The New Daily

Why Turnbull could win the election – and still lose

ANALYSIS: Election victory would deliver Malcolm Turnbull the personal mandate he craves, but would also weaken his leverage in the Liberal Party.

The Panama spotlight is shining on the Turnbull government. Photo: AAP

Federal ministers have confirmed the government is actively considering bringing the budget forward to make way for an early election, possibly on July 2, but exclusive analysis by The New Daily shows victory could come at a steep price for the PM.

Ministers said on Tuesday the government was looking at handing down the budget on May 3, instead of May 10. One minister told the ABC it would help clear the path for a double dissolution election on July 2.

The Prime Minister did not rule out an early poll when asked about it, saying only: “The budget will be in May.”

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But Malcolm Turnbull could pay a heavy price for being returned to office. Many of those who supported his bid for power are likely to lose their seats if there is a swing against the government, leaving his prime ministership at the mercy of Liberal party members who remain loyal to former PM Tony Abbott.

When Mr Turnbull tipped Mr Abbott from the leadership, he did it by only a slim margin. The final vote was 54-44 and it was due largely to a group of about 20 MPs who abandoned Mr Abbott amid growing fears that Labor was in the box seat to win the next federal election.

Most of the votes that eventually swung to Mr Turnbull came from lower house members in marginal seats spread across the country.

More than two-thirds of those Liberal MPs holding seats with a 5 per cent margin or less at the 2013 federal election ended up supporting Mr Turnbull’s leadership challenge.

While most Canberra pundits expect the Coalition to be returned this year with a reduced majority, it is likely that Mr Turnbull’s grip on the numbers within the parliamentary Liberal Party will be weakened.

That’s because only six of the government’s 21 most marginal seats are held by MPs who voted for Mr Abbott.

Trapped by the numbers


As the recent tax debate has demonstrated, hard-line conservative backbenchers are already exerting decisive influence on the government’s policy agenda, with proposals to overhaul the GST and negative gearing rules now on the backburner.

Mr Turnbull’s promise of a “thoroughly Liberal government” is starting to look like a pipe dream as conservatives shape and censor his inclination for liberal reform.

If Mr Turnbull wins the next election – which is now firming to be held on July 2 – the influence of hard-liners is likely to strengthen because swings of up to 5 per cent against the government would result in fewer moderate Liberals returning to the next parliament.

Most of the Liberal Party’s marginal seats tend to be held by young members with socially progressive positions on sensitive public issues such as marriage equality and abortion.

In other words, they are mostly small “l” liberals – Mr Turnbull’s staunchest supporters.

Liberal MPs such as Sarah Henderson in Victoria, Lucy Wickes in NSW and Natasha Griggs in the Northern Territory would not survive a uniform national swing of 3 per cent to Labor.

Ms Henderson and Ms Griggs are among the Liberal Party’s most vocal advocates for marriage equality.

The latest Newspoll published by The Australian indicates that the ALP is in line to secure a two-party-preferred swing of 3.5 per cent.

A swing of this magnitude would likely return the Coalition with a workable majority, but it would also severely deplete the number of Turnbullites in the lower house.

Inevitably, that would undermine Mr Turnbull’s ability to define the next government in the style of most previous leaders of the Liberal Party.

It would also make the Prime Minister more politically vulnerable in the event that the party becomes divided on a controversial policy issue, such as negative gearing or marriage equality.

Former prime ministers such as Kevin Rudd and Mr Abbott were toppled barely a few years after scoring thumping mandates.

Mr Turnbull’s position would be even more precarious within his party room.

A ‘lame duck’ PM

This analysis does not take into account possible changes in the composition of Liberal Party representation in the next Senate or the proclivities of soon-to-be-elected MPs in safe lower house seats.

However, no matter which way you look at the probable complexion of the next parliament, it is difficult to envisage a scenario in which Mr Turnbull could fortify his numbers in the party room.

tony abbott malcolm turnbull

Tony Abbott has been sniping from the sidelines. Photo: Getty

A uniform 3 per cent swing to the ALP would cost the Liberal Party 10 seats at the next election, including seven members who voted for Mr Turnbull in the leadership spill.

Under this scenario, the result of the September leadership ballot could be recast in the following way:

Turnbull: 47
Abbott: 41

A uniform swing of 4 per cent would cost the Liberal Party 16 seats and render Mr Turnbull almost captive to a backbench dominated by conservatives:

Turnbull: 42
Abbott: 40

This analysis is not suggesting for a moment that Mr Abbott would be positioned to make a comeback as Prime Minister if the government is re-elected with a reduced majority.

Mr Abbott’s political currency seems spent – but the influence of the party’s conservative base is set to grow.

As a moderate leader of the next Coalition government, Mr Turnbull would need to appease his conservative opponents to short-circuit the volatility that has marked all federal governments of the past decade.

That could make him a lame duck PM, captive to a backbench that might turn hostile on him if he dared to step out of line.


