the unlikeliest of election wins.

It is too often overlooked that from the minute he became Liberal leader in late 2009, Tony Abbott began to eat into Rudd’s stellar opinion poll numbers; it was this — coupled with his own truly shocking record in government — that provided the circumstances under which Julia Gillard and her cohorts were able to overthrow him.

Rudd — and this is an old story — is viscerally detested in the ALP; his colleagues loathe him with an unbridled passion that is difficult even for some old political hands to fathom.

Yet many of them have voted to restore him as their leader in the forlorn and frankly pitiful hope he will save their seats, whilst others are busily stomping out of cabinet, or Parliament, or both.

It remains to be seen whether the three MPs who threatened to immediately resign from Parliament if Rudd ever returned deliver on their threats.

To do so their resignations would need to be effective by about noon today to have any practical effect, as after that time Parliament is unlikely to sit again prior to the election; such kamikaze tactics would be pointless if they did not facilitate the fall of the Rudd government on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Yet fall the government still might.

The Red And The Blue understands that Governor-General Quentin Bryce will this morning commission Rudd as Prime Minister on the condition he demonstrates that he commands a majority in the House; even now, the role of Independents (and maverick Labor MPs) will be critical.

At this stage, Labor commands 70 of the 149 MPs on the floor of the House*; it also has pledges of support for Rudd from Greens MP Adam Bandt as well as Craig Thomson and Andrew Wilkie.

The position of Bob Katter Jr is less clear; last night it was initially reported that he had pledged support for Rudd in a confidence ballot too.

But subsequent reports showed Katter had said on Twitter that whilst he supports Rudd as Labor leader, his position on confidence in the government has not changed and that he would support a motion of no-confidence in the government.

Fellow Independent Tony Windsor has suggested he may do likewise, and indications from Rob Oakeshott — whilst insisting he has not decided — tell a similar story.

Were all three to support a no-confidence motion, the Coalition would win any vote, 75-74; as such a motion requires an absolute majority of MPs to vote to suspend standing orders before it can be moved, however, the critical vote is probably that of grub, former Speaker and LNP turncoat Peter Slipper.

It is a sad indictment that yet another conservative rat may hold the outcome of years of internecine Labor infighting in his hands, but as things stand, it’s that simple; Rudd’s fate as PM may hinge on what Slipper chooses to do in his final act as a Parliamentarian.

It brings the “Yarralumla Prospect” we have spoken about back into play; that is, Bryce may yet find herself with the proverbial “role to play”: if a no-confidence vote in Rudd succeeds, there is every possibility it will be Abbott who sees the week out as Prime Minister, not Rudd.

Ironically, such an outcome would be in the best political interests of Kevin Rudd.

By being forced to campaign as opposition leader, Rudd would be permitted to perpetuate the unspoken victim complex that has permeated Australian politics for the past three years; restored as leader but not to office, the ALP election campaign would be based solely on the supposed popularity of Rudd in a sickening populist onslaught.

Yet whether it comes to that or not, Rudd is unlikely to lead Labor to an election win.

As I have said in this column previously, the problem is the Labor Party itself, not necessarily its leader; indeed, today’s leadership change — Labor’s fifth in ten years, and the third since 2006 — is a telling reminder of the divided, conflict-racked beast the once-great ALP has become.

My sense is that the initial opinion polls after today’s events will indeed see Labor in a winning position; such is the nature of the honeymoon effect in Australian politics.

It will be important for the Liberal Party to hold its nerve in the next few weeks.

But the Rudd glow will quickly dissipate, as voters soon remember all the reasons he was already falling from public favour when he was replaced, and as Tony Abbott — who has found the way to pull Rudd down once before — sets about doing so again.

The parade of ministerial resignations, whilst honourable for their adherence to individual pledges to do so if Rudd were restored, add nothing to the image of the ALP as a party fit to govern, nor display any interest in either the good of the country or the obligations of the MPs in question to represent their electorates to the best of their abilities.

To the contrary, it is further evidence — were any required — that Labor’s only interest is an obsession with personal political agendas even if those agendas sit in complete contempt of the electorate and the national interest.

To enact such a change this close to an election shows a cavalier disregard for the intelligence of voters insofar as Labor now seeks an election win — almost out of sympathy for Rudd — which would be underpinned by the near certainty that were the ALP to win it would discard Rudd again as soon as the votes were tallied.

I saw Rudd speak late last night; typically late, he showed up to a press conference nearly an hour behind schedule and said next to nothing of substance.

Certainly, he was gracious to an extent to Gillard and to Wayne Swan; to an extent, he could afford to be.

But — dangerously for the ALP, I thought — he immediately began to play Wayne Swan’s cracked record on Labor’s alleged stewardship during the GFC: an event now five years in the past.

And his remarks omitted any reference to the litany of policy disasters either committed or commenced on his first watch as Prime Minister: the mining tax, the mess over climate change that became the carbon tax, the pink batts fiasco, green loans, the defective school building program…

There is also the small matter of Rudd’s triumphant abolition of the Howard government’s “Pacific Solution,” his proud boast there would be no “lurch to the right” under any government he led on the issue — and the torrent of unauthorised boat arrivals that promptly commenced, numbering in hundreds of boats carrying thousands of people.

With many people literally drowning at sea as a direct consequence.

All of these things provide a potent arsenal for an opposition that is hungry to win and ready to govern, and the Liberals will use them.

Gillard’s record and Rudd’s record are effectively the same record, and it will be fascinating to see how Rudd attempts to neutralise what has been appalling political mismanagement over six years in government.

Clearly — with the issue of a confidence proceeding in Parliament today the next item in the saga — this story has some way to go as it plays out.

But an electorate that has grown increasingly sophisticated and politically literate as a direct result of the past three years of Labor in power is entitled to be sceptical.

Voters should not be hoodwinked by any of yesterday’s shenanigans in the ALP. The poor record that generated abysmal opinion polling and ultimately felled Julia Gillard is as much Rudd’s legacy in government as it is hers.

Properly executed, a Liberal Party campaign will destroy the myth of “Rudd the Leader” or any pretension that somehow, Labor will now change.

And this column stands by its call that Australia needs a change of government if its standard of governance is to improve, and that an election should now be held on the earliest constitutionally allowable date. That means 3 August.

What has already been a long week in politics grows a little longer again later today.


*Labor’s 71st MP, Anna Burke, is Speaker, and votes only if parliamentary votes are tied.