The day has come. Malcolm Turnbull has lost his 30th consecutive Newspoll in a row. It was the benchmark he set for toppling Tony Abbott to become Prime Minister. As you would expect, the media coverage has been building over the last couple of months, sometimes intense and hysterical.
In hindsight, Turnbull should never have set that benchmark. It’s ironic and distracting. That’s something that everyone can agree on. Even Turnbull himself acknowledges that.
But let’s be blunt. This result means very little in today’s context, and is essentially a big beat-up. The events leading up to the thirty consecutive Newspoll losses are very different for Turnbull compared to Abbott.
Turnbull’s first Newspoll result following the 2016 Federal Election was 50-50. Since then, there has been several issues which have plagued his government, most of which were not of his making.
It started off with the expenses that claimed a minister. Susan Lamb lost her seat over undisclosed expenses and abuses of entitlements.
You also had the beginning of the rumblings from jilted members in the Coalition who were subtly starting to agitate. In the middle of last 2017, the citizenship saga brought everyone down, including a string of Coalition MPs, such as a Deputy Prime Minister and the member for Bennelong. At the same time, there was a strong push for same-sex marriage, where a group of MPs forced the issue to be addressed, resulting in the postal survey.
When the citizenship saga became a huge problem for Labor, and when same-sex marriage became legislated, we saw a more animated Turnbull, missing since his dramatic speech, where he labelled Bill Shorten ‘social climbing sycophant.’
Heading into the summer of 2017-18, things were going well for the Government. It started off the year clawing back ground in Newspoll.
But then the Barnaby Joyce scandal hit Canberra and did significant damage to the Coalition brand. It had stalled the momentum the Government had, and had led the news agenda, taking away from the policy focus.
Tony Abbott, early on as Prime Minister, was able to achieve key policy objectives. Abbott made ‘Stopping the boats’ his own, and was quite successful in stopping people smuggling. He was also instrumental in leading his Government to repealing the carbon tax, one of the reasons Julia Gillard became unpopular.
However, Abbott had more self-inflicted incidents, making a number of questionable gaffs. Very few people forget the time he ate a raw onion in Tasmania. He made further verbal gaffs, including that living in indigenous communities were “a lifestyle choice”, said that one of the female Liberal candidates had “sex appeal”, and that he would “shirt-front” Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 over the downing of MH17.
This was capped off by the bizarre decision (commonly known as his ‘captain’s call) to reinstate knighthoods, and to award Prince Philip a Knight in the Order of Australia.
These errors, as well as having to retreat after a tough first budget, made Abbott and his government deeply unpopular.
When Abbott’s 30th Newspoll came along, the Coalition were trailing Labor 46-54, which is much worse than where Turnbull is now.
The Coalition’s chance to reset the agenda
Coalition members are hoping that things can turn around. And they absolutely can. There is around a year out from a Federal election. The Government is doing well, and the economy is strong, highlighted by record jobs figures.
Coalition MPs will be keen to reset the focus back to the economy leading up to this year’s Federal budget which will be delivered in May. It is a critically important budget, which could be the last main budget before a federal election.
Ipsos Polling says that the voters do not want a change of Prime Minister, and Turnbull remains the preferred Prime Minister over Bill Shorten 38-36. The people want to have the ultimate say at the next Federal Election. In the meantime, they want Turnbull and they want him to do better.
The more time the Liberals worry about this, Labor will continue to hijack the policy agenda.
It’s highly unlikely Turnbull will face a spill in the party room. There is no genuine alternative at this time. It is also likely that this circus will die out.
Turnbull must face this question – ‘What will the big ticket item that will save his government from this?’
Turnbull needs to find the answer. The Coalition need to find the answer. And once they find it, they galvanise for the common cause , stick to it, and give Australians and their voters some confidence and hope.