News National Talking up a government surge that is yet to happen
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Talking up a government surge that is yet to happen

christopher pyne malcolm turnbull leadership
Mr Pyne says he is certain Mr Turnbull has the confidence of the Liberal party. Photo: Getty
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There is at least one very senior minister who doesn’t believe the hype that the Turnbull government has had a summer surge.

Christopher Pyne is adamant the next election is 18 months away. “We’re only half way through the term,” he told the ABC’s Fran Kelly on Monday.

Before any prime minister rushes to the polls they have to be confident they have a fighting chance of winning. It would seem that fighting chance is still a mirage.

But if the year’s first question time is any guide, the way to achieve it is to yell until you are blue in the face that your opponents are the biggest threat to Australia since federation.

Bill Shorten is “the most anti-business Labor leader ever” a hyper-ventilating Prime Minister told the house.

That was the response to the Opposition Leader’s first question where he pointed to a 20 per cent rise in company profits while average wages rose by 2 per cent. “So why is the PM giving the top end of town a $65 billion tax cut while increasing taxes on ordinary workers up to $300 a year?”

That is a reference to the government raising the Medicare levy, ostensibly to pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It seems the NDIS is the perfect cover for a stealthy raid on worker’s pockets.

The treasurer who originally did it, Labor’s Wayne Swan, insists the NDIS has been paid for. The fact is this hypothecation is always a ruse. The money goes straight into the general revenue vault.

It is probably wise that Turnbull dropped the comparison of Shorten to Whitlam. Younger people struggling to buy their first home or families struggling to pay the electricity bills or get the private health insurance cover they thought they paid for aren’t interested in spurious historical references when they are sure feeling the pinch.

The Coalition’s five years in government have not so far addressed a falling standard of living thanks to record low wage growth. Mr Turnbull and his Treasurer are promising their trickle down economic prescription will see wages rise this year.

The trouble with that is businesses are counting on it not happening, as the Australian Industry Group survey showed last week, and don’t expect it to.

There is delight in government ranks at Labor having to face the real prospect of losing the inner Melbourne seat of Batman in a by-election.

The government believes that by not running a Liberal candidate it is forcing Mr Shorten to the left, damaging his credibility as he tries to outplay the “extremist” Greens.

There are indications this is a misreading of the broader electorate’s rejection of the giant Adani coal mine in Queensland. Polling for the Australian Conservation Foundation has found 65 per cent oppose the Adani mine outright.

Last year’s Queensland state election showed Labor’s refusal to back taxpayer loans to Adani was a plus not a negative. This squared with party research that showed the further away from Townsville you got, the more unpopular the project. Climate change and the Great Barrier Reef are huge factors in this.

No wonder the government is not yet rushing to unilaterally send Labor’s Susan Lamb, who holds the ultra-marginal Brisbane seat of Longman, off to the High Court over citizenship doubts.

So despite the latest Newspoll showing Mr Turnbull is less unpopular than he was and more preferred as prime minister, for the 26th survey in a row the Coalition is trailing.

The four-point margin more than enough to deliver a handsome Labor victory. A swing just under 1 per cent would see the government defeated.

The next Newspoll will be a more reliable guide to whether the trend of the past 18 months is reversing.

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

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