  • Watchman

    The return of Abbott as PM would make me do the unthinkable – vote for the Greens.

  • Gympie

    1983 all over again. Turnbull calls election, Labor changes it’s leader. And he never would have won anyway.
    The bloke’s a total schmendrick.

  • Harry

    I have said several times, we need a credible 3rd major party. Until then nothing will change.

  • Gympie

    If true, then it’s ta ta from Albo, Tanya, Danby,and maybe Swannie as well.

  • Harry

    Yes she did a great job with the MRRT.

    • River_P

      Another ill informed comment Harry. Like I said, say what you like about the actual policies, the effectiveness of which are always up for debate. The fact is that Gillard was able to negotiate a deal with the stakeholders.
      Criticism of the MRRT may be warranted. Her ability to negotiate a deal when others couldn’t is not.
      Let’s compare her negotiating abilities to her successors. Are they still trying to pass the 2014 budget or did they give up on that? Come to think of it, maybe its just the current government’s policies that stink, and even a first class negotiator like Gillard couldn’t sell those pups.

    • mulga mumblebrain

      Ouch! And she sabotaged carbon trading under Rudd.

      • River_P

        I take it this comment was made sarcastically? Is this the same Rudd who spat the dummy then parked the whole idea of carbon trading instead having the bottle to call a double dissolution election on the issue? The man was paralysed over this issue which led to his disfunction and eventual downfall.

        • mulga mumblebrain

          I take it you are a Gillard tragic. My condolences. It is well known that many of Rudd’s colleagues including Gillard urged him to dog it over the ‘greatest moral challenge of our age’ (of ANY age, actually) and they stampeded him into a fateful back-down. Whether Gillard simply misjudged, or set a trap for Rudd, we may never know. But that Rudd transformed himself into a super-rat in order to get his revenge, is beyond doubt. The Rudd-Gillard era, coming after the moral and intellectual debacle of the Howard regime, was another catastrophe for the Unlucky Country.

          • River_P

            I just can’t tolerate Rudd’s behaviour as both a dithering and paralysed PM and the undermining rat that he became on the backbenches. His behaviour really is a measure of the man.
            Gillard was not a perfect PM by any means but I think history will look much more favourably upon her achievements especially amid the circumstances than anything Rudd accomplished during his stint/s of disfunction.
            After having lived through the period and read widely since I can only come to the conclusion that Rudd was disfunctional and paralysed as PM, then turned into the super rat once unseated. I have read nothing from inside or outside the ALP supporting Rudd’s performance as PM at the time of his toppling nor his behaviour afterwards. I have read from multiple sources about Gillard’s strong performance as deputy PM and that she was the quasi leader while the disfunctional Rudd was paralysed. No one has come forward, not even the Rudd supporters to refute the claims he was disfunctional as PM. Their only support is that the ALP shouldn’t topple their own PM. Others that fell into the Rudd camp during 2012/13 did so from a sense of self preservation rather than any real support for Rudd.
            I agree though with the one assertion that Gillard’s greatest mistake was not explaining to the electorate the reasons for the overthrow of Rudd. She was never a great player of politics and this allowed Rudd, his supporters and the MSM to undermine her without the public understanding the real need for her ascension to PM.

  • Rais

    Morrison seems to be struggling as Treasurer. It’s hard to imagine him coping with the big job.

  • Really? Abbott case closed.

  • wallabyted

    Perhaps the AEC should also formally review the gerrymander-like situation that saw such a disproportional number of LNP seats won in the last election – when the national difference in the two-party preferred vote at the last election was less than the informal vote. As far as preferential voting goes, it should not be changed to exclude minor party candidates from winning seats – in a country with the population of Australia no vote should be wasted. The senate ballot (and tally) could be made much simpler with electronic voting at the polling booth (despite objections from technophobes and ballot riggers).

  • John

    Slightly off topic, but, there is absolutely no good reason why any government should determine the timing of elections. Fixed three year terms. If the Governor General needs to dissolve parliament before the Parliamentary term is finished, they do so and thereby reset the electoral clock.

    • vas

      They are all frightened of fixed terms because they would lose the ability to manipulate the date to suit.

  • Harry

    If you say so.

  • mulga mumblebrain

    No-that’s the ‘median’. I reckon the average in this country these days is even lower.

  • vas

    There will always be “boats”, but what you are ignoring is that they have become a trickle, not a veritable flood.
    As for treaties – not worth the paper they are written on. Talk about treaties to all the European countries that are now closing borders and trying to send back the illegal immigrants.

  • vas

    Only until they get into power, then watch the Labor lefties come out in the open.

  • Sandi Keane

    There’s certainly something fishy going on with Turnbull’s conversion to Tony Abbott, not just his policies but keeping the budget “nasties” the books unpassed by the Senate. Is there a deal that would see Turnbull step down mid-2016-19 term? Would Abbott win l/ship ballot? Check the clues here:–,9026

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