News National Julie Bishop buys Malcolm Turnbull some time. He’ll need every second
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Julie Bishop buys Malcolm Turnbull some time. He’ll need every second

Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop has bought Treasurer Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull some time. Photo: AAP
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Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop took out some political insurance in the government party room last week. She warned anxious MPs any expected bounce from the budget would take a couple of months.

Sure, precedent is on her side, but has Treasurer Scott Morrison provided a launching pad for the sort of political recovery that is needed? The indications are very much a mixed bag.

All the polls since the budget – two Reachtel polls, Newspoll and Fairfax-Ipsos – have the government trailing Labor badly. The trend of the past seven months has not been dramatically reversed.

Polling analyst Andrew Catsaras says in statistical terms nothing has happened.

In fact, while in Ipsos there is a move back to the Coalition from 10 points behind to six since their last poll, Newspoll is going in the other direction.

If Newspoll is to be the marker, as nominated by Malcolm Turnbull, then the situation is still dire: 12 bad Newspolls in a row with a slight worsening.

Of course, opinion polling this far out from a scheduled election is not predictive. But it is indicative. It is market research taking the mood of the nation. A mood that looks entrenched

Some backbenchers saw Ms Bishop’s July timetable for improvement as ominous. That would be 12 months from a poll many expect to be around August 2018. If the party room concludes Mr Turnbull is beyond resuscitation there would be time enough to get a new saviour.

Except the polling indicates that the latest Turnbull political prescription is widely endorsed. Key measures in health, education, a bank tax and NDIS funding are supported by some very strongly.

The Prime Minister’s standing has improved. Clearly the preferred prime minister and now nudging positive approval for performance. And besides, there is no popular or obvious alternative in the ranks.

The addressing of the government’s vulnerabilities has been laser-like and, by general agreement, Labor-like. So much so that economic purists are aghast and Liberal conservatives sense a sell out.

  • Newspoll: Labor (53%) leads Coalition (47%)
  • Fairfax-Ipsos Poll: Labor (53%) leads Coalition (47%)

So far only Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin has given an excoriating assessment. In The Australian she described the budget as an ignoble surrender of principles. She sees Mr Turnbull’s turning left as a betrayal of the Liberal brand which can only benefit Labor.

Mr Turnbull had better hope that her sentiments, if they are held within the party, stay there. Mr Abbott was lukewarm in his initial response, giving Mr Morrison’s speech the half-hearted “applause it deserved”.

But will Mr Abbott and his allies allow Mr Turnbull to convince voters that the left turn towards the centre is the “real Malcolm”, the one they wanted. Or has that come too late?

Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott gave Scott Morrison’s budget speech the half-hearted “applause it deserved”. Photo: ABC

The risk is Mr Turnbull’s hitherto embrace of Mr Abbott’s conservative agenda has become an entrenched view of someone who stands for nothing. Much like the American comedian Groucho Marx: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well I have others.”

The biggest battle will be convincing the electorate that whatever his position now, it is based on fairness. All the polls suggest voters aren’t convinced. None have a majority on that.

And this gives potency to Labor’s refusal to endorse the half per cent rise in the Medicare levy for most and call for the deficit levy on the wealthy to remain.

Bill Shorten says he doesn’t want the 10 million Australians who earn up to $87,000 paying more income tax “just because Mr Morrison wants to find space in his budget to give millionaires a reduction … and to give large companies a $65 billion present over the next 10 years”.

Budging the polls won’t be easy for Malcolm Turnbull.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno

For more columns from Paul Bongiorno, click here

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