Tony Abbott isn’t focussing on polls. That’s what he said with a straight face to reporters in the Queensland city of Mackay.
Never mind that every waking minute since the near-death experience his leadership survived in February has been focussed on turning around the public’s view of him and his government.
The culmination of the clawback strategy was last week’s budget. The evidence of the four opinion polls since the Treasurer’s second effort at fiscal management is of a bounce. The weeks and months ahead will determine if it’s a dead cat bounce or another instalment on the path to recovery and dominance.
The Prime Minister says his focus, every day, is on what’s good for Australia. The trouble is this year’s prescription in that regard is a world away from last year’s.
But the polls suggest he has successfully papered over those cracks in credibility and not all in his party room are convinced the paper will hold. It’s the next weeks and months that will be critical.
“He’s not out of the woods yet,” was a common view of backbenchers worried about their seats.
As far as Trade Minister Andrew Robb is concerned, they are too pessimistic. He says he didn’t need a poll to know the budget hit the mark.
An analysis of the Newspoll shows Joe Hockey’s outing on the second Tuesday in May went a long way to impress the restive base vote.
Among people over 50, those earning more than $90,000, and men, he has many admirers. But not enough to put the Coalition back in the winners’ circle just yet. Labor saw a jump in its position to a two-party lead of 53 to 47 per cent.
The Fairfax-Ipsos poll, true to its history of volatility, has a 50-50 line ball result.
Poling analyst Andrew Catsaras says the aggregate of the four polls has Labor in front, 52-48.
A closer look at Newspoll shows the biggest chunk of people, 40 per cent, have shrugged their shoulders. The task is now to inspire more confidence in them.
That will be no easy job. It’s one thing to offer middle- and upper-income families a generous package of subsidised child care, it’s another to pay for it with $3.5 billion coming from cuts in payments to lower-income families.
It is not only Labor and the Greens who won’t buy it in the Senate. Six of the eight crossbench senators are still to be convinced.
A separate campaign against the cuts is being run inside the party room by LNP senator Matt Canavan from Queensland and Zed Seselja, a conservative Liberal from the ACT. They claim they already have 15 colleagues on side.
It certainly won’t all be plain sailing for captain Abbott.
Then there’s the little matter of the budget’s growth forecasts holding. Let alone the credible path back to surplus.
Another deficit blow out would be more than embarrassing.
Economists aren’t the only ones sceptical. It’s being cited by some Libs as a reason Mr Abbott may want an election before next year’s budget passes judgement on this year’s concoction.
He’ll need to keep his focus on the polls to make that judgement.
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