At 53-47 To Labor, Newspoll Very Near The Mark

ANOTHER abysmal Newspoll — with the ALP ahead of the Coalition, this time by an increased 53% to 47% margin — is probably an accurate reflection of the public mood, and carries messages for both sides of Australian politics: people have turned off PM Malcolm Turnbull altogether, whilst Labor remains lumbered with an unelectable and boorish oaf at its helm. Meanwhile, minor parties continue to prosper, which favours the ALP, if only by default.

10 down, 20 to go…

Apologies to readers for the rather abrupt (and unintended) hiatus over the past fortnight; the “something” that I alluded to that popped up last time we discussed a Newspoll has in fact consumed a goodly portion of my time since that point, but with a solution now in hand with which to deal with it, here we are again (although there is something else that will interrupt me during the coming couple of weeks, albeit not quite so thoroughly as this has done).

In any case — as I forecast — the headline comment today, in light of the latest Newspoll published in The Australian, is that Malcolm Turnbull is now fully one-third the way toward replicating the benchmark he used to justify knifing predecessor Tony Abbott through the shoulder blades. Not for the first time, it warrants the observation that only a foolish politician indeed makes public pronouncements on the longevity of political leadership through the prism of opinion polls, and Turnbull only has himself to blame if the sound of sharpening scabbards can be heard emanating from some quarters within his party.

And as I suspected, this poll has shown the last one was, indeed, a rogue result; today’s 53-47 finding in Labor’s favour doesn’t fully restore the ALP’s 55-45 lead from a month ago, but it does move the political conversation back in that direction: and it does broadly cross-validate a finding recorded in the ALP’s favour during the week by Essential Research, which itself saw Labor give up a point to arrive at a 54-46 assessment.

To say the average of these two polls — a 53.5-46.5 lead to Labor, or a swing of 3.9% since the election last July — is pretty much on the money illustrates just how far from favour the Coalition has fallen in less than four years; these findings amount to a 7% swing to Labor after preferences since the thumping win posted by Tony Abbott in September 2013, and would net the ALP an extra 19 seats (for a total of 88) and government in a canter based on the July results if replicated at another election.

What should deeply disturb Coalition “strategists” is the fact that using the Turnbull camp’s yardstick of progress as a benchmark, the past fortnight has been an unmitigated triumph for the Prime Minister, with a reasonable slice of his corporate tax cuts being legislated, along with piecemeal changes to the way the Human Rights Commission is to process complaints made under S18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, and in the afterglow of his warmly received plan to expand the Snowy Mountains Scheme as a downpayment on tackling energy affordability.

A more objective assessment of the period would also note that despite scoring sporadic hits on opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, the government has been seen to lose the debate (for want of a better word) on changes to penalty rates; has proven singularly incapable of enacting structural (and sorely needed) changes to S18c; has had its company tax plan gutted, despite the partial success it booked; and is showing every sign of once again approaching a critical federal budget in five weeks’ time with no tilling of the public soils being undertaken in preparation, and no over-arching theme or narrative to bind its economic message together.

In other words, this Newspoll — like the nine before it — is something the Prime Minister’s Office can scarcely argue comes as much of a shock.

As is so often the case with these polls, today’s Newspoll charts incremental movements: on the question of a primary vote the Coalition is down a point, and the ALP up a point, to sit level-pegging at 36%.

On the question of who the “preferred PM” might be, Turnbull is down two points to 41%, and Shorten up three to 32%: thus maintaining for now the clear but not decisive lead that seems the only “bright” spot in survey findings for Malcolm — such as it is.

And where voter satisfaction with personal performance is concerned, Turnbull’s 30% figure is unchanged this time, but 59% (+2%) disapprove; by contrast — and reflecting the rather damning indictment upon Turnbull that Bill Shorten should be more popular than any other figure in Australian politics — 32% (+3%) approve of the way he is doing his job, whilst 54% (-3%) do not.

There are those (usually associated with the incumbent party and/or leader, whoever it happens to be at any given time) who argue that such modest movements are within the margin of sampling error, and that they are statistically insignificant.

Yet as we have said many times now, the trend against Turnbull — ever since Federal Police raided the home of former minister Mal Brough, after he was unwisely and rashly restored to Cabinet for supporting Malcolm in the leadership ballot against Abbott — has been so large in overall scope, and almost uninterrupted in its duration over the past 16 months, that statistical insignificance went out the window well over a year ago.

The messages from this poll — like most others doing the rounds — are fairly simple, and very clear.

One, it doesn’t really matter what Malcolm Turnbull does: rightly or wrongly, “fairly” or otherwise, the vast majority of Australians don’t like him, are fed up with him, and have stopped listening to what he says and does altogether: it’s a dangerous piece of political real estate to occupy, and the fact a few genuinely praiseworthy achievements haven’t mattered one jot in public opinion sampling is a potent signpost to the fact Turnbull is (as we have said in this column repeatedly) finished.

Two, whilst these results might appear encouraging for Labor, the hard reality is that people hate its “leader” almost as heartily as they’re sick to the stomach with Turnbull: and a change in the ALP leadership (and especially to a Plibersek/Bowen team as leader and deputy) might just be all it takes to lock Labor’s two-party lead in for at least long enough to turn a likely election victory into a certainty.

Three (and this is an old story), until the Coalition finally recruits some smarts in the areas of political strategy and tactics, mass communication and parliamentary management — and backs them with a slate of sober, mainstream conservative policies, not the lefty social whims of its leader and/or panicked pandering to the ruthlessly advancing monster that is the Left — it won’t even matter if the Liberal Party tosses Malcolm overboard. It won’t matter who the replacement is. It won’t matter how long there is until an election, and it won’t matter how “brilliant” the latest mediocre exercise in pea and thimble tricks federal budget is purported to be. Right now, opposition beckons the Coalition almost irresistibly. Like an adolescent determined to be entrusted with a dirty secret at all costs, the Coalition gives every appearance of being willingly drawn further and further toward the cliff.

And just to put the tin hat on it all, the share of the vote identified by Newspoll as belonging to minor parties and “Others” continues to hover near 30%, and whilst some Turnbull figures (who shall remain nameless) like to suggest privately that these are “parked” Coalition votes that will “come home” at election time, most of them didn’t last July — and even more of them won’t next time either, at an election that is now at most less than two years away from being called.

I’d never vote for a party led by a pinko like Tanya Plibersek, and I think Chris Bowen is a charlatan and an intellectual fraud who’d have very little to say if someone didn’t script his lines for him and wind up his power pack every morning so he could deliver them.

