News National Newspoll turns dark as Malcolm Turnbull fumbles for the light

Newspoll turns dark as Malcolm Turnbull fumbles for the light

tony abbott
Tony Abbott is continuing to cause problems for Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: AAP
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After the last sitting fortnight, senior ministers were talking up the government’s performance against the opposition – Labor was finally on the ropes, they claimed.

This week’s Newspoll delivered a very different verdict. Labor’s entrenched lead increased to eight points for the 20th Newspoll in a row.

That’s just 10 short of Malcolm Turnbull’s own yardstick for leadership failure.

The Parliament saw the Prime Minister resort to his ‘Kill Bill’ strategy – attack the Labor leader’s character and pillory his performance at every opportunity.

Mr Turnbull also furiously blamed the Opposition Leader for the dramatic failure in the national energy market threatening blackouts this summer.

On the available evidence it is not working, but like a punch-drunk boxer Mr Turnbull is sticking with his fight plan.

PM’s ‘Blackout Bill’ line is not cutting through

At a news conference called to tell us the gas supply crisis is much worse than he indicated just six months ago, he reverted to name calling.

“Blackout Bill” was rolled out three times. Never mind that Labor hasn’t been in government for four years, according to the PM it is responsible for the Coalition’s inability to find a clear energy policy and to intervene decisively in the gas market.

Despite the fact it was the Liberal Party that was against any gas reservation policy back in the days of the Gillard government, Mr Shorten is being blamed for Labor heeding then opposition leader Tony Abbott’s shrill warnings against “sovereign risk” and big government meddling.

There can be no doubt dramatic action is now required.

Mr Turnbull pleads thoroughness of process and giving the gouging gas companies one more chance before he pulls the threatened trigger forcing them to direct more into the domestic market.

Could it be that the acting energy minister Barnaby Joyce is the stumbling block?

barnaby joyce
Barnaby Joyce is being kept out of the spotlight. Photo: AAP

There is every risk that with Mr Joyce as the relevant acting minister any controversial decision could be challenged in the High Court by the gas giants.

So sensitive is the Nationals leader’s eligibility position, the government didn’t wheel him out with the other ministers to face the media’s questions.

The Prime Minister said Mr Joyce had prior commitments in his electorate. No doubt they would involve some pre-emptive campaigning in the highly likely event the High Court will force him to a by-election.

And talking energy imbroglio, there is real anger in the Prime Minister’s office at Tony Abbott’s high-profile interventions last week ahead of Newspoll.

The deposed former PM is blamed for highlighting deep divisions within the government over a clean energy target. They are divisions that have paralysed the process.

Some observers believe the voters don’t need any reminding of the poisonous rivalry that is undermining the government.

Others say the time has come for Mr Turnbull and his senior ministers to call out Mr Abbott’s sniping. But the view in the bunker is a public counterattack only makes the situation worse.

Better, they think, to get on with the job and hope the results speak for themselves.

Job increase gives hope of poll recovery

Treasurer Scott Morrison points to improving job numbers and speaks of “good decisions we are making, the right choices, when people start to see those over a longer period of time, then we might see some change” on the polling front.

“Might” is the operative word.

There are signs Mr Abbott and his allies are preparing to reject the postal survey if it returns a “yes” vote. Make no mistake, marriage equality is a proxy battle between him and Mr Turnbull.

The Prime Minister and his moderate allies know it and are campaigning much harder than they previously flagged.

Newspoll shows that the slight drop in support for “Yes” came from Liberals and One Nation voters deserting the cause. No doubt they are being influenced by John Howard joining Mr Abbott in the “No” campaign.

Still, a wider Liberal Newspoll win any time soon remains a tantalising mirage.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno

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