Catch-30: Part One

Australian Politics, Leadership, Malcolm Turnbull

As most of you would have read on Monday, Malcolm Turnbull lost his 30th consecutive Newspoll, putting himself in a position where he could now be challenged using his own benchmark for his challenge of Tony Abbott in September 2015. You can bet your last dollar that Malcolm Turnbull rues the comment he made that “We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row, it is clear that the people have made up their mind”.

Fortunately for Turnbull, and unfortunately for the rest of us, (especially Tony Abbott), the Liberal Party has no appetite for yet another leadership change. They remember the tumultuous fallout from the 2007 election, where Peter Costello refused to lead, and where Brendan Nelson became leader, only to be ousted a year later (ostensibly because of bad polling) by Malcolm Turnbull, who was then himself rolled by the partyroom over supporting Labor’s proposed Emissions Trading Scheme. This led of course, to Tony Abbott becoming Opposition Leader and very nearly winning the 2010 election against Julia Gillard, who had knifed Kevin Rudd for the same reason of bad polling.

The Liberal Party realised that having three leaders in the space of two years (November 2007-2009) was a bad idea, so they allowed Abbott to continue as party Leader, knowing full well that he was the only one who could (and would) persistently batter the Gillard government and keep the Labor Party under fire. It worked, as Abbott not only saw Gillard unravel before the nation’s eyes but the restoration (and ultimately, defeat) of Rudd in June 2013, three years almost to the day that Gillard had knifed him. Sadly for Labor, Gillard had done so much damage to the Labor brand, that all Rudd could do was to “save the furniture”, as it were.

The Liberal Party indulged its schadenfreude while Labor was tearing itself apart between 2010 and 2013, thinking that they were above such petty intrigue, and yet they have made the Labor Party’s mistake in 2015; ousting a sitting Prime Minister because of bad polls. To his credit, Tony Abbott hasn’t gone on a vindictive quest to undermine Turnbull, à la Rudd, but he hasn’t helped Turnbull either, and why should he? After all, Turnbull took 90-odd seats in the House of Representatives and lost 14 of them to Bill Shorten, a man so unpopular that he couldn’t even motivate the base of his own party to vote for him in the 2013 party leadership ballot.

The lack of popularity that afflicts both Turnbull and Shorten, however, is of no comfort to Abbott. As alluded to above, restoring Abbott to the leadership would only “save the furniture”; it wouldn’t win the Coalition a third term. Changing to another leader (e.g. Dutton, Bishop, Morrison) also would not help the Coalition, as time is running out for any new leader to gain enough traction in the electorate, not to mention the fact that they are comparable (or less) in terms of popularity.

This morning, economist John Adams wrote a scathing critique of the Turnbull-led government’s failures for Spectator Australia, outlining just how dire the situation is for our nation. Like in early 1996, everyone seems on edge.

We know what the problems are, but how do we fix them? I will write out a plan in Part Two.