But out in Voterland, where people don’t think twice about politics and where visual impressions increasingly count for more nowadays than anything requiring serious thought anyway, this ticket, properly handled, could yield the ALP great electoral dividends, and anyone who thinks Labor lacks the capacity to capitalise on such a vapid but electorally potent ticket should reflect upon how close Bill Shorten went toward becoming Prime Minister nine months ago…and he’s a lying, fork-tongued soothsayer whose past handiwork as a union hack and ministerial saboteur mark him out as someone to be avoided at literally any cost.

I know I sound like a broken record when I say, not for the first time, that this poll screams at the Liberals to knuckle under and get their shit together: if Labor moves on Shorten first, it’ll all be over. It’ll be too late. Perhaps it already is.

And in two weeks’ time, provided Newspoll isn’t delayed, it’ll be a case of “11 down, 19 to go.” Bet tens on it. Malcolm will never win another election. He almost lost the last one. The time to fix things is now. The need is becoming more urgent with every day that passes.

The alternative is Tanya Plibersek as Prime Minister, and for all his faults, that’ll make Malcolm and his social ideas look, improbably enough, positively saintly. But by then of course, it really will be too late for the Liberals to do anything more than count the cost of doing nothing now.


Newspoll’s 52-48 ALP Lead: Rogue Poll Or Reality?

DESPITE THE FACT only a sycophant would believe the “improvement” scored by the Coalition in yesterday’s Newspoll, some interesting questions arise from a survey showing the government gaining three points on Labor in three weeks at a time some interesting things have been happening. Do voters approve of Turnbull’s plan to expand the Snowy River scheme? Is Bill Shorten finally cooked? Or is this poll — as I suspect it is — a rogue result?

Nine down, 21 to go…

Whatever else anyone might say about the latest Newspoll — carried in The Australian yesterday — the indisputable fact is that not only does it find Malcolm Turnbull 30% the way toward racking up the “30 losing Newspolls” he used to justify a move on predecessor Tony Abbott, but it also shows the government remaining on course to lose an election fairly clearly were one to be held today.

Needless to say, of course, the imminent orgy of propaganda from Malcolm’s people won’t present it quite so starkly.

But yesterday’s Newspoll (and I apologise for the delay: something popped up that diverted my attention elsewhere when I started writing this piece) might simultaneously be both a rogue result and a genuine finding; I will explain what I mean.

First, the increase in the Coalition primary vote (from 34% to 37%) and the corresponding decline in that for the ALP (from 37% to 35%) is in itself unremarkable; in the past 25 years the ALP has only three times outpolled the Coalition on primary votes at an election (in 1993, 1998 and 2007) and has, unless overall opinion sampling indicated a Labor landslide of epic proportions, generally trailed the Coalition ever since the entrenchment of the Greens as a third force over the past 15-20 years.

And on the surface of it, a three-point lift in the Coalition’s two-party vote — reducing the ALP’s lead to (a still election-winning) 52-48 — would seem quite commensurate with that primary vote lift.

But the poll was taken after the government received a battering from the ALP over penalty rates, and appeared clueless as to how to respond; most of the fortnight was also punctuated by leaks from Scott Morrison’s upcoming budget — and most of what has oozed out (such as changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax arrangements on property investments) — are, unwisely, apparent moves to play on Labor’s turf: probably a recipe for more trouble.

In this sense, improvements in Malcolm Turnbull’s standing as “preferred Prime Minister” (from 40% to 43%) and in his personal approve/disapprove numbers (from 29/59 to 30/57) are — aside from being largely within the poll’s margin of error — made to look a little too conveniently positive for my liking by corresponding drops in Bill Shorten’s “preferred PM” number (from 33% to 29%) and his own approve/disapprove ratings (from 30.56 to 29/57).

Just to make it interesting, The Australian‘s comment that this survey represents the fourth straight Newspoll in which Shorten’s leadership approval has gone backwards is a trend that is difficult to dismiss — even if there is a rogue element to some of the other findings.

And to put the cherry on top of the cake, plotting to remove Turnbull from his post by forces aligned with former PM Tony Abbott — which was all but being conducted in the pages of a number of mainstream media publications a fortnight ago — has strangely fallen silent.

There are things in flux on both sides of the political divide at present, and both may be factors at play in the phenomenon I am describing.

On the Labor side, I have long believed that having conducted himself appallingly for three years and failed to win an election on the back of lies, half-truths, exaggerated promises and half-baked slogans, Bill Shorten’s one and only shot at winning an election as Labor “leader” has been and gone; it does not matter how close the ALP got to victory, and it does not matter how few seats (or how small a swing) it needs next time: taking the debased route of “Politics by Bullshit” either works first go or it kills off the practitioner.

Readers have heard me say in the past that a change in the ALP leadership should be interpreted as a sign that Labor is not only serious about reclaiming office, but that it seriously believes it can do so: jettisoning the imbecilic Shorten would remove a very large amount of lead from its saddlebags.

Should Shorten be left where he is, however, the converse is true.

And this might well prove the case, if Turnbull and his acolytes finally and belatedly prove able to get their shit together.

On the Coalition side, I headlined my Newspoll piece last time as a “call to arms” for the Liberals: it seems they are responding.

Malcolm’s plan to expand the Snowy River scheme — at a time of increasing electricity prices and collapsing supply reliability, as the scourge of unviable renewables begins to make its inevitable consequences felt — was and is a great idea, but in the context of this poll, it is hard to ascribe the bounce the Coalition has received to this initiative alone — and not least when everything else continued to go badly for Turnbull, as it almost always has ever since he stole the Liberal leadership from Abbott in a lightning coup in 2015.

Hence my thought that the result is rogue: it makes no sense whatsoever when judged against the three-week period it contrived to measure.

(And we haven’t even touched on the Liberal Party wipeout at the WA state election, which also happened during that period).

But in the past couple of days — after the results were published — there are tentative signs of life emanating from the government.

A more concerted attempt to defend the Productivity Commission ruling on penalty rates is underway; Turnbull and his troops have caught Shorten on the hop in Parliament this week (as opposed to the vapid and frankly pathetic drubbing they received last time it sat) and — rarely, but encouragingly, where the Coalition is concerned — decent memes have begun appearing in social media, highlighting the difference between penalty rates that will apply on Sundays under the Productivity Commission ruling, and those that apply under deals struck by Shorten as a union leader that sold out the pay rates of the workers he claimed to protect (the rates in the Shorten deals are almost always the lower of the two).

