Despite gallivanting around the nation, glad-handing voters in the lead-up to next week’s byelections, Malcolm Turnbull has yet again failed by his own Newspoll yardstick.
This fortnight’s poll, published late on Sunday night, records the Coalition’s 36th losing Newspoll in a row, with the Labor opposition retaining an election-winning position of 51 to 49 per cent on a two-party preferred basis.
The primary vote of both major parties fell by one point, which is well within the margin of error, leaving the Coalition at 38 per cent and Labor on 36 per cent. The only positive news contained in the poll was that Mr Turnbull’s lead over Labor leader Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister had widened by another four percentage points.
Even more problematic for the PM than the stubborn refusal of voters to embrace his government was the Newspoll results on immigration.
You may have noticed that when Tony Abbott isn’t flapping his jaws about Australia’s desperate ‘need’ for another coal-fired power station, he’s pressing the Turnbull government to drastically cut migration levels.
Just as Mr Abbott has tried to conflate all manner of society’s ills into an argument for coal, he’s thrown together another bunch of common complaints and labelled them as the fault of Australia’s ‘high’ migration levels. According to the former PM we can thank the annual immigration intake for suppressing wages, inflating house prices, and congesting roads, schools and hospitals. Of course he also blames migrants for ‘integration issues’.
Unfortunately for Mr Turnbull, if the latest Newspoll is any indication, his predecessor appears to be having more luck with his xenophobic campaign than he is for the one supporting coal.
Newspoll found that 72 per cent of voters supported a 10 per cent cut in the annual permanent migrant intake to 163,000 in the past financial year, which the government claims was due to a tightening of its visa processes. The PM claimed on Monday the reduction in visas was proof the system was working.
“We are able to be very picky about who comes to Australia as permanent migrants. And that’s our right. It’s our country,” Mr Turnbull said.
Yet it’s clear not only from Mr Abbott’s anti-immigration campaign but also from comments by Mr Shorten on Monday that voters are ready and willing to blame migrants. Instead of focusing on the permanent migrant intake, Mr Shorten accused the PM of trying to hide from “the growing problem of people coming to Australia on temporary work visas”.
Mr Abbott’s ‘success’ with this campaign may be due to the fact that more Coalition conservatives support his proposed cull for migration than his campaign for coal.
Senior Liberal conservative and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is clearly a fan of migration cuts, given he’s the minister who’s doing it. This is in contrast to the Treasurer Scott Morrison, who is also a conservative but favours high migration because it stimulates the economy.
On the weekend Mr Dutton essentially rejected this claim from Mr Morrison, saying the reduced intake would still benefit the economy. “We’re actually bringing more productive people in because we’re not bringing people in who have made false claims,” Mr Dutton said.
Despite the immigration debate already being crowded with politicians looking to exploit the issue for their own ends, a new contender strode onto the field this week.
Senator Dean Smith, the gay Liberal conservative who successfully led the push to legislate marriage equality, has written to the PM, the Treasurer and the Home Affairs Minister, urging them to agree to a year-long Senate inquiry into Australia’s population policy.
Senator Smith claims it’s possible to have a “civilised debate” on population and avoid a degeneration into xenophobia if politicians get the tone right. He argues that “population issues are broader than immigration issues” and that Australia needs to “prepare and plan better … [to] maintain that very strong sense of public endorsement that is necessary for all of our population matters”.
If Senator Smith was sending a message to Mr Abbott, the former PM was deaf to the entreaty. On Monday, during one of his regular tabloid radio interviews, Mr Abbott urged the government to use migration cuts as a way to distinguish itself from Labor.
“If the government wants to say ‘Look there are these big distinctions between us and the Labor Party’, well support for baseload power particularly coal is one area, and support for a substantial cut to immigration is another area,” Mr Abbott said.
“Because it seems that the Labor Party is in the grip of, I suppose, ethnic activists in certain respects.”