Today’s Newspoll came out showing a big jump in the ALP on Two Party Preferred terms from 52%-48% to 56%-44%. This reversed the drop in the ALP’s 2PP in the Essential Report yesterday – but in that case, the 2PP went from 56 to 54, so it’s a good guess that the “real” figure is around 54-55%. Either way it is not a good for the Liberal Party, and the Abbott experiment is turning out pretty much how everyone expected – in solidifying “the base”, he has lost the centre and thus any hope of winning the election.
I should say however, that the poll wrecked havoc with the narrative many in the media have been trying to construct in the last month that Rudd is looking shaky, Julia Gillard is about ready to take over the ropes, and Abbott could actually win the election. None of that looks true at the moment (though credit to Dennis Shanahan, he couldn’t help but refer to the Gillard rumour today in his opinion piece on the Newspoll – according to Dennis, Rudd’s “colleagues were universally speaking about the rise of Julia Gillard, to his detriment”. Universally? I’m not sure that word means what Shanahan thinks it means…
But anyway, let’s a have a quick pick over the Newspoll entrails. The ALP’s Primary vote rose 4% to 43%, the LNP Primary vote fell 3% to 38%. Why? It would be easy to say the debate – and there is some truth in that. But as Possum quite presciently wrote on the weekend: “If Newspoll moves towards the ALP – it will be consistent with a trend that’s been running for around 3 weeks now”.
So yep – it’s part of a trend – but no one expected it to jump up this much – I’ll give credit for the extra bit of bounce-back to the debate and statistical randomness (big jumps just sometimes happen).
What about the Satisfaction Ratings? These were given a big coverage in The Australian last time – especially by Peter van Onselen where he suggested Rudd’s Net-Satisfaction rating had him on the verge of being a drag on the ALP vote. This time round, Rudd’s Satisfaction Rating was 51% (up 3%) and his Dissatisfaction Rating down 2% to 39% – coming in with a Net-Satisfaction Rating of 12.
And Abbott? His Satisfaction Rating fell for the second poll in a row, this time down 3% to 44%, and his Dissatisfaction Rating rose 5% to 43%, giving him a Net-Satisfaction Rating of 1. I can’t wait for van Onselen’s follow up article on how Rudd is such an anchor on the ALP vote.
The Preferred PM Ratings have Rudd staying well ahead on 59% to Abbott’s 27% (a 7 point increase for Rudd).
All in all a good poll for the ALP.
Except it got better. Newspoll also asked which party was best to manage the Economy. The ALP won that 44% to 39%, and on Health, the ALP was favoured 48% to 30% (which roughly accords with the result in the Essential Report of 45% to 25%).
So faced with such horrible numbers, what’s a Leader of the Opposition to do? If your answer was make a speech completely devoid of any policy content and continuing the negative attacking of the Government that led to the decline in the polls in the first place, then you’d be spot on.
Tony Abbott today gave a speech at a “Leader’s Forum” in Sydney. The media have all referred to it as a “Headland” speech, because that is what John Howard called the speeches he gave in 1995 that apparently were so brilliant, and thus any series of speeches by an Opposition Leader on big issues now have to be called Headland speeches. The signs were not good however, because Abbott started the day by giving an interview to Alexandra Kirk on AM, and it was not a good performance. Try this:
ALEXANRA KIRK: The Government's health policy is popular with voters. Aren't you putting yourself at a disadvantage without having a health policy out there? And until you do, then presumably you won't be in the game, so to speak.
TONY ABBOTT: That's a fair point Alex, and I think there's no doubt that the Prime Minister has been the man with the plan over the last few weeks and I think the public like politicians who are addressing problems.
OK, so it’s a fair point that the voters want political parties to have a policy… so what would do if you were a Leader of the Opposition and about to give a major speech?
ALEXANDRA KIRK: When will you make your plan public?
TONY ABBOTT: In good time, Alex. We certainly weren't going to be, I suppose, railroaded by the Prime Minister into releasing our plan prematurely but in good time before the election.
OK, so no Health policy today, but we’ll forgive him, because today’s speech is on Economics, so presumably that’s where the real meat will be:
ALEXANDRA KIRK: What fundamentals in Coalition economic policy are you planning to unveil today?
TONY ABBOTT: Well it's not a policy speech as such, Alex, it's more a statement of principles.
Oh dear. So it’s to be a speech about principles – speeches on “principles” are political code for “I’ve got nothing to say, but I have to say something, so I guess I better say this and hope that people think it is something.” Kirk realises this:
ALEXANDRA KIRK: But until voters actually see what you propose that's empty rhetoric, isn't it?
But never fear, Abbott, has a ready response to claims of empty rhetoric:
TONY ABBOTT: Well I certainly think that if voters are curious about me, they would do well to read my book, Battlelines, which was a densely packed policy treatise. Not all of it will be Coalition policy, obviously...
Yes the Tony Abbott book tour continues – nothing in the book can be guaranteed to be a policy that will be taken to the election, but you should read it anyway, because you know… it ...err…well hell, Tony’s got mouths to feed, so keep those sales ticking over!
Kirk points out the small problem of the discord between to book and the Party policy:
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well isn't that the problem?
TONY ABBOTT: But certainly there are plenty of ideas there. In terms of our policy, well except for the elements of the Howard government's policies that we have explicitly changed, people can assume that the same kind of economic management that was practised in the Howard era, which now looks like a lost golden age, will be practiced by the next Coalition government.
