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Aug 19, 2014

Coalition's recovery levels off -- and a Hockey return to form is needed

The Coalition's polling recovery in the wake of the MH17 tragedy has left it just shy of Labor; it still needs a boost to recover its lead.


Tony Abbott needs a Julia — and right now Treasurer Joe Hockey ain’t it.

One of the problems that Julia Gillard had when she was prime minister was that she had no Julia Gillard backing her up in Parliament. She was an able deputy to Kevin Rudd; Dorothy Dixers to the then-deputy PM induced groans of despair from Coalition ranks; the government lost nothing when she filled in for Kevin 747; she and Lindsay Tanner more than made up for Wayne Swan’s approach as treasurer — as Swan admits in his book, his initial parliamentary performance as treasurer was “fairly ordinary” and he preferred to be analytical rather than go for one-liners (a bit rich coming from the bloke who must have said “sloppy Joe” several hundred times, but anyway). With Tanner gone and Swan her deputy, as prime minister Gillard had to do her own savaging of the opposition, mainly helped by Anthony Albanese.

Now Tony Abbott has the same problem. He has Malcolm Turnbull to call on, but that requires a special NBN Dixer in question time. A wounded Joe Hockey (and Hockey is very wounded following his petrol price own goal) won’t do the government any favours in Parliament, and he needs to get back on top of his game, if only to keep his own job secure.

The improvement in the government’s recent polling may have plateaued, with the two-party preferred voting intention figures in today’s Essential Report shifting to 52%-48% in Labor’s favour. It’s a small shift from 51-49 the last two weeks, and reflects more or less the status quo: the Coalition lost a point in its primary vote (40%), so did Labor (39%), the Greens picked one up (9%), and so did the Palmer United Party (6%). The momentum from MH17 and Tony Abbott’s well-received handling of the tragedy has lifted the government from its post-budget nadir of 54-46, but not enough to regain the lead it lost in March.

On the positive side for the government, however, its two weeks of bungles over first data retention, then, more spectacularly, Hockey’s unusual take on petrol usage and his subsequent apology failed to seriously damage the Coalition.

The lesson of Abbott’s handling of MH17 is that voters like prime ministers who appear as genuinely national leaders, not political leaders. Abbott also benefited from the way the media cycle was focused exclusively on one issue for an extended period of time. Neither are circumstances that can last more than a short period. The media cycle soon returned to the fragmented, rapid-turnover mechanism that makes consistent, clear communication almost impossible; domestic politics requires partisanship, however much voters insist they don’t like it. It was no surprise that “new Tony” claims about a sudden shift from ideology to pragmatism emerged in the wake of MH17, but that was derailed by the likes of Eric Abetz and Joe Hockey saying things that in fact confirmed voters’ suspicions of the Coalition as hard-right ideologues on social and economic issues.

Hockey’s car wreck also came after Abbott’s approval figures had lifted significantly: they’re still bad — he only leads first-term Opposition Leader Bill Shorten by a point as preferred PM less than a year after the election — but not spectacularly bad like they were after the budget. Hockey, in contrast, has gone from heir apparent to also-ran, whose future as Treasurer is being openly discussed by Dennis Shanahan on the front page of the party organ. The problem with Hockey’s grovelling apology on Friday was that it can never be repeated. One more serious stuff-up and that will be the end of the Treasurer, a statement palpably absurd even just a few weeks ago, and still bizarre for a government weeks shy of its first anniversary.



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25 thoughts on “Coalition’s recovery levels off — and a Hockey return to form is needed

  1. Peter Hannigan

    Nice comment about the party organ. Why not just tell the whole truth and rename it The Australian Pravda.

  2. rossco

    “One more serious stuff-up and that will be the end of the Treasurer” may well be true, but who would replace him? The only person on the front bench who could do the job is Turnbull and that is not going to happen under Abbott. Cormann is in the Senate so that rules him out. Julie Bishop was badly exposed in her short stint as Shadow Treasurer. I think the govt (and us) are stuck with Hockey for the foreseeable future

  3. Alan

    Sorry Bernard, enough cr@p. I generally like your pieces, but your support for Abbott baffles me.
    All I see is a negative, slogan shouting neocon, who will argue that black is white, then backflip.
    A man who does not backup members of his own team (see Joe Hockey).
    A man who is unable or unwilling to negotiate with anyone.
    A man who has NO leadership abilities,

    Sorry but the longer this Abbott experiment goes on, the more damage is done to the moral fibre of this country.

  4. Draco Houston

    Soon enough it will be end of financial year and nothing will have been done.