Turnbull is taking changes to section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act to the Coalition joint party room this morning for final approval; they fall short of the complete repeal of the section, which would be the desirable result, but they nevertheless constitute an improvement on the existing regime.

Simultaneously, Turnbull is announcing a review of the Human Rights Commission, and specifically, the guidelines with which it will handle future complaints under a revamped 18c.

There are moves afoot to hold a plebiscite on the question of gay marriage — in line with the policy that received a mandate at last year’s election — by using a postal ballot (that doesn’t require legislation) to get around the opportunistic and cynical opposition the measure originally foundered against in the Senate.

So whilst it is too early to tell, we may be in the situation that whilst the Newspoll itself was rogue, the improvement in the Coalition’s stocks becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: hence the paradox to which I alluded near the top of today’s piece.

But one swallow does not make a Spring; much will have to go right from here for Turnbull to enact any serious or meaningful recovery: one slip could be all it takes to cast him, and the government, right back to the bottom of the well — and if this occurs, Turnbull’s conservative colleagues are less likely to be forgiving in future.

Or patient.

There is a huge test looming in the form of Scott Morrison’s post-election budget that can arguably make or break Turnbull, Morrison, and the government overall: and just to underline the point, Turnbull was widely regarded as a terminal commodity just a few weeks ago. Certainly, I thought he had passed the point of political no return. Perhaps he had, and perhaps it really is too late. But for the only time in 18 months, the government looks the goods right now.

In a fortnight’s time we will know whether the bounce was genuine, or one best characterised by a dead cat. Either way, the odds of “10 down, 20 to go” sitting atop the next instalment of the Newspoll story must — in good common sense — remain at very short odds indeed.

Time will tell. It always does…

Newspoll 54-46 To Labor: Early Days, But Turnbull Is Doomed

THE stupidest of many ill-advised statements by Malcolm Turnbull is the excuse of “30 losing Newspolls” he gave to justify knifing his predecessor; today’s is the seventh straight “losing” Newspoll, featuring awful numbers for the government on almost every line, and Turnbull’s abysmal ratings stuck where they dwelt for much of his first hapless stint as Liberal leader: in the toilet. It is early in the day, but this poll makes it clear. Turnbull is finished.

You know there is something very, very wrong when a Prime Minister whose personal approval rating increases by a solitary point — despite two-thirds of the respondents to a reputable poll declining to express approval — and leading a government on track for an electoral belting has a pack of sycophants in tow disseminating the message that he’s roaring back into contention because he “stood up” to Donald Trump: never mind the fact that the rest of the world almost unanimously recognises that the PM was badly humiliated, and in front of a global audience to boot.

Yes, Malcolm Turnbull’s approval rating in Newspoll increased this week, from 32% to 33%. Truly.

But sarcasm aside, the first Newspoll for 2017 (published in The Australian, which you can access here) might be easier for the Turnbull camp to spin its way out of if not for the fact that it lands squarely in the middle of ReachTel and Essential Media findings that have been posted over the last month; the headline finding that the Coalition trails Labor by eight points after preferences is now disturbingly consistent across all of the polls that have been in the field so far this year.

The fact Newspoll is generally the most accurate makes this result even worse.

And with the 4.4% swing to the ALP this poll represents from the July election — handing 20 seats to Labor if replicated at an election and with them, government with a majority of 24 seats — it is obvious that Malcolm Turnbull has a very big problem indeed.

There are some interesting messages coming out of this poll, and Turnbull isn’t the only one who ought to be contemplating his next move in life, but more on that shortly.

But at a time of year that is often the friendliest for governments — the silly season, when most people switch off politics, and re-emerge feeling pretty good about themselves and the state of the world* — it does rather appear that for the second year in a row, Turnbull has blown the easiest opportunity on offer to get a bit of momentum going before the business of government cranks back up to top gear.

Another travel expenses scandal, another disgraced minister, another reshuffle that may or may not turn out to have been astutely crafted (for once), the embarrassment of the leaks about the Trump call, the botched disclosure of Turnbull’s personal $1.75m donation to the Liberal Party: it’s getting to be a fairly tired old story, and there is every indication — and not just from the polls, if you talk to enough people on the street, well away from the surrealistic bubble politicians occupy — that the electorate has completely switched off from Malcolm Turnbull.

The personal approval numbers — for both Turnbull and opposition “leader” Bill Shorten — are abjectly pathetic, to the point anyone on either side who crows about them has a psychiatric problem; Turnbull elicited approval from 33% of Newspoll respondents; Shorten, 32%. It doesn’t really matter that Turnbull picked up a point, or that Shorten dropped a couple. There are no trends here aside from the fact voters generally want to throw the Turnbull government out of power. More than half of Newspoll’s respondents disapproved of both.

Similarly, the fact Turnbull continues to lead Shorten on the “preferred PM” measure — by 42% (+1%) to 30% (-2%) — has all the excitement about it of a mildew colony growing spores. A friend of mine (a fellow Carlton Football Club fanatic) has a habit at Carlton games, when we trail the opposition by 50 or 60 points, of sarcastically yelling “Charge!” when the team kicks a behind for a miserable extra point after missing a goal; the anecdote neatly reflects Turnbull’s “progress” on this measure in this survey: negligible to the point of useless.

But aside from the headline 54-46 finding — which is damning for a government re-elected seven months ago that hasn’t really actually done anything — it is on the primary vote findings in this Newspoll that the real story lies.

With the Coalition registering just 35% (-4% since December), the magnitude of the hole Turnbull has adroitly steered the government into over the past 15 months becomes starkly apparent. No government has ever won an election with 35% of the vote; even Julia Gillard in 2010 — at an election Labor technically lost — managed a sliver better than 37%.

Those votes appear to have gone to One Nation and the “Others” pile (which register 8% and 11% respectively) and, by virtue of Labor’s two-party figure increasing two points to 54%, it is clear that these nominally conservative voters are disinclined to back Turnbull on any basis: the now well-known phenomenon of right-wing electors preferring to banish the Coalition to opposition and endure a term of Labor in office rather than vote for Turnbull at all.

Yet the ALP vote, at 36%, has not increased in this poll, sitting just a solitary point above its level at last year’s election and two points above the belting it suffered at the hands of Tony Abbott in September 2013. Labor is simply not an attractive option for anyone beyond its bare core base.

