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Turnbull popular, but there’s a fly in his honeypot

Malcolm Turnbull
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Another poll and even more evidence Malcolm Turnbull’s honeymoon is far from over.

In fact, the Fairfax-Ipsos poll is so good Labor is assiduously promoting the idea that it is an outlier. It is true that Labor’s vote in Victoria dropping to 28 per cent is one hell of a fall, and that a Greens vote of 21 per cent in the same state is, well, remarkable. Both findings helped feed into the 53-47 result nationally.

The same poll had similar rogue results in New South Wales earlier in the year. But few doubt that the arrival of Mr Turnbull has had the same impact as a Coalition political saviour.

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His problem is, of course, that mere human beings can struggle to maintain their Messiah status.

But Ipsos agrees with last week’s Newspoll that Mr Turnbull is in the stratosphere of approval as preferred Prime Minister and for performance. He is more popular than any PM in more than two decades. A long way to fall.

Malcolm Turnbull
Reasons to smile: the PM during Question Time. Photo: AAP

Labor types concede that their task has become enormously more difficult with the arrival of a Prime Minister who is not Tony Abbott. Their consolation comes from the thought that he won’t be able to meet everyone’s expectations. The disappointed, so they hope, will return to the Opposition.

A policy-led recovery for Labor is probably its only hope. But getting your leader right is an essential ingredient for electoral success.

Back in 2006 the arrival of Kevin Rudd saw the then Opposition’s stocks rise dramatically. Before he had announced much he overtook John Howard on most leader attributes. The more the Liberals and the Murdoch press threw at him, the better he did. Even revelations of a drunken Rudd visiting a strip club didn’t work.

While the Cayman Islands tax haven is not Scores nightclub in New York, the result seems to prove the point. Labor’s attack on Mr Turnbull’s financial arrangements similarly backfired.

If Labor ditched Bill Shorten for Anthony Albanese or one of the other frontbench heavies it is unlikely they would achieve a similar result.

Mr Turnbull is attracting the sort of support a popular new Prime Minister gets after an election win. If it continues he will be in a stronger position to make some tough calls and maintain his ascendancy. Credibility and trust are the keys here.

Although as we saw in the case of the Abbott government’s first budget, they can evaporate quickly.

detention centre nauru
Rape claims by a 23-year-old Somali woman in detention on Nauru have caused a political storm.

Ministerial mishandling of sensitive issues can also help to undermine standing. The plight of the pregnant Somali woman refugee is a case in point.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton last week suggested she was in on the “racket” of Nauruan refugees using medical emergencies as a way of getting to Australia.

She claims to have been raped and public pressure forced the government to fly her to Sydney for a termination. She was flown back five days later without the procedure. The minister says she changed her mind. Her lawyers dispute this.

In this, Mr Dutton apparently has the support of the Labor Opposition. The Liberals, after all, are implementing Mr Rudd’s “never ever” policy of boat people being allowed to settle here.

Mr Turnbull last week called the policy tough. “Some would call it harsh,” he told parliament.

Australian doctors, the mainstream churches and the Greens certainly do, but if public opinion is shifting it’s not tarnishing the shiny new Prime Minister.


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

Read all of his columns here


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