Yep – don’t worry I’ll be just like the John Howard – apart from the bits of his policy we kicked out.
Sigh. And his speech lived up to this hype.
Back when I was doing First Year Politics and Economics, when I wanted to try and trick my tutor into thinking that I knew more about a subject than I really did, I would find a quote by some historical figure to start off the essay – you know a good quote from Thomas Jefferson or JFK, or Plato. I’d then pepper the essay with other quotes by equally learned figures to show again that I had researched the issue quite deeply, and also hoped to distract the tutor from noticing that I hadn’t quite grasped the concept I was actually writing the essay on. It never worked.
Tony Abbott in his speech on economics began with a quote from John Maynard Keynes, and throughout the speech he quoted Adam Smith, Winston Churchill, JK Galbraith, and economists Martin Feldman and John Taylor. Yep – he was doing my old trick. And he too failed.
A country that’s taking its economic success for granted is doomed to decline. The reforms that the next Coalition government will champion must be different from those of its predecessors but it should be no less committed to reform. Just as Bob Hawke was prepared to argue for floating the dollar and John Howard was prepared to argue for the GST, the next Coalition government must be prepared to argue for necessary reform against the power of vested interests and people’s mistrust of change. Economic reform means more jobs, stronger businesses, and greater choice. Reform can’t be avoided if prosperity is to be secured.
and he ended his speech with this:
The Coalition appreciates that the Australian people are often far more interested in their communities than they are in the economy. We understand, though, in ways that our opponents sometimes don’t, why it’s impossible to have a cohesive community without a strong economy to sustain it. Economic policy is the necessary foundation for all the other policies which governments and political parties need to have.
So you would think in between those statements, the speech would be full of policy about economic reform that Abbott intends to introduce? Well you would think that, but you would be wrong. Instead the speech was the same he has given time and time before – all about the waste of spending under the Insulation Scheme, and the Building the Economic Revolution, and how debt is bad, and that he doesn’t like taxes or big government blah blah blah.
What a waste of time it must have felt like for all those invited to listen.
The only revelation came when he said on IR:
The Coalition intends to release its workplace relations policy soon. There’ll be nothing ideological about our policy. It will be designed to ensure that workers are better off because the workplaces that employ them are more productive. There will be a strong no disadvantage test and prohibitions on any attempt to force people to move from one type of employment arrangement to another. It certainly won’t be the “son of Work Choices” that the Government claims but it will seek to ensure that there’s freedom as well as fairness in the workplace.
Hmm, “freedom in the work place”, I wonder what that is code for? Why do I think it’ll be more freedom for employers and not employees…
And then on Health he said this:
The Coalition will not necessarily oppose the Government’s public hospital changes provided they don’t boil down to a great big new bureaucracy.
Which is a bit different to what he said just over a week ago in Parliament:
"I question all of it and I oppose most of it".
And just 7 days ago at the National Press Club Health Debate:
I hope, as Opposition Leader, to stop Mr Rudd's great big new bureaucracy that will muck up public hospitals the way he's mucked up home insulation and school halls.
Seems that Abbott may have sniffed some political winds there… Gee I love a conviction politician: seven days to go from “stop” to “not necessarily oppose”! Talk about not taking a backward step!
But, hey, maybe Abbott can be forgiven for being a lightweight on Economics – after all until this week he had Barnaby Joyce advising him on Finance. Today Joyce also gave a speech on economic matters – no doubt because he remains the Coalition spokesperson on Finance in the Senate. He had this to say:
BARNABY JOYCE: The ceiling insulation program, maybe, as we speak they are burning down houses, as we speak, there are, there are, there is calamities happening around the suburbs near where we, near where we are. And maybe that is how they're going to reboot the economy, maybe if they burn down enough houses, we can reboot the economy by building them again.
Yes people do love to hear politicians joke about house fires… How about the BER spending?
BARNABY JOYCE: This just amazes me. This is just, it confounds me, $16.2 billion on glorified garden sheds. With the money we have wasted on the Building the Education revenue, revolution, the, the blatant economic rip-off, we could have built, definitely built a pipeline from the north to the south, most definitely, we could have done that.
We, we, and even, even if that pipeline had never moved a drop of water, even if it had rusted in the paddock, I would have believed that you would have a greater economic stimulus to our nation than what we're going to get out of what is a glorified, eclectic of rubbish that is now parked around the back of every school.
Yep, “Garden Sheds” – remember that phrase, because I think it’ll get a workout in an election campaign – used with images of state of the art libraries and school halls. The problem is Joyce thinks everyone agrees with him, but doesn’t realise the things he says only sound good at a LNP branch meeting after 4 glasses of red. They are not things that should be said by anyone sober, or wanting to be taken seriously – especially when you’;re saying it would be better to build a pipeline that no one would use than school halls which will be used by school kids for years.
He the referred to the Productivity Commission (which is due to hand down a report on water recovery in the Murray-Darling basin – his new area of responsibility) saying of their reports: “I don't know, I use them when I run out of toilet paper”.
Cheers, Barnaby, nice work giving the ALP a free kick when they’re 20 metres out, right in front of goal. But look, I don’t wish to be too harsh – here’s a tip for you: if you’re short of paper, ask Tony Abbott – I’m sure the pages of Battlelines would be nice and absorbent, and at least for once the book would be put to some practical use.