There are three things that can readily be extrapolated from these figures: one, the support lost to the Coalition may or may not be retrievable, given the ALP has singularly failed to make direct inroads; two, that the problem emanates almost exclusively from Turnbull (and to a lesser extent, the non-performing ministers who hold their posts because they voted for him against Abbott, rather than fielding the best team the Coalition might offer); and three, if the ALP is serious about a return to office, it is going to have to get rid of Bill Shorten and replace him with somebody more attractive to the broader electorate.

Had Mal Brough — a Turnbull appointment that quickly proved very foolish indeed, given the lightning speed with which federal Police raided his house after his return to the ministry — remained on the backbench, it is likely Shorten would have been junked by Labor in late 2015; bereft of credibility and reeling from the Royal Commission into the union movement, ALP hardheads were readying to dump him if he didn’t go quietly. But the Brough raid gave Shorten breathing room, and he survived.

Just as a week can be a long time in politics, it often turns on a dime; and had Brough not been promoted as a reward for his work putting the numbers together for Turnbull’s leadership challenge, or had Turnbull done as this column advised and called a December 2015 election, then the Coalition’s thumping 2013 majority would likely still be intact today — and the government equipped with a lot more insurance against the parlous situation it now contemplates.

I have said many times, including in this column, that a leadership change at the ALP should be interpreted as a sign it is serious about winning an election, and confident it is able to do so. In this sense, there is little for Shorten to be satisfied with in these numbers even though they show Labor comfortably ahead on the two-party measure.

But that’s the point: and however the 54% ALP number is arrived at — low primary vote notwithstanding — it is impossible to crunch these numbers and get any other outcome from them but a crushing election defeat for the Coalition.

I’d never vote for it, but the last thing the Coalition would want is to allow an ALP duumvirate of Tanya Plibersek as leader and Chris Bowen as deputy to get ensconced with a soaring lead in the polls before doing something about its own dire predicament: by that stage, a Labor win would be almost inevitable irrespective of what the Liberals belatedly did about Turnbull.

And this is why a change in the Liberal leadership is likely in the top half of 2017: by Easter or at latest before the budget is what I have been hearing.

The Liberals have been here before with Turnbull: in 2009, in the aftermath of his injudicious “Utegate” own goal, which raised permanent questions of his political nous and judgement. Malcolm’s personal numbers are now no better than they were following that event. The Coalition’s two-party number, having hit 53% soon after he rolled Abbott and at the time he should have called an election but didn’t, has traversed a gentle but almost ceaseless downward path ever since.

During his first stint as Liberal leader, the Coalition’s average two-party result was a 44-56 deficit. On today’s numbers, which are a deadly reconfirmation of that downward slide, Turnbull has almost returned the Coalition to the sorry state in which he left it more than seven years ago.

The frustrating thing — as I have published numerous times, including in several articles so far this year — is that the solutions to the government’s problems, whilst difficult to implement, are blindingly obvious: proper conservative policy, sounder strategy and tactics, and far more effective communications. It is clear that the Coalition in its present guise does not possess the requisite smarts on any of these measures. Today’s Newspoll is proof of it, corroborating to vicious effect other polls that have recorded almost identical findings.

I think we have reached the point that it doesn’t really matter what Turnbull says or does now: out in Voterland, nobody is listening. People couldn’t care less. The Liberal Party needs a new leader. It might be early in the day, with two years or so until an election is due, but the bell is tolling. Turnbull is doomed.

I might not be one of Malcolm Turnbull’s greatest (political) admirers, as readers well know; but as I said to one rusted-on Turnbull insider a week or so ago, I don’t actually want to see the Liberal Party pushed out of government, either.

The only way that outcome can be avoided is by a change of leadership: the transaction risks and costs now easily outweigh the political risks of leaving Turnbull in his post.

But with question marks hanging over almost all of the feasible contenders to replace him, and a karma bus with Turnbull’s name on it seemingly packed and ready to hit the road, the party simply cannot afford to make another mistake if it goes down that track, and whilst I have declined at this stage  to endorse anyone to replace Turnbull, whoever it is that steps up to the challenge is going to have their work cut out if the Coalition’s electoral position is to be retrieved.

Today’s Newspoll is highly unlikely to trigger any kind of leadership challenge when MPs return to Canberra this week.

But it almost certainly represents the point at which the ambit muttering that has been going on and the disparate groups resolving to “do something” about the Liberal leadership are galvanised into more concerted activity aimed at getting rid of their dud leader.

And it might prove to be the trigger for Cory Bernardi to walk out of the Liberal Party to set up his new “conservative” party, if that is what he actually intends to do…who knows on that front? But were it to happen, then the government would probably be dead in the water anyway.

The stupidest thing any political leader can do is to give his or her opponents a poll-driven yardstick with which to beat the living shit out of them if they flounder; Turnbull did precisely that 17 months ago when he nominated a consecutive sequence of “30 losing Newspolls” as his pretext for shafting Tony Abbott.

Today is Malcolm’s very own “losing” Newspoll #7. In a row. If there is one thing that is certain, he won’t get to 30 — or anything remotely approaching it.

Turnbull is finished. Anyone with a different reading of today’s Newspoll numbers should enrol in a remedial English class.


*The “state of the world” is an expression…with an eye to the new occupant at 1,600 Pennsylvania Drive, it is not intended to be taken literally today…

More Newspoll Misery: Turnbull Mired In Losing Position

IN NEWS with which Malcolm Turnbull will be sorely familiar, his government seems welded to a losing position; today’s “triumph” — a tiny lift in support to 48% — is the sixth in a rerun of the “30 losing Newspolls” Turnbull used to justify knifing Tony Abbott. His personal numbers are the lowest since 2009. Solutions are difficult, but obvious, as they were under Abbott. Unless Turnbull finds a way to enact them, his papers will soon be stamped.

It seems ridiculous, really, that one year ago, the Coalition was positioned to crush Labor and potentially gain a majority in both Houses of Parliament had a double dissolution then been held; the first chink in Malcolm Turnbull’s armour had been exposed by a raid by Australian Federal Police on the home of former minister Mal Brough, yes. But the initial effects of Turnbull’s ascension to the Prime Ministership — compounded by the scathing report into the union movement tabled by Dyson Heydon, which directly damaged Labor “leader” Bill Shorten — saw the Liberals with enough support across all reputable polls to maintain their 30-seat majority in the lower house (and probably increase it) whilst making the Senate a tantalising proposition indeed.

