Malcolm Turnbull has his mind on far more than the results of the Super Saturday byelections in three weeks’ time.
Win or lose any of them, he has some very big battles ahead before his government will face the people at a general election.
The Prime Minister refuses to describe the July 28 polls as a referendum on him or his government. “The byelections are exactly what they are. They’re elections across the country to choose a federal member of Parliament,” he says.
His caution is wise. An analysis of the consolidated Newspolls and Ipsos Fairfax polls over the past three months shows he has not arrested the swing against the government since the last election.
There’s no doubt that should the Liberals defy history and take Longman in Queensland and Braddon in Tasmania the political dynamics would change, but to what extent is the nagging question.
Mr Turnbull is convinced he is beginning to get traction and his brutal – and, to be frank, ugly – attacks on Bill Shorten’s character will eventually pay dividends.
To cheers from delegates at the Liberal National Party state council in Queensland at the weekend, he said his opponent was “a liar”.
“There’s no point being mealy-mouthed about this. He is a liar.”
Mr Shorten launching Labor’s campaign in Braddon noted that the Prime Minister spends a lot of his time “throwing personal insults and invective against me”.
“My response to him is simple: Australians are sick of this sort of politics.”
Pauline Hanson isn’t sick of it. She has enlisted former Labor leader Mark Latham to robocall Longman, telling voters he has “personal experience of Bill Shorten’s dishonesty”.
The reason “we are having a Longman byelection is because Shorten lied about the citizenship of his Labor MPs,” Mr Latham says in the recording.
That claim is itself a lie. Labor relied on high-powered legal advice about taking “reasonable steps” – advice the Liberals themselves relied on when WA senator Dean Smith first was appointed to Parliament.
The High Court ended 20 years of interpretation on how section 44 of the constitution should be applied.
Lying about lies shows how tawdry and desperate our political discourse has become.
But Mr Turnbull knows Super Saturday won’t in one fell swoop end the issues and personalities that have dogged him for four years.
At the top of the list is ending the energy wars within the Coalition that are being stoked by his predecessor, Tony Abbott.
As one assistant minister says: “Just when we are gaining traction Abbott strikes out.”
Mr Turnbull has until the end of the month to win over the states and territories to his national energy guarantee. He needs them all to deliver the plan but the ACT’s Greens minister Shane Rattenbury fears he’s giving the coal champions too much.
In an interesting alliance, Mr Rattenbury’s federal colleague, Greens MP Adam Bandt, is echoing the Nationals calls for a royal commission into electricity prices.
Mr Turnbull says there’s no need, as later in the week he will release the results of the consumer watchdog ACCC inquiry into that very problem. How he can or will respond is another big uncertainty.
Then there is the overhang from the same-sex marriage plebiscite. The government is sitting on the Ruddock inquiry into religious freedom. It’s one fight the PM doesn’t want distracting at this time.
Conservatives seem to have ditched their traditional antagonism to legislating a bill of rights and are now demanding a religious discrimination act. Just what that means and how privileged churches should continue to be in the area of taxation, for example, is highly contentious.
There’s a lot to do before next year’s election, whenever it is held.