Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On the QT: Is there a rabble in the house? edition

This morning's Australian newspaper contained the rather startling news that despite a week spent banging on about asylum seekers, the Liberal-National Party vote had gone backwards. The Newspoll revealed that the two party preferred score was ALP 59- LNP 41 (compared to 58-42 last time). All in all it meant no real change as a one percentage movement is within the margin of error, but that was small consolation for Turnbull and the rest of the coalition. The most astonishing aspect was how little news such a wipe-out result got in the media.

According to Antony Green’s election calculator, such a poll would result in the ALP winning 116 seats to the LNP’s 31. Yep 116-31. Now that’s not going to happen, but in past years, just the suggestion of such a thing would be massive news, and would certainly mean the end of the opposition leader’s tenure. So horrible is the Liberal Party’s standing at the moment, that the poll didn’t even rate the question of Turnbull’s leadership being raised by the media.

We are in a very strange place, politically. When 59-41 doesn’t raise an eyebrow you have to start wondering if the ALP can actually win by a record margin. Howard in 1996 got 53.63% – which would mean the Libs get about 47%, something they have only achieved once in a Newspoll since the start of 2008). In other words for the ALP to win by a margin only as big as Howard did in 1996, would mean their polling to fall to the worst point in two years. That is not good, if you are a Liberal Party MP.

On the personal standings, Kevin Rudd’s satisfaction rating went down by 4% to 63% (about where it was in August-September), and his dissatisfaction rating went up 4% for a net satisfaction of 35 (compared with 43 last time). A pretty big drop it must be said. Turnbull however would hardly have found himself smiling into his Weet-bix, because his satisfaction rating also fell by 1% to 32%, and his dissatisfaction rating went up by 6% to 54% – for a net satisfaction rating of minus 22 (compared with minus 15 last time).

Clearly the voters didn’t think much of how either leader handled the asylum issue; and the drop in the Liberal Party’s primary vote from 32% to 30% suggests there is absolutely no desire on the part of the electorate to go back to a John Howard style of things.

Dennis Shanahan put it succinctly:

… today's Newspoll figures are all bad for Turnbull

Julie Bishop, speaking to the Liberal Party room prior to Question Time told the MPs “they are behaving like a "rabble" and are to blame for the coalition's poor performance in opinion polls”.

Clearly what they needed was to unite and go into the Parliament and put on a strong display.

Unfortunately for the Liberal Party, this involved letting Julie Bishop ask a question.

As Kevin Rudd was in Indonesia, Julia Gillard was Acting PM, and Bishop asked her about comments made by the head of the AWU, Paul Howes, about the asylum seekers. Howes had saidAustralia should roll out the red carpet and welcome the Sri Lankans with open arms”.  Bishop, cunning strategist that she is, wondered whether, given the AWU attended the ALP national conference, what role the AWU had in formulating the Government's asylum seekers policy.

It was quite possibly the dumbest question she has ever asked. Gillard herself wondered whether it was more stupid than Bishop’s effort in September when she quoted Paul Keating from 1969. I think this was worse for a couple reasons.

Firstly it was a question that didn’t even have a hint of penetration in it – all Gillard needed to do was laugh and say “no” (which she did). But once she had done that she was then able to move on and talk up the Government's asylum seeker policy to her heart’s content. It was at this point that Bishop outdid herself. She actually got up and raised a point of order saying that Gillard had answered the question and thus should sit down. The standard practice of the opposition when raising a point of order during the Government's answer to one of their questions is to complain the Minister is refusing to answer it. What Bishop did was essentially ask the Speaker to take pity on her and stop Gillard from hitting her over the head with her own idiocy. (He didn’t.)

Sigh – no wonder they’re a rabble. If you were a backbencher in the Liberal Party and you were seeing that from your Deputy Leader would you be all that bothered with toeing the party line?

Sharman Stone almost outdid Bishop by asking Gillard the exact same question Laurie Oakes had asked Julia on the Sunday program. Oakes had quoted a press release by a “shadow minister” headed “"Another boat on the way. Another policy failure." It was only after Gillard had responded did Oakes reveal it was a press release Gillard herself had put out in 2003, talking about the Howard policy.

It was a good little set up by Oakes. Sharman Stone unfortunately thought asking it again would somehow trip up Julia. It didn’t. In fact Gillard would have seen this question coming from about 9:30am Sunday. So obvious, and so poorly constructed was it, that it stretched the definition of “question without notice” to a point almost too great to bear.

The rest of QT was devoted to a bit of argy bargy about the Reserve Bank – which included Turnbull slipping into lawyer mode when he sought to “tender the Reserve Bank minutes” rather than “table them”, and a few shots at Peter Dutton, who at that point had yet to announce whether he was going to recontest his seat of Dickson after losing the reselection for the safe seat of McPherson. When Chris Bowen was laying into him about being “the member for to be advised” and a guy who “couldn’t organise a successful surrender of his own seat”, Dutton decided to intervene and noticing Bowen’s flashy suit, said he may be dressed like Paul Keating but “you are no Paul Keating”. Bowen quick as a flash pointed out that “Paul Keating never ran from a fight”.

After Question Time Dutton held a press conference to announce that he would be recontesting Dickson. The voters there must be so pleased.

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