In the ensuing twelve months, many of the same mistakes made by the Abbott government have continued to be made — albeit by a different group of people — whilst Turnbull has spent much of the year giving the distinct impression of a man determined to find new ways to tank at an election (his excruciatingly pointless taxation “debate” a salutary case in point) with the pathetic two-seat victory on 2 July more reward, judged objectively, than his efforts probably deserved.

And it seems that for all the pointers emerging across Western democracies that the majority of people want to be listened to and provided with leadership by their governments — not fed elitist bullshit and told how to speak, and think, and behave, whilst being prioritised below minorities and foreigners — those who govern Australia at present simply refuse to heed the message.

Clearly, I have been far too busy of late with other obligatory things to have posted as regularly as I would like, and we have missed a couple of the Newspolls published by The Australian since the 2 July election was held.

But in one sense, we haven’t missed much; in what is quickly becoming a case of “another fortnight, another Newspoll shocker,” the Turnbull government is now six polls into an increasingly likely rerun of the “30 losing Newspolls” its leader used to justify overthrowing Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, and whilst there was some direction and strategy provided under Abbott on the watch of the redoubtable Peta Credlin (even if it was hopelessly flawed and misdirected), under Turnbull it is difficult to even acknowledge that.

Newspoll’s finding (and you can access The Australian‘s coverage here) that Coalition support, after preferences, has increased by one percentage point over the past fortnight to 48% will be cheered by some in the Liberal bunker and among some of its public mouthpieces and so-called strategists.

The reality, however, is that this degree of support (or the lack of it), corroborated by all of the other recent polls, amounts to a 2.4% swing to the ALP, which if repeated at an election would cede at least 12 seats to Labor and with them, government.

Coalition hardheads, noting their 39% primary vote has actually risen a point in this poll, will point instead to Labor’s 36% (-2% over the fortnight) and insist this level of support is too low to win an election, but of course thanks to the system of compulsory preferential voting we use in Australia, 36% will suffice if the ALP can harvest enough preferences in enough seats: and with the Communist Party Greens polling 10% and probably half the 15% recorded by “Others” in this Newspoll also likely to flow to the ALP, the flaw in this kind of logic is a fatal one.

Shorten, as he has deservedly always been, remains vastly unpopular, with just 34% of Newspoll’s respondents approving of the job he is doing as Labor “leader.”

But as The Australian correctly notes, Shorten’s net satisfaction rating has improved from -35% in January to -17% now; and — incredibly — he is actually more popular than Turnbull, of whom 32% of respondents expressed approval for a net satisfaction score of -23%.

Irrespective of the woes that befell the Abbott government and no matter how appropriate critiques made of that administration might be — in this column as elsewhere — it isn’t hard to spot the central defect in the current government: the Prime Minister himself.

A series of abysmal ministerial appointments that exploded in his face have been compounded with a steady supply of ongoing political embarrassment (George Brandis, take a bow) in an area of personnel management that is Turnbull’s direct responsibility, and his alone.

The appalling directionlessness of the top half of 2016 — the “reform” of the Senate notwithstanding — persisted into and throughout the glacial federal election campaign which, as I noted earlier, was probably rewarded with more than it deserved in the form of outright victory by a single seat. Indeed, had Shorten not overreached in the final fortnight with the wildly dishonest “Mediscare” attack, I think Turnbull would in fact have been beaten.

His arrogant, ranting performance when he belatedly fronted the cameras on election night (which may or may not have been fuelled by copious amounts of champagne, as some scribes at the time suggested) further alienated many voters who had already turned on him, or who had supported the government with pegs on their noses.

And there has, to be sure, been very little for the government to crow about in the five months since.

There are those in the government who think the passage of the Registered Organisations laws and the bill to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission are a triumph from which the revival of their electoral fortunes will soon flow, and who will also point to the tiny rise in the Coalition’s vote in this poll as “proof.”

But those who comprehend such things know that by agreeing to a two-year lead-in for the restored ABCC — irrespective of whether Derryn Hinch or Turnbull himself proposed such an idiocy — the government might as well not have bothered; in two years’ time, unless something drastic happens, Australia could well be weeks away from returning the ALP to office, and if Labor wins the next election, its CFMEU masters and other filth at Trades Hall will ensure the ABCC never sees the light of day.

The sad truth — and I speak as a conservative nominally sitting on the mainstream Right — is that three years after its big win in 2013, this government has progressed from accident-prone and ineffective under Abbott to a living, breathing electoral time bomb under Turnbull, whose approval ratings now closely resemble the unflattering (and terminal) levels of support he recorded late in 2009 before a successful leadership challenge from Abbott put him out of his misery.

The solutions are obvious, if difficult to implement: a focus on fixing the structural abyss in the federal budget and finally paying down some of the obscene national debt. Slashing extravagant Gillard-era social spending, on programs and constituencies that would never vote Liberal or National in a pink fit. Banishing the scourge of political correctness, in every form, from the government’s handiwork. Abolishing (or enacting a proper revision of) Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. Drawing up a program of modest labour market reforms to restore some of the flexibility wiped out by the ALP’s union-dictated “Fair” Work laws.

The list goes on, but the point is that the Coalition has spent too long (in opposition and in government) cowering before the onslaught from Labor and the Greens: too timid to stand its ground on what are bread and butter Coalition issues, and too timid to stand up to the slithering creep of socialism and big government spending that panders to the constituencies of the Left.

Before Tony Abbott was knifed by Turnbull, I suggested in this column that the government should simply reintroduce every piece of legislation rejected by the Senate in its original form, inviting it to be rejected a second time, racking up perhaps dozens of double dissolution triggers in the process: a messy way to govern, perhaps, but any double dissolution election would be fought on a substantial and wide-ranging program that a joint sitting would pass to transform Australia.

Instead, a poor campaign focused on an empty slogan masquerading as an “economic plan” — “jobs and growth” — received an appropriately tepid return that was insufficient to make a joint sitting of Parliament worth bothering with at all.

In any case, the two bills — useless as the ABCC one probably is — that might have been passed at such a sitting are now finalised, and the government has to start from scratch for an agenda for the coming two or two-and-a-half years.

Will the penny drop? Who knows. But media reports last night, suggesting Turnbull’s government was set to abolish the Abbott-era Green Army environmental initiative and look to implement some revamped form of a carbon tax, are hardly encouraging: a carbon tax has been proven over a decade to be absolute political poison. The bodies it has claimed are strewn across both sides of the political divide. One of them, in 2009, was Turnbull’s. It beggars belief that he could be so inept and suicidal as to revisit it now.

