Malcolm Turnbull will lose his 30th Newspoll in a row when it is released this Sunday night. 30 Newspoll losses was the measure Malcolm Turnbull used in his leadership pitch against Tony Abbott in September 2015 to claim the Australian public had made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership.
We were anticipating that leadership speculation would begin once loss number 30 came out, however it has arrived one week early. First on Tuesday there was the letter from the newly formed Monash Forum made up of 20 Coalition backbenchers which called on the Turnbull Government to invest $4 billion in a new coal fired power station to replace the decommissioned Hazelwood station in Victoria, arguing the free market had failed.
Because the group is made up of known conservative critics of the Turnbull Government: Kevin Andrews, Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz (the Triple A Team) it was widely seen as a swipe at Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed National Energy Guarantee (NEG) and an attempt to undermine his authority in the partyroom.
The most interesting responses to the Monash Forum letter were those of Home Affairs Minister and possible conservative leadership contender Peter Dutton and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg who welcomed the Monash Forum’s contribution.
Then last night Seven News Political Editor Mark Riley aired an exclusive report claiming that now moderates are deserting Turnbull’s leadership with one moderate telling Riley they don’t think Turnbull would win a ballot and they wouldn’t vote for him.
It would appear that after being rockstead behind Turnbull for so long without any improvement in the polls and every chance to launch an attack on the Opposition squandered political reality has now hit them. What is also motivating these moderates is that they don’t want a leadership challenge to be an ambush from the conservative faction so moderates would appear now to sounding out their own preferred replacement for Turnbull.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Deputy Liberal Leader since 2007 is the moderates preferred choice. Although she does have a popular media profile and is able to campaign out on the streets there is not much substance to her outside of Foreign Affairs. She would certainly not energize the base and motivate the party to at least save the furniture next election. Her habit of writing out a f0reign aid cheque at every request has certainly not endeared her to conservatives.
There almost no chance the partyroom would go back to Tony Abbott due to the perception he has become a wrecker and they would not admit to making a mistake in 2015 by dumping him. The likely conservative choices for leader are Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison.
Dutton has been a warrior in Home Affairs and Immigration portfolio but only holds onto his Queensland seat of Dickson by 1.6% and could be wiped out along with many other Liberal MPs at the next election. Morrison’s image is still damaged by his double crossing of Abbott in the 2015 leadership spill and recently made a special effort to rubbish Abbott’s immigration reduction proposal.
Parliament is not sitting next week so a leadership spill is unlikely to occur after the 30th loss. Mark Riley’s report concluded that Turnbull would be given until after the budget to turn things around. Given that is highly unlikely a leadership spill would happen in June before the parliamentary winter break (the killing season) with the new team ready to go an election after the footy finals in early October.
They would lose that election but a fresh leader with a poll bounce would be able to have a good chance at saving a large swag of seats and they could enter Opposition in good position to win back government at the next election.
It is clear this week the leadership genie is out of the bottle. With an election able to held from July the panic from MPs is now setting in, they won’t worry about continuing the revolving door of Prime Minister, they will just want to save their seat. The rest of the Australian political year would appear to be shaping up to be very turbulent.