EDITORIAL MONDAY 121009
Two newspapers, two headlines, two contradictory stories about the same thing. The Sydney Morning Herald today told us that “Hockey firms as voters’ choice – Lib supporters reject Turnbull on climate.” This headline was inspired by a Herald/Neilson poll which showed that 33 per cent of voters preferred Joe Hockey as leader of the Liberal party compared to 31 per cent in favour of Malcolm Turnbull. Meanwhile the headline on the front page of the Australian was telling a different story with “Turnbull leadership boost – Hockey’s support falters after Costello withdraws from race.” According to Newspoll, support for Malcolm Turnbull is at 32 per cent, and Joe Hockey has just 24 per cent. Clearly, the two surveys must have been conducted by asking different people.
While there is often some discrepancy between different polls, which might be conducted at different times, and sometimes have their questions constructed differently, it seems difficult to believe that both polls can be right. However, they do agree on two things. Firstly, Tony Abbott is running a distant third as preferred Liberal leader in both opinion polls. Secondly, neither poll gives the opposition a snowflake’s chance in hell of winning an election if it was to be held any time soon. It would seem to be the clearest indication possible that any debate over the leadership is really only a squabble over the seating arrangements on the deck of the Titanic.
Of course, the truth is that there is an increasing likelihood that there will be an election some time soon, with the emissions trading legislation due to be returned to the parliament next month whether the Liberals are ready or not. At this moment they are not, and despite Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to have amendments ready in time, the chances are that any amendments he can get his colleagues to approve will be rejected by the Government. If the legislation goes down, and it very well could, then the trigger is armed for a double dissolution election before the end of the year. If that happens, it doesn’t matter who is leading the Liberal Party because they have been caught out with their policy pants down.
At the same time, there’s always the chance of a backlash against a government who is seen to be rushing too enthusiastically to an early election. Such arrogance can be punished. That’s why the government would be unlikely to pursue such a course unless they can la the blame clearly at the feet of an intransigent opposition who is doing nothing but obstruct the government’s mandate to proceed. That’s why Malcolm Turnbull’s amendments are so important. They must on the one hand appear to be a genuine attempt at compromise with the government in an effort to avoid the threat of a double dissolution, while at the same time satisfy his own colleagues in terms of preserving jobs and protecting industry.
This extremely delicate balancing act is the precise reason why this is not the time for the Liberal party to be entertaining any doubts about leadership. If anyone can pull it off, Malcolm Turnbull can. Changing leaders won’t improve the party’s chance of success at all, in fact quite the opposite. As I have said before, and others have also observed, it is not Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership which is the problem, it is the party members who seem to be reluctant to follow him who are the problem.