Poll dancing around perceptions of the federal budget, perception is everything in politics and luck is probably the runner-up. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have run foul of both as they struggle to reboot the government’s flagging fortunes.
Or are they flagging?
It is true that in the influential Newspoll, the Coalition has been behind for 21 consecutive surveys. But the last two surveys appear to show an arrest in the decline.
For the second fortnight running it is virtually line ball: 51-49 Labor’s way. That finding tends to support the view pedalled by government strategists that Mr Abbott’s comeback game plan is working.
Instead of a government constantly moaning about its losing battle with a hostile senate, the switch has been flicked to “getting on with it”.
The Prime Minister hit the theme on the aptly named Sunrise show. A new day was dawning for him. The latest bit of governing is the “no jab, no pay” push for childhood whooping cough vaccination.
Instead of drawing political crossfire it won support. It follows the crackdown on the scourge of ice last week, the billion-dollar purchase of new C17 transport planes, new national security measures, abandoning the Medicare co-payment, new safeguards for the Great Barrier Reef and the list goes on.
According to the PM’s office there are 36 achievements in the past 18 months. The most voter-friendly have been implemented since February and the Abbott “near death” leadership fright.
But as luck would have it, another major poll, on the same day, went in the opposite direction.
The Fairfax Ipsos poll had Labor increasing its lead to 54-46. The sunny uplands all of a sudden don’t look so bright. The ‘good morning Australia’ message from Treasurer Hockey beamed in from New York confirmed a bleak outlook for his budget next month.
The politician who in opposition blamed Labor every time there was a write-down in revenue from commodities is beating a retreat. There is a revenue problem after all. A huge one, in fact, thanks to our largest export, iron ore, falling from the dizzy heights above $180 a tonne in 2011 to as low as $35.
The end of that boom has already left his budget an unforeseen $6.25 billion short this year. But he is promising not to raise taxes in order to try and retrieve the loss. And here it gets very difficult. His Prime Minister is promising families won’t be worse off. The Treasurer himself is talking of a “mildly contractionary budget”.
So someone is going to pay as a “credible trajectory back to surplus” is mapped out.
The politics are diabolical.
The penny has dropped that the era of “trickle down” economics is over. “Fairness” is the new buzz word. The test will be does that mean the Coalition’s wealthier mates will be asked to share more of the burden? We shouldn’t underestimate the need for a credible sales pitch from trusted spruikers. You know, a Mike Baird type.
Well, neither opinion poll has found one in Canberra. Both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are deep in negative territory.
Tony Abbott is familiar with a rating around minus 26 but it’s a new experience for Joe Hockey. His disapproval is a huge 58 per cent in the Fairfax poll.
He will need to pull a big rabbit out of the hat on budget night.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno