April 21st 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The deeper causes of Australia's social malaise

GENDER POLITICS Queensland proposes transgender birth certificates

CANBERRA OBSERVED Malcolm at 30 (polls): the cloud on Turnbull's horizon

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell firmly denies sex abuse allegations

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Sydney Archdiocese aims to eliminate slavery in supply chain

RURAL DEVELOPMENT Irrigation along Fitzroy River proposed and opposed

LIFE ISSUES Abortion Rethink Summit: the case for care

VERBATIM WA food, drink producers face shortage of carbon dioxide

HOUSING AFFORDABILITY Land costs: economist Henry George's solution

ELECTRICITY Will Turnbull lose three out of three?

ECONOMICS Trade wars: tariffs unlikely to be fired in anger

SEX AND TEENS How about support for the abstaining majority?

VISUAL ARTS Layers of meaning in Botticelli's La Primavera and The Birth of Venus

MUSIC Is it good?: Or, do we just like the sound it makes?

CINEMA The Death of Stalin: Black comedy of a dark time

BOOK REVIEW Cool head on topic that generates heat

BOOK REVIEW Life's not so bad: from the outside



OPINION What a republic would really mean for Australia

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Malcolm at 30 (polls): the cloud on Turnbull's horizon

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, April 21, 2018

It is a sorry scenario that Australia’s political agenda and conversation is dominated by a fortnightly survey of 1,500 voters, whose views dictate political reporting to a degree that is totally out of proportion to their number or relevance.

Polling is a relatively new phenomenon in politics and it is inconceivable that a Menzies or a Curtin would have been bound by the vagaries of polls in the decision-making of their wartime cabinets.

Fortnightly polls from various media outlets and even lobby groups create short-termism and superficiality in politics, and the necessity of media stunts to create positive “messages”.

But that is the reality, and Malcolm Turnbull’s “dirty thirty” – the self-proclaimed key performance indicator for his prime-ministership, and the rationale for taking down Tony Abbott, has come back to haunt him.

Having finally reached the milestone, the question will be, what does he do about it? Hopes of a Turnbull-led renaissance never eventuated. In fact, the Coalition came close to losing the last election and Mr Turnbull has not been able to turn around voter sentiment about his Government.

It is likely that Mr Turnbull himself believed with every fibre of his being that he would be a more popular prime minister than the “divisive” and pugnacious Tony Abbott. However, voters have found different reasons not to like Mr Turnbull.

He may be more inclusive and less aggressive, but voters have been disappointed in his lack of action, or his incremental and hesitant style government.

At the same time Labor has managed to exploit every Government fumble and to keep the agenda on issues it wants to talk about.

The Australian’s political editor, Dennis Shanahan, says the message of the long-term polling trend screams the reality that Mr Turnbull has to change or face losing the next election.

“Other leaders have had longer periods of net negative satisfaction – more voters were dissatisfied with Paul Keating for almost all his leadership – and there have been four governments with about the same run of losing Newspoll surveys on a two-party-preferred basis, including John Howard’s in his first term,” Shanahan wrote.

“But the lesson has to be learnt. Those leaders who were unpopular for so long and who led governments for extended losing streaks either lost an election or were dumped by their parties.”

Shanahan has been reporting on Newspoll for many years and summed it up thus: “Keating defied unpopularity to win the 1993 election but was up against John Hewson advocating a GST and an end to Medicare. Julia Gillard’s 52 Newspolls of negative net satisfaction and 33 losing Newspolls on a two-party-preferred basis ended with her being dumped. Mr Abbott was dumped on 30 losing Newspolls and 36 of negative net satisfaction.”

For Mr Turnbull the criticisms are not that he is a bad prime minister or even an incompetent one. In terms of being across the detail of all portfolios, on foreign affairs, as an orator in the Parliament, managing cabinet processes or allowing ministers the latitude to do their jobs, Mr Turnbull has been a good if imperfect prime minister.

However, he lacks the killer instinct of a seasoned politician, or seemingly the ability to engage with voters and communicate at their level.

The criticisms of Mr Turnbull are instead that he is a good manager or a good company executive rather than a good politician.

For example, John Howard was able to exploit divisions in Labor on asylum seekers to destroy Kim Beazley, and to exploit Labor ambivalence on Tasmanian forests versus workers to destroy Mark Latham.

Mr Turnbull seems unable to exploit anything to destroy Bill Shorten.

Mr Turnbull talks about the Coalition’s record on the economy and on jobs, expecting voters to mark him up for this. But voters actually expect the Coalition to be better economic managers; that is their core strength.

Voters are an ungrateful group and skeptical of politicians at the best of times, but these days they expect the government of the day to be doing more than its core job, whether that is running a good health system or a job-creating economy.

Mr Turnbull remains calm and steadfast in the face of the ongoing poor polling because an election is still a year away. And, despite continuing speculation, there is no likelihood of another challenge, including from Mr Abbott.

However, at some point, if there is no change, many backbenchers facing likely unemployment will start to panic and that panic will intensify pressure on Mr Turnbull.

The question for the Prime Minister is, does he heed the polls now and start acting like a politician who wants to win the next election, or does he keep managing the Government in his competent and methodical way, only to hand it to Mr Shorten sometime in 2019?

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm