Malcolm Turnbull looked to be removing some political barnacles only a few months ago. First he fulfilled the Coalition’s election commitment to hold a public vote on the issue of same sex marriage, despite being thwarted in the Senate. Then there was dumping of the proposed Clean Energy Target (CET) in favour of the National Energy Guarantee in what was a reversal of energy policy priorities.
However fast forward to the end of this year and Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership not only looks doomed but its death looks to have been accelerated. The continuing citizenship crisis although not one of Turnbull’s making his mismanagement of it has demonstrated poor political judgement and leadership.
Turnbull’s pre-empting of the High Court’s verdict in parliament declaring that it would be find Barnaby Joyce to be validly elected and not having him stand aside in the interim when in fact that court found the opposite was extremely politically damaging for him. Then despite Turnbull and his Attorney-General George Brandis’ assurances that there were no more dual citizens it was revealed former Senate President Stephen Parry was a dual citizen.
He initially labelled calls for an audit a witch-hunt but after a week of political pressure including from his own backbench Malcolm Turnbull finally agreed to some form of citizenship disclosure requirement. Turnbull was widely criticised for not being on the front-foot to resolve what is now being viewed as a constitutional crisis and instead being dragged to arriving at a limp-wristed solution.
Turnbull’s indecision and ill-judgement has today been reflected in his 23rd Newspoll loss in a row, he is soon approaching the 30 Newspoll losses he used as justification for challenging Tony Abbott. With the two-party preferred vote now 55%-45% in favour of Labor, this is his worst Newspoll result to date and would send alarm bells through the Liberal backbench.
Most commentators believed Turnbull would be safe until year’s end given that the government did not need to go to an election until 2019. However two by-elections are now being held due to MPs being dual citizens which has seen the government lose its majority on the floor of the House of Representatives. With potentially more dual citizens in the parliament calls for a fresh election to restore integrity to parliament have been growing louder.
If that election is forced to be called sooner rather than later with Turnbull still as Prime Minister the Coalition would be wiped out. It is for this reason that Liberal partyroom might act now sooner rather than later. There is strong resistance to dumping another Prime Minister but in politics self-interest wins the day and if they believe a certain political action will help them win their seat at the next election they will take it. Then there is also the question of who would replace Turnbull, and could they do any better?
When you take the citizenship crisis out of political equation there is really not much else to Turnbull’s policy agenda, another key failing. The bad press for Malcolm Turnbull isn’t going away with an ABC Four Corners episode airing tonight which has Liberals from both the conservative wing and moderates such as John Hewson and Jeff Kennett summarising his Prime Ministership as a disappointment. If If the marriage survey comes back as a yes there will be another internal Liberal Party dispute of which type of same sex marriage bill will be introduced. Turnbull one way or another is going down, it’s now a question of if the Liberal Party wants to go down with him.