News National Political time bomb ticks closer for Malcolm Turnbull
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Political time bomb ticks closer for Malcolm Turnbull

The government will wait for the High Court's decision. Photo: AAP
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The Turnbull government is holding its collective breath as its majority in the Parliament is determined by the High Court this week.

But that’s just one of the dangerous issues facing the Coalition before the end of the year.

The Prime Minister was putting on a brave face as he assured journalists, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Nationals senators Fiona Nash and Matthew Canavan that they will not be disqualified.

The mess the inattentive trio have created for themselves is being blamed by some Liberal apparatchiks for the Coalition’s loss of support in the bush.

Maybe it is one reason for the 10 per cent loss of regional support in the consolidated Newspoll, but it can’t be anywhere near the whole story.

Especially because the same poll shows Labor the main beneficiary rather than Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party.

Labor says the Nationals represent nine of the 10 most disadvantaged seats in the country and these voters are hard hit by cost-of-living pressures, loss of penalty rates and high unemployment.

This is not exactly the sort of climate any incumbent would welcome for a by-election. But Nationals advisers share the Prime Minister’s optimism that the Court will defuse this particular bomb for them.

We will see. Whether it still has its majority or not in mid-November Malcolm Turnbull is hoping to successfully put to bed the divisive issue of same-sex marriage.

A ‘yes’ vote might give PM some breathing space

On November 15, the results will be announced. Already there is a surprisingly high voter turnout with polls suggesting a convincing majority for the PM’s preferred ‘yes’.

The question then is will Mr Turnbull get the dividend he so desperately needs. Or will he be blamed for putting the nation through the pain and ugliness of the postal survey?

The real culprit for that, of course, is his predecessor Tony Abbott, just as he is the catalyst for Mr Turnbull’s excruciating difficulty in landing another of his preferred positions – a clean energy target. Not that Mr Abbott is a lone wolf here.

Two of the constitutionally-at-risk Nationals politicians, Mr Joyce and Senator Canavan, are even louder in their coal advocacy.

Just how Mr Turnbull and his energy minister Josh Frydenberg think they can successfully abandon the target modelled by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel is a mystery.

You cannot run an argument in contradictory ways and not expect voters to notice you are flying without a feather of credibility.

Labor’s Bill Shorten nailed this when he quoted the Prime Minister praising the Finkel target for having “a lot of merit” and that it “would certainly work”.

Now apparently, it is not needed. But without it, Dr Finkel warns electricity prices would certainly be dearer.

And just to emphasise the political danger for Mr Turnbull, a Research Now poll for the Australia Institute has found overwhelming support for a clean energy target.

Seventy-eight per cent of Australians support a target to encourage the construction of new clean energy sources. And that includes 72 per cent of Coalition voters and 58 per cent of One Nation voters.

Climate change denialists seem to be getting their way

Mr Frydenberg on Monday was laying the groundwork to stop doing just that. It seems placating the climate change deniers in the government party room has priority over this public, scientific and business sentiment.

And yet Mr Turnbull is accusing Labor of being driven by “idiocy as much as ideology”.

Mr Frydenberg is promising to unveil his policy by Christmas, that like a magic pudding will deliver cheaper, affordable and cleaner energy.

And just to make life really difficult, the senate has been plunged into uncertainty.

The accommodating deal-maker Nick Xenophon is heading back to Adelaide. He’s promising to still have a hand in Canberra, but just how that works out is far from clear.

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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