But really, what issues Turnbull does and does not pursue are only half the problem.

The Coalition — and this is an old story, as much as it is an embarrassment — seems incapable of selling anything to the public; it seems incapable of prosecuting an effective attack on its opponents that has any impact at all, let alone any lasting impact; it is wrong-footed and outsmarted by a greasy, smarmy, duplicitous and downright contemptible specimen in Shorten, whose path to the Prime Ministership might yet be paved by the tactical and strategic ineptitude of the Coalition. And it does seem, as I have heard quite a bit around the party of late, to be not quite sure of what it actually stands for.

For all that, it also seems incapable of breaking the finger-shaking, totalitarian culture of the Left — dictating to voters what they should say, and think, and do — that took root in this country under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and which has been permitted to become more and more deeply entrenched as a consequence.

All of this should be called out for what it is: the resurgent menace to democracy that is socialism. Instead, it is treated with kids gloves by the Liberal Party, lest it offend anyone by standing up to it.

Meanwhile, all over the world — Brexit and the ascension of Donald Trump to the US presidency illustrating the point — silent majorities are signalling in the clearest possible terms that not only have they had enough, but that they will no longer tolerate it.

So here we are: six losing Newspolls into a sequence that may yet stretch to 30. The Coalition has its problems, and the solutions will take more intestinal fortitude to implement than we have witnessed from it since John Howard led it.

My guess is that Turnbull will be dead meat long before he is allowed to rack up 30 shockers in a row, but you never know; either way, there is little point in junking him unless the party is prepared to fix the misfiring apparatus that is the government it continues to form.

Yet unless Turnbull moves to do exactly that — starting with the substantial removal of dead wood from his ministry and a sweeping overhaul of the government’s back of house — his papers will soon enough be stamped. Australia needs Bill Shorten as Prime Minister like Argentina needed Galtieri, but if things don’t change quickly, “our Galtieri” is exactly what we will get: and the Coalition, it pains me to say, will be culpable for it.


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.


Newspoll: Turnbull Slide Resumes After Election “Win”

EVIDENCE that “victory” will do nowt to lift the federal Coalition continues to trickle in, with the first Newspoll since last month’s election showing the government and Prime Minister on the slide after their narrow escape at the polls. Malcolm Turnbull now flounders at levels of public esteem that cost him the Liberal leadership in 2009. Unless he produces tangible results — and quickly — leadership ructions are likely to paralyse his government.

Regular readers of this column will be well aware of the fact that prior to the election eight weeks ago, I was emphatic that the Coalition would be better off in opposition than re-elected to government with virtually no authority whatsoever in a photo finish.

As I have elaborated before and since, both publicly and within forums of the Liberal Party that I occasionally attend, a narrow loss would see the counter start rolling on a Shorten government accruing “demerit points.” A narrow win, by contrast (and with the judgement that the Prime Minister and his cabal are useless in any meaningful sense) would see the government limp through whatever portion of a fresh parliamentary term it managed to survive for ahead of a likely belting that consigned it to opposition for at least two terms — and probably longer.

Everywhere you look, there are signs this rather bleak assessment is shaping up to be absolutely correct.

Today’s Newspoll, published in The Australian (and you can peruse the breakdown of it here) assumes rather more significance than early post-election polling otherwise might; for one thing, the poor light it casts upon the Coalition validates similar findings by Essential Media polling in recent weeks that actually shows the government behind the ALP, and for another, with Labor and the Senate crossbench giving every indication that the government will struggle to deliver even the narrow agenda it took to the electorate, today’s poll might quickly come to represent the kind of numbers Malcolm Turnbull wishes were even possible.

The 50-50 result published by Newspoll on the two-party measure is, technically, a very slight further movement away from the Coalition since the election; whilst a uniform application of it at another election wouldn’t see any more seats lost to Labor, it does go halfway toward the 0.7% movement that would see the Liberals lose three additional seats. And government. Re-elected governments are expected to get a bounce out of victory. But this government seems adrift: just as it has all year.

The Australian, in its analysis of the findings, has observed as much, noting that in the past 30 years only John Howard’s government in 2005 and Julia Gillard’s in 2010 went backwards at their first post-election Newspolls. In Howard’s case, the government was quickly beset by vigorous debate over how to use its new-found Senate majority to deliver labour market reforms that were never mentioned during the 2004 election campaign; in Gillard’s case (and notwithstanding the 17-day “negotiation” period to form a government after the 2010 election), the PM was quickly crucified for lying to the electorate over her intention to implement a carbon tax during the campaign and never really recovered from the fallout.

By contrast, there is no such definitive marker to punctuate Turnbull’s fortunes. Simply put, Malcolm is simply being judged on being Malcolm, and it shows.

In this sense, Turnbull’s personal approval ratings have now deteriorated to the level that saw him ejected from the Liberal leadership seven years ago; as Newspoll tells it today, just 34% (-6% since the pre-election survey) of voters now approve of the job he is doing as Prime Minister, with 52% (+5%) disapproving; these numbers are a far cry from the stellar heights of last October, when Malcolm foolishly declined to call a December election to capitalise on what would almost certainly have been a landslide of popular support.

Instead, he now boasts numbers that hardly show predecessor Tony Abbott in a poor light, and any advantage he once held over Bill Shorten has now evaporated.

Shorten, for the little he is worth, is now more “popular” than Turnbull, with 36% of respondents approving of his performance and 50% disapproving — erasing one of the key advantages held out to justify the Liberal leadership change — and Turnbull’s lead on the “preferred PM” measure continues to be eroded, with 43% (-5%) opting for Turnbull and 32% (+2%) for Shorten.

In other words, whilst Turnbull probably retains an edge over Shorten from an overall perspective, that “edge” is now heavily qualified, not very clear, and virtually encased in semantic arguments about margins of sampling error.

So much for economic leadership — or, indeed, any kind of leadership — that Turnbull professed to offer after the 30 consecutive Newspolls featuring two-party leads to the ALP which he used to justify knifing Abbott.

On “jobs and growth,” Turnbull’s ambitious tax cut already appears doomed in the Senate, as the ALP, Greens and minor players give every indication it will at best be heavily emasculated to the point the aim of the policy will be all but destroyed.

On superannuation, Turnbull’s plans appear destined to suffer a similar fate.

On the fraught issue of gay marriage, Turnbull appears unlikely to be able to deliver the Coalition’s long-promised plebiscite, as a Senate majority to block it appears set in stone.

