Murphy’s Law is in full swing when it comes to the Turnbull government: If anything can go wrong it will go wrong.
The Prime Minister just can’t catch a break and for that he can thank not only events out of his control but woeful political management.
And the measure of it all is the fortnightly Newspoll – a benchmark for failure put up in lights by Malcolm Turnbull himself when he deposed Tony Abbott.
When the Prime Minister flew back into Canberra last week after his Washington visit he appeared to have a successful trip behind him and the end to the distasteful and politically damaging Barnaby Joyce saga.
The disgraced former deputy prime minister put paid to that when he spectacularly told Fairfax on Sunday that just who the father of his partner’s unborn child is is a “grey area“.
But he was quoted as saying he would still love the baby as his own.
The outrage was universal and yet more evidence of the “appalling judgement” that Mr Turnbull accused Mr Joyce of on the day a new ministerial standard banned “sexual relations between ministers and their staff”.
The 28th bad Newspoll in a row for the government also saw a collapse in Mr Turnbull’s lead over Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister to a statistical line-ball 37-35. That’s a 14-point fall in one month.
Murphy’s law kicked in when Minister for Jobs and Innovation Michaelia Cash had a “brain snap” in Senate estimates by smearing every woman in Bill Shorten’s office. Her withdrawals without apology and Mr Turnbull’s defence of her has clearly left voters unimpressed.
An average of the latest published opinion polls has Labor with a 6.6 per cent two-party-preferred lead. An entrenched trend since the last election.
The Prime Minister’s office was forced into damage control on Monday when a Sky News report claimed Mr Joyce had a blazing row with Mr Turnbull, threatening to plot his overthrow with the help of Tony Abbott.
“It’s complete rubbish” was the curt denial. But even the PMO suspects a Nationals source for the story. It is yet more evidence of a government at war with itself.
Mr Turnbull hardly had time to bask in the afterglow of establishing that he and Donald Trump were now “mates” – a word he repeated ad nauseam during a joint news conference at the White House. Being part of a US President’s inner circle has long been thought a big plus for an Australian prime minister.
Despite Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the last party room meeting trumpeting the advantage the government now had over Labor dealing with the mercurial Trump, it has counted for nought when it comes to exempting Australia from the President’s new trade war.
Mr Shorten may have called then-candidate Trump “barking mad”, his performance since taking the most powerful job on earth has done nothing to demonstrate the Labor leader’s assessment is far off the mark.
Mr Shorten is confident the last thing Australians want is Mr Trump’s vision for America being translated here. A prime example: The failure of the Turnbull government to convince voters that Trump-like trickle down corporate tax cuts, are a good idea.
From his perch on the backbench, Mr Abbott is ratcheting up the pressure on Mr Turnbull to explain why he should retain his job if, as is now almost certain, he hits 30 bad Newspolls.
On Sydney radio Mr Abbott said: “It was the Prime Minister who set this test, and I guess if he fails the test it will be the Prime Minister who will have to explain why the test was right for one and not for the other.”
The lack of a credible alternative would be a good start but it hardly inspires confidence in an increasingly despondent party room.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics.