Monday, September 25, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

A long way to go
Things may yet get worse for the PM

Supplied by ABC News

The obvious take-out from today’s Newspoll [$] is that Malcolm Turnbull’s government still lags Bill Shorten’s Opposition by a significant margin – a margin that has, in fact, increased slightly (46-54 is a big gap). You have to go back to late April to find even a 48 for the government. That’s five months of terrible results, and 20 Newspolls in a row in which the Coalition has been behind.

But for me the most significant result, in terms of the immediate shape of federal politics, was this: in the marriage plebiscite, 15% of voters have already voted.

Now, perhaps that’s what you’d expect, and perhaps it’s not. My point is not that it’s a surprise. Shocked or not, what it means is that 85% of voters have yet to mail in their ballot.

Of course, as a percentage of final voters 15% might be quite high – we have no idea how many people will actually get around to voting. Newspoll finds another 67% of voters say they will “definitely” do so, but I’m not sure that means much. What we could be seeing are the early indications of very low turnout – but given we have no experience with this sort of vote, none of us really have any idea at all.

That means, too, that it’s very hard to predict how the vote itself plays out. Support for same-sex marriage has fallen recently, according to the same poll (and others), but it remains far ahead of opposition. The result of the plebiscite may have a huge impact on Turnbull’s fortunes, but today’s numbers don’t tell us much we didn’t already know on that.

For the narrow purposes of today’s column, what matters – and what we know for sure – is that both the Yes and No campaigns are completely aware they still have the chance to win the vast majority of voters over to their side, or at least to get the majority of their voters out to vote.

In other words, the steady flow of marriage stories we have seen is not about to let up. For the prime minister, that means another six weeks of debate dominated by an issue that is not at all helpful for his government.

It’s not helpful partly because it’s a “distraction”. Obviously I don’t mean that it’s unimportant – simply that the government would rather be talking about other things, like power prices. Or the economy. Or almost anything.

And why is that? Well, to a fair extent it’s because voters know exactly how we got here. It is, at every moment, a reminder of Turnbull’s acquiescence to the wishes of the right of his government. And that reminder is drilled home by Tony Abbott’s strong, near-continuous presence on the campaign trail.

There are times that it almost seems as though the prime minister deserves our sympathy. After all, he’s honing his message, he’s improving his media strategy, he’s delivering in various tangible ways (media reform, gas) – and yet nobody hears him. He’d be doing well, you think for a moment, if only all of these other things weren’t set against him.

Until you remember, of course, that the two major things set against him – Abbott, and the ongoing dominance of the same-sex marriage postal plebiscite – are not elements detracting from the shape of his government. They are the shape of his government. He knocked off Abbott, and in order to do so he agreed to a whole bunch of things that have tied him in knots ever since. That might not matter if marriage was the only remnant of this – but of course the other major issue dogging the government, climate policy, is up in lights as well.

I’m a broken record on this, but until Turnbull finds a way to fundamentally reshape the way his government operates, he will find it difficult to convince voters to listen to him. Certainly that will be difficult before the end of the marriage plebiscite. And by then, we could be 23 Newspolls into this sustained slump. Things may yet get worse for the prime minister before they have even the smallest chance of getting better.

In other news


The crusade against same-sex marriage

The Church is inconsistent in its rhetoric on discrimination

Mungo MacCallum

“At last our national daily has come clean. The Australian has now
abandoned any pretence that the current plebiscite has anything to do with same-sex marriage and instead embarked on a holy war to maintain, and if possible enhance, religious (by which it really means Roman Catholic) privilege.”read on


Resistance is futile

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a modern lesson in repression but ignores wider, more complex issues

Elle Hardy

“The US, devastated by pollution and disease, has been overthrown by a theocratic regime and renamed Gilead. In a stratified society whose aim is to ameliorate the nation’s mass infertility and declining birthrate, women are reduced to chattel and the fertile ones consigned to servitude as ‘handmaids’ to breed for the elite. The state is moving perilously backwards, and it rules with fear, surveillance and punishment.” (July 2017) READ ON

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.



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