The justification for the double dissolution — Registered Organisations legislation and a bill to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission — is an outside prospect of passing at best; even if it does, the chances it too will be heavily doctored (and rendered toothless) are very high indeed.

And on the repayment of Commonwealth debt and fixing the haemorrhaging federal budget, Labor under Bill Shorten has already signalled it will refuse to co-operate unless the government adopts the “Labor plan” of $110bn in tax rises and economically destructive measures such as abolishing negative gearing: an agenda only a foolish, class-obsessed government would even countenance.

In other words, little of any significance is likely to be achieved by this government. Off the back of a timid, woefully thin election agenda, this is an indictment — the finely poised numbers in Parliament notwithstanding.

It remains to be seen, of course, how the government performs, although the signs are far from promising; just to tighten the screws on it a bit further, the next half-Senate election must be finalised by 30 June 2019: meaning another election is at the very most two and a half years away, not three.

And the sum total of all of these pressures is leadership instability: sooner, rather than later, in my view.

There will be time enough in the weeks and months ahead to canvass and discuss the ongoing unsuitability of the ALP (and especially Shorten) for office, the defects in Turnbull’s leadership that I believe are probably terminal, the thin field of realistic contenders to replace him, and the effect any leadership change might have on the overall political landscape.

Personally, I am already of the view that the transaction costs of a leadership change (if one occurs) are likely to be lower than persisting with Turnbull for some or all of the next two-and-a-bit years: even if it is assumed both scenarios would end in defeat anyway.

But the key takeout from this poll, which is a very inauspicious start indeed, is that unless Turnbull produces significant, tangible results — and quickly — then leadership ructions are likely to consume the Coalition, and sooner rather than later in my view.

I don’t think the Parliament will permit any such outcomes, which means the key to the government’s survival — under Turnbull or someone else — will come down to its execution of political tactics and strategy, and its ability to frame and communicate a case to the public that skewers Shorten and Labor with the accountability for the mess government in Australia has become that they should have been held to after 2013.

These are not areas in which the Coalition has performed well, let alone excelled, for at least a decade. The scale of the challenge is clear. But an objective assessment of Turnbull’s ability to grasp and respond to it suggests any confidence in his ability to turn things around is probably misplaced.


50/50 Newspoll Cold Comfort For Turnbull, Coalition

THE LATEST NEWSPOLL — published in The Australian today — offers no succour to Malcolm Turnbull and his government despite recording a tied result, which almost certainly masks an overall position that at best for the Coalition has stagnated; Turnbull continues to pay the price for a flat-footed and visionless campaign, and the surge in support for minor party candidates complicates the difficult task of prevailing on 2 July even further.

The timing of the latest Newspoll — coming one day after an extensive discussion of some of the issues that are driving momentum for Bill Shorten, and the apparently complete disinclination and/or inability to effectively puncture them in the Coalition bunker — is exquisite, and the result not entirely unexpected; the finding that Newspoll’s respondents are split evenly on the two-party measure is within the margin of error, heavily dependent on rounding and estimates of preference flows, and is in all likelihood a facade for the fact that the past four 51-49 results in Labor’s favour are unlikely to have changed all that much in the past fortnight — if at all.

First things first: readers can check out the coverage of Newspoll in The Australian today here and here, and the obvious point I would make is that its Canberra bureau chief, Phillip Hudson, is dead wrong when he says that not only can Labor not win an election with a primary vote of 35%, but that it needs to increase to at least (his italics) 39% to be in with a chance: the ALP under Gillard forced a hung Parliament (and formed government) in 2010 from a primary vote of 37.2%, and with the ongoing trend to a fracturing of the major parties’ primary votes, a vote gained through preference distribution is as good as one gained outright — even if it takes up to a fortnight longer to achieve the same effect.

I think if Labor scores 35% or 36% of the primary vote, in an ambivalent and disaffected public atmosphere where politics is concerned these days, it will probably win the election: the only variable will be whether it’s outright or in minority. But more on that a bit later.

This poll comes as almost all of the other reputable polls in the market are carrying leads of 51-49 or 52-48 in the ALP’s favour, and in that sense the aggregate across the lot of them probably sits bang on the 51-49 mark as best I can guesstimate; as I said yesterday, there are signs that Labor is consolidating its early leads — e’er slightly as may be — and I don’t see anything in this latest batch of Newspoll figures to contradict that.

With its respondents marking both parties down a point each on the primary vote, Newspoll finds the Coalition and Labor now sitting on 40% and 35% respectively; even though the Communist Party Greens also drop a point in this survey, to 10%, and despite a few seat-by-seat deals in Victoria that may or may not be struck by Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger, it is likely that 75% of these Greens votes will still flow to the ALP during preference distributions (and I’m marking that down from 80% last time) and if they do, that effectively puts the parties on 42.5% each.

Another five percentage points — 3% for Nick Xenophon’s NXT group, and 1% each for Clive Palmer’s dying rabble and for One Nation — are tied up in entities that are no friends of the Coalition: Xenophon, whilst credible, leans well left of the Coalition (even under Malcolm Turnbull); the Palmer Party’s vote went a tick better than 60% to Labor last time, and what’s left of it will probably do so again; and by declaring that Pauline Hanson is “not welcome in federal politics,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has probably guaranteed that Hanson will do what she did when she helped kill off a series of Liberal state governments in the early 2000s (or helped bury the NSW and Queensland opposition Coalition parties in 1999 and 2001 respectively), and put the Liberals last.

Just to be a bit generous to Malcolm, let’s call this a 60-40 split of these votes to Labor: and this brings the votes up to 44.5% for the Coalition, and 45.5% for the ALP.

But when it is remembered that the “Others” vote (which in this case includes 3% for Family First) generally splits 50/50 between the major parties, this back-of-envelope preference distribution results in a 50.5% share of the two-party measure for the ALP; and given Family First made no secret of its disgusted fury at the Senate voting changes legislated earlier in the year by Turnbull — going so far as to launch a ridiculous High Court challenge that was always doomed to fail on open-and-shut constitutional grounds — Labor’s 51% results over the past two months might even be unchanged.

To some degree, the standings of the two leaders is becoming less relevant in my view (if it ever really was) and to the extent it remains so, the more important set of numbers belongs to Turnbull, whose approval falls again this time around to 37% (-1%) and his disapproval rises by the same amount to 51%, making him almost as unpopular as he was when his colleagues tossed him out of the Liberal Party leadership six and a half years ago.

