The Politics    Monday, March 20, 2017

No strength in numbers

By Dominic Kelly

An improved poll result cannot hide the government’s malaise

For some years now, the Australian’s Newspoll has been little more than a sadistic ritual that sitting governments are forced to endure, regularly recording the intense dissatisfaction Australians feel towards their political leaders. But Malcolm Turnbull will surely be encouraged by today’s result, which shows the government having improved both its primary and two-party-preferred vote by three percentage points since late February.

The Australian wasted no time in attributing the rise to Turnbull’s “Snowy 2.0” plan and Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus’ comments about breaking unjust laws, but the government would be unwise to read too much into the result. Firstly, there is the matter of Newspoll’s margin of error, which is approximately 2–3%, so any upward trend for the government would at the very least need to be confirmed by another poll.

More importantly, the fact remains that the government continues to flounder, looking for some semblance of purpose as parliament returns after a two-week break. Yesterday it was hit with a budget leak to the News Corp tabloids, revealing that the government had costed plans to scrap welfare payments of less than $20, which would mean the loss of concession cards for many aged pensioners and other welfare recipients.

Bill Shorten was quick to make hay out of the story on Twitter, before Turnbull responded with a series of his own tweets, rejecting the story and accusing Shorten of lying. (Though it now seems certain that the government will not pursue the savings measure, Sky News reporter Samantha Maiden confirmed the basis of the story by tweeting photos of the leaked documents.) Some thought that Turnbull was mimicking the crazed Twitter stylings of Donald Trump. This is an exaggeration, but his rapid response did show that the spectre of the 2014 budget continues to haunt the government.

It’s no surprise then that the government is attempting to shift the focus to what it perceives as its policy strengths. Hence, another round of union-bashing with a crackdown on illegitimate payments to unions, and another round of culture wars with the release of a policy statement on multiculturalism that puts the onus on immigrants to integrate into the wider community, and pointedly raises the government’s counter-terrorism and border security achievements. And the interminable debate over section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act goes on, with Sky News reporting that substantive changes will be considered at a full ministry meeting tonight.

Meanwhile, Peter Dutton spent his weekend attacking business leaders for daring to support same-sex marriage, including a concerted effort to single out gay Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. Dutton, the government’s undisputed headkicker, seems to be using his every public utterance to send a message to the prime minister: I can say anything I like and there is little you can do about it. Turnbull can either stay mute and look weak and unprincipled or react and gift the Liberal Party’s right-wing rump an opportunity to strike.

Poor Malcolm. Of all the humiliations our alleged smartest-guy-in-the-room prime minister might have imagined his political career would involve, being the target of a rope-a-dope strategy by Dutton probably never came to mind.

Today’s links

  • Not for the first time, Paul Keating has ridiculed proposals that would allow young people to use their superannuation to enter the housing market. He had a different view in 1993.
  • Trade unions and the Labor Party are being accused of hypocrisy as the battle over Sunday penalty rates heats up.
  • Former Don Dale guard Conan Zamolo admits to filming himself bursting into cells and asking boys in their beds to give him oral sex. It was “a joke”, he maintains.
  • Some excellent reporting on the continued farce that is Pauline Hanson’s One Nation from Paul Karp and Karen Middleton.
  • There has been fierce fighting in Syrian capital Damascus after a surprise rebel attack.
  • Following Donald Trump’s excruciating meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel, the president’s unparalleled ignorance again comes to the fore.
  • As her husband looks set to take up a position in the Department of Justice, the Atlantic profiles “Counselor to the President” Kellyanne Conway.
  • Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon says an independent Scotland will apply for full membership of the European Union.
  • As the world mourns the death of Chuck Berry, please enjoy this clip from the wonderful 1987 documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, in which the master puts apprentice Keith Richards in his place.

Dominic Kelly

Dominic Kelly is a PhD candidate and tutor in politics at La Trobe University. He tweets from @illywhacker_.

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