CANBERRA OBSERVED: News Weekly
How long will Malcolm Turnbull last?
, November 22, 2008
Mr Turnbull seems to have no cultural connection with the great mass of socially conservative Australians.The rapidly changing economic landscape has the experienced politicians in the Rudd Labor Government genuinely worried about their prospects at the next election. And so they should be.
They know that the polls to be worried about are not this month's, but those which will be taken in 12 months' time.
Despite all the rhetoric about Australia being "better placed than almost any other nation to weather the economic storm", despite the "decisive action" said to have been taken by Prime Minister Rudd, and despite the government's unprecedented sovereign bank guarantee, Australia is more vulnerable than any politician would care publicly to admit.
Kevin Rudd also seems to have developed a genuine dislike for the new Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull.
Mr Turnbull pledged bipartisanship on economic matters, but has rarely adhered to the commitment, choosing instead to point out the flaws in the Government's strategies to fend off a recession.Point-scoring
Mr Turnbull also appears to know how to successfully niggle and score points off the Prime Minister such as his repeated allegations that Mr Rudd or one of his staff disclosed a private conversation he had with George W. Bush in which the US President claimed not to know what the G20 summit was.
Yet the irony is that, despite Mr Rudd's signs of vulnerability at the hands of Mr Turnbull, the Opposition leader of only two months is again lagging badly in the polls.
The polls continue to put Mr Rudd well in front of his new rival, with The Australian
newspaper's Newspoll showing Mr Turnbull slipping on the question of whom voters would prefer as prime minister.
In fact, Mr Turnbull's honeymoon as leader appears to have been extremely short-lived.
An analysis of the latest tracking of all the major polls shows, in a two-party preferred vote, the ALP leading with 56.8 per cent to the Coalition's 43.2 per cent.
This pretty well mirrors the results which have been coming in since September - a 56/44 split between the Government and the Opposition.
Mr Turnbull came to the leadership brimming with confidence and self-belief and a promise that he would out-perform Dr Brendan Nelson.
The Sydney millionaire brings to the job enormous energy, a sharp mind and great adversarial skills which first brought him fame in the courtroom.
But Mr Turnbull seems to have no cultural connection with the great mass of socially conservative Australians.
Whereas Kevin Rudd expressed immediate revulsion at Bill Henson's artwork, Mr Turnbull declared he had two Hensons hanging at home.
Recently, Mr Turnbull told the Australian Christian Lobby conference in Canberra they were "wrong" on abortion and declared himself a defender of a woman's right to choose ("Turnbull backs abortion rights", Canberra Times
, November 9, 2008).
Mr Turnbull is the first Catholic to lead the federal parliamentary Liberal Party, but his views on religion are idiosyncratic to say the least.
"Jesus is full of very sensible advice on a whole range of matters, including some business matters," he told the conference, according to the Canberra Times
But his outspoken pro-abortion views have put him beyond even the controversial positions on abortion taken by leading "Catholics" in the US Democrats including (now Vice President-elect) Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi.
Mr Biden declares that he is personally opposed to abortion, but does not seek to impose his views on others, whereas Ms Pelosi has argued that there are differing views on abortion within the Catholic Church.
Despite the headlines, Mr Turnbull's political posturing and point-scoring are not being rewarded with voter approval.
At the moment, Australians are giving Mr Rudd the benefit of the doubt because he is trying to at least do something in the face of an avalanche of depressing data coming from overseas.
But the paradox in the polls is occurring only because the reality of the economic downturn has not reached the kitchen tables of most Australians.
What is happening to date is people are delaying major spending decisions such as buying a house, an investment property or a new car.
The mining industry has stopped hiring, but will eventually start firing, and some manufacturers are starting to scale back.Collapse
The affluent are cutting back on pleasure spending, but day-to-day spending remains reasonably strong compared with the collapse in spending in the United States and the United Kingdom.
However, a "perfect storm" is brewing. It consists of falling commodity prices, falling house prices, share prices, a declining Australian dollar, high inflation, substantially decreased demand for Australian products, and ever-growing overseas debt.
The storm will not wreak havoc in households until some time next year.
Incredible as it now sounds, the Coalition may realise by the middle of next year that they have a chance to win back government.
They may also realise at the same time that they have a leader who, however dynamic and forceful, may be a handicap to making that possibility a reality.