Yes, Bill Shorten’s numbers are worse — approval dropping four points to 33%, and disapproval rising three points to 52% — but he remains far less on the nose than he was six months ago, when his pathetic numbers almost triggered the Labor leadership coup we alerted readers to last November, and which to that point had been stayed only by Mal Brough’s explosion as a source of poor publicity for the government.

And as disliked as I’m sure Shorten is among a wide cross-section of the electorate, the recent precedent of Tony Abbott winning an election with worse personal ratings means that anyone who believes Shorten is the Besser brick that will pull the ALP below the surface of the water on 2 July is kidding themselves.

He should be. He deserves to be. But if Labor loses, it will arguably have little to do with Shorten.

On the “preferred Prime Minister” measure, Turnbull and Shorten both drop a point, to 45% and 30% respectively: hardly a vote of confidence in either of them, with the lead enjoyed by Turnbull remaining no more than the clear but not overwhelming advantage any incumbent PM might be entitled to expect at this point in the cycle.

Cutting through the bullshit and sifting through the odd good news day for the Coalition, the (rare) lapses of discipline and focus by Labor, and the sheer lifelessness of Turnbull’s campaign, my gut instincts tell me that at the halfway point of the campaign proper, it’s the Coalition that is in the fight of its life.

To watch it and listen to it, however, you could be forgiven for thinking the election was six months ago. Apart from Turnbull’s increasingly shrill exhortations for a “decisive result” to avoid a hung Parliament, the government’s campaign exudes all the excitement of an overdose of Mogadon.

The trend picked up by Newspoll of a spike in voting intention for minor parties and Independents isn’t a new phenomenon, and it isn’t all that unusual any more; three of the past six federal elections have seen the major parties fail to collectively record more than 80% of the primary vote, and if it happens again this time, I’d be suggesting this pattern was becoming the norm rather than getting excited about it and suggesting this was some shock new departure in Australian politics.

Yet having said that, the kind of vacuously populist, economically irresponsible, deliberately misleading and downright dishonest campaigns waged by the ALP these days are one very big contributor to the fragmentation of the major party vote; the turgid, insipid, visionless and timid offerings lately turned in by the Liberal Party are another.

The old adage that voters are not stupid, and are articulate and intelligent enough to process serious and detailed policy and reform packages, is only partly correct: some people who vote in Australian elections are very stupid indeed, and I’m not talking about the partisan preferences of those whose views are of the Left. But the fact dumb, gullible voters amplify and assist in getting brainless scare campaigns to resonate more widely is no excuse for treating the rest of the electorate like incoherent dolts as well by telling them nothing of consequence.

And with both parties straying across the dividing line between each other’s traditional philosophical positions, it can be no surprise that minor parties are springing up all over the place. Readers know that I disagree violently with the notion of candidates or parties being elected with a sliver of the vote, and in this sense the Senate is an undemocratic and unrepresentative outrage in my view. But that outrage wouldn’t exist to criticise if the major parties were representative of the values they are meant to embody: and right now, jointly and severally, they are nothing of the kind.

Against this backdrop, it is generally the challenger who can expect to be favoured, rather than the proverbial “devil you know.”

This is why — with nothing concrete emanating from the Liberal Party that suggests it is capable of knocking the insidious and vapid “policy” offerings of the ALP over, with four weeks to go — I am increasingly certain Labor may indeed form a government whenever the counting of votes is finalised during the week after next month’s election.

(Despite my trenchant historical critiques of Turnbull as a leader, it is an outcome that would disgust me: the damage such a government would wreak is incalculable beyond the near-certainty that it would be economically and socially cataclysmic. But that’s another story).

The polls have now been consistent — and surprisingly uniform — for months now; the only movement that has been a constant, detected in all of them (albeit to varying degrees), has been the unfaltering downward drift of Turnbull’s personal approval numbers. It was entirely foreseeable to anyone who paid the slightest notice to Turnbull’s performance as leader in 2008-09 and to the horrific personal ratings it deservedly generated. If the government loses the coming election, moderate Liberals will have much to answer for.

A quick look around the electorates held (and likely to be retained) by Greens and Independents offers no comfort to the Coalition; Andrew Wilkie, Adam Bandt and any breakthrough Xenophon candidate in the lower house can all be expected to back Shorten in the event of any hung Parliament.

If Cathy McGowan holds on in Indi, I wouldn’t be relying on her if I were Turnbull either; if Barnaby Joyce is beaten in New England by the imbecilic Tony Windsor, the problem grows even worse for the Coalition.

The only hung Parliament I can see Turnbull prevailing in is one where the Coalition wins 75 seats and is propped up by Bob Katter — unless, of course, the National Party has already won his seat as part of that 75-seat haul. If that happens, then God knows what the outcome might be.

And if the Greens knock a couple of sitting ALP MPs out, the equation remains unchanged; Richard di Natale and Adam Bandt would not support a Coalition government if hell froze and charcoal sprouted, or even if a flock of pigs took flight in a sunrise in western skies. The only difference is that the Left’s bloc in the House might have a couple more Greens MPs and a couple less from Labor. It might make the horse trading between the two interesting, but it won’t change a thing.

As it stands, and as The Australian notes, a 50/50 result, if applied uniformly at an election, would see Labor win 14 seats from the Coalition: that reduces the government to 76 seats, and the barest of majorities. If my sense the 50/50 Newspoll result is a bit overcooked for the Coalition is correct, or if patchy voting trends rob the Coalition of another seat or two over and above those 14, the outcome is pretty obvious.

My sense is that if Labor can get to 71-72 seats on its own, the assortment of Greens and other crossbenchers will be enough to put it into government. Whether it wins in its own right or achieves the lesser milestone of forcing a hung Parliament, Bill Shorten becomes Prime Minister either way. The only way Turnbull can be re-elected is by snaring 76 of the 150 lower house seats outright for the Coalition — a task all polls suggest is becoming an increasingly difficult objective.

You really have to wonder just what the point of paying Coalition staffers is if this is the best situation they can engineer against a party that should be at least another couple of terms away from contemplating a return to office after the debacle of the Rudd-Gillard years, and against an opponent in Shorten who has been so thoroughly discredited, repeatedly, that it’s almost offensive to see him still standing politically. It’s as bad as that.

But as I have been saying for some time now, unless the message from the Coalition changes drastically — and its delivery is reworked altogether — then 2 July looms as a bad day for the Coalition, and an even worse day for the country.

If Turnbull wants to be Prime Minister as badly as the effort to seize the office in the first place might have suggested, it’s time to get the skates on.