Voters have sent a crystal clear message of disapproval to the government ahead of what could prove to be Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s moment of reckoning.
The latest Fairfax-Ipsos poll, which shows Labor increasing its lead to 54-46 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis, tells the same story as most polls conducted over the past 14 months.
But the government faces its first real electoral health check next month when voters in the West Australian seat of Canning head to the ballot box for a by-election.
The seat at the southern end of Perth was held for the Liberals by the late Don Randall with a comfortable margin of 11.8 percent.
On paper, the margin sits comfortably outside the normal by-election swings of around five per cent against incumbent governments.
The West has proved to be a conservative heartland in recent elections.
There’s no doubt a fair whack of the margin is due to the anti-Gillard-Rudd sentiment that gripped that side of the continent.
Fuelling that antipathy was Labor’s mining tax. Many voters in Canning fly out to the huge mines in the state’s north or drive out to Iluka’s mining operations.
The mining tax is no more, the mining boom is over and the state Liberal government is on the nose for a variety of reasons, mostly cost of living and dashed expectations.
The latest consolidated Newspolls (a compilation of the last three months of results) picked up a swing of eight per cent against the Abbott government in the West. Mr Abbott’s shine certainly isn’t sparkling in quite the same way as it was in the 2013 election.
In fact, according to Ipsos, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – a WA favourite – leads Mr Abbott by eight points as preferred Liberal leader with all voters.
Both are a long way behind Malcolm Turnbull who appeals strongly to the sort of voters the government needs to win back.
Mr Turnbull supports marriage equality and has been outspoken in his criticism of Mr Abbott’s proposal for a referendum to decide the issue. He argues there is no constitutional need for a referendum, but would support a plebiscite held sooner rather than later.
In fact, he believes there should be a free vote for Liberals and the parliament should deal with the issue.
Ipsos finds 69 per cent of the public agrees with him. No doubt many of those live in Canning.
Whatever the merits of all of this, it paints a very messy picture of a government that’s at sixes and sevens with itself. And the ploy to promise a vote of the people next term will not help much.
LNP backbencher Warren Entsch, who introduced a cross-party bill in an attempt to legalise same-sex marriage, has not ruled out a vote on it despite the Prime Minister’s opposition.
Co-sponsor, Labor’s Terri Butler, is seriously looking at moving a suspension of standing orders to bring it on.
But it seems the Liberals’ cunning plan is to make national security the focus of the by-election.
The government has selected a highly presentable SAS soldier, Andrew Hastie, as its candidate.
Labor has three candidates in mind: two women and a young lawyer Matt Keogh.
The Opposition plans to make, wait for it, jobs and growth, key issues.
Mr Abbott, they say, talks about those issues but hasn’t delivered and the voters in Canning are feeling it.
Some of the PM’s generosity to the naval ship builders in Adelaide may have to be shared with miffed voters further west.
A government loss would be a shock and would almost certainly end Mr Abbott’s hold on the top job.
The arguments will probably be over the size of the swing against the government.
A close run thing could be just as fatal.
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