News National Calm before the storm as Malcolm Turnbull sets his course and waits for results

Calm before the storm as Malcolm Turnbull sets his course and waits for results

Malcolm Turnbull newspoll
Malcolm Turnbull must now wait for events to play out. Photo: AAP
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Three seasoned members of the parliamentary press gallery shocked delegates at the Tourism and Transport Forum last week by predicting Malcolm Turnbull would win the next election.

Their crystal ball gazing flies in the face of the dominant narrative based on the fact that the government has not won a Newspoll since the last election. The average of all the polls is close to an 8 per cent lead to Labor.

But the soothsayers’ logic is founded on two basic assumptions: Mr Turnbull will still be leader at the election and that it will be held two years from now.

A third factor is bolstering their view. Other prime ministers – think John Howard and Paul Keating – have been in similar diabolical straits only to pull off a subsequent victory against these odds.

If Mr Turnbull does pull off what looks like an improbable feat from this vantage point, he will have to show that he has mastered the sort of political skill and cunning that so far has eluded him. He will also need events to present him with a few lucky breaks.

The most imminent event will be the same-sex marriage survey. Make no mistake, if ‘Yes’ gets up, it will be seized on as a decisive victory over Tony Abbott and his allies who foisted the whole problematic exercise on Mr Turnbull and the nation.

Much will depend on how decisive the victory is and how credible it is.

Already this is being undermined by a stunning lack of security in the delivery of survey forms and the lack of safeguards against multiple voting.

ABC TV news last weekend showed pictures of postal surveys strewn about a suburban Canberra street after seven apartment blocks appeared to have had their letters left on top of the letter boxes instead of inside them.

Australia Post rejects poor delivery and suggests someone illegally tampered with the mail.

If the ‘No’ vote wins, it will be a stunning repudiation of Mr Turnbull and senior members of his government who are campaigning hard for marriage equality.

High Court decision is also crucial

Then there is also the distinct possibility that the government will lose its one-seat majority and face a by-election in Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s seat of New England.

If the opinion polls are accurately tracking the mood of the nation, Mr Joyce could suffer a significant swing against him especially if former independent member Tony Windsor runs.

By-elections have a habit of attracting big fields with voters urged to send a message to Canberra.

Interestingly Mr Joyce wanted to quit Parliament, renounce his New Zealand citizenship and cause a by-election when his situation was revealed. Mr Turnbull talked him out of it. The Prime Minister was keener to gamble on the High Court rather than the voters.

Internally, Mr Turnbull is copping criticism for his preferred course.

The three gallery pundits may have been influenced in their views by the relief in government ranks that the last two parliamentary sitting weeks saw the citizenship imbroglio play second fiddle to energy prices.

True, but in doing so Mr Turnbull has put all the onus on Canberra for delivering affordable, reliable electricity.

The reality is the states are the primary actors here. In trying to shift the blame on “Blackout Bill” or “Electricity Bill”, the Prime Minister expects voters to believe that after five years in opposition Bill Shorten, rather than the government, has been running the show.

A lot is going to happen in the next three months, let alone the next two years.

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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