    I’m not sure what the top of Hockey’s game is meant to look like. He’s always been like this, where did all the Joe The Everyman stuff in the media come from?

  5. Popeye

    I’m baffled by Bernie’s continuing support for Hockey. I know that he fancied Hockey as a man who showed promise as a Treasurer, but that was before he actually got the job. Hockey was never right for the job. As Treasurer he’s shown himself up as a dill, and the sooner he’s dumped the better. The country doesn’t need a great economist as Treasurer, but it would be really good to have someone in the post who knew something of how an economy works.

  6. Karen

    Agree with Popeye, Hockey aint a Keating.

  7. cairns50

    a hockey return to form needed? dont you even get in bernard, hockey has form and its lying and bad # you are kidding writing this shite

  8. Rais

    Peter – “Why not just tell the whole truth and rename it The Australian Pravda.” Why not? Because the Russian word Pravda means True!

  9. Duncan Gilbey

    Just waiting for Abbott to blame Labor for Hockey

  10. zut alors

    ‘…a Hockey return to form’…

    Bernard, it’s glaringly evident this is his form.

  11. CML

    I’m with Alan @ #3.
    And as far as Hockey is concerned – why don’t they just put him out of his misery and give him a portfolio he can cope with?
    Don’t think Hickey is up to being a fully fledged member of ‘Team Australia’!!

  12. Bill Hilliger

    @rossco: Who would replace smokin’ Joe, easy …why not blathering Barnyard. He is a strong member of Team Australia.

  13. rossco

    Barnyard is a National Party man. Couldn’t let them have Treasury. Also, he stuffed up being Shadow Finance minister. Couldn’t handle big numbers!

  14. jmendelssohn

    But CML what portfolio could Hockey cope with?

  15. CML

    @ jmendelssohn Perhaps he could help his mate Tony out, and become the Minister for Womens’ Affairs (or whatever they are calling it these days)!!!
    Doesn’t seem much is happening in that area, so Hockey should be able to handle doing nothing???
    At least it would improve the economic outlook for the country!!!

  16. nonchalance

    Why is Abbott so threatened by Turnbull?

  17. Forever Marshall

    blaming the media for misrepresenting remarks you just finished a snivelling apology for the previous day – i think hockey’s already assumed his true form

  18. MJPC

    “The coalitions polling recovery in the make of the MH17 tragedy…”
    There will be only one MH17 in this term for Abbott, as there was only one Tampa for Howard.
    BK, you put a lot of hope in Abbott not being seen as the real architect of the budget and, at some time, he is going to have to come clean and state whether he supports the medicare co-payment, welfare changes and all of the other stinkers the LNP is trying to shame through the Senate.
    Unless Abbott signs us up for a war in Irag, the Ukraine or some other disaster area around the world, his fortunes in my mind are all downhill from here on in.

  19. Patrick

    He is a tip for the Liberal Party. Rather than hoping for a lift in polls from MH17 or hoping that Hockey and others stop sticking both feet in their mouth, why not fix your policies. The budget is unfair and everybody knows it. And even though you have been able to pull the wool over people’s eyes in the past (like the implausible notion that you can simultaneously have a debt & deficit disaster and a AAA credit rating) I think the penny has dropped that you cannot be trusted. So until you present policies that are transparent and clearly in the interests of most people (rather than in the interests of big business) you will continue to get the treatment you deserve.

  20. David Hand

    I think the government’s polling has not been seriously damaged by the bungles of the past 2 weeks is because its narrative has not changed. The thing that turns voters off more than anything is to sense a government that is making it up as it goes along based on Western Sydney focus groups.

    Well this lot are certainly not making it up as they go along. Hockey has made heavier going of his budget due to a couple of spectacular missteps but the message regarding the end of the age of entitlements remains. Abbott might change Hockey but he can’t change PUP and Ricky Muir who would be waiting for any successor.

    The problem the left has got is that “paying off Labor’s debt” resonates with a lot of voters who were appalled by Labor’s profligacy. Not everyone votes in direct relation to the bribe a government might give them.

    In spite of the rage down here in the Crikey Crypt, the Coalition government is travelling OK and Hockey has two more budgets to deliver before he has to go back to the voters.

  21. rhwombat

    Pull the other one David – it belongs to one of the Poodle’s unicorns: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cartoon/2014/aug/18/aboott-scotland
    Still, I suppose despair breeds delusion in the land of Peta Pan.

  22. MJPC

    Mr Hand
    “In spite of the rage down here in the Crikey Crypt, the Coalition government is travelling OK”, that’s a good story, about as good as Abbott telling the truth or Hockey being sorry.
    On the Macquarie network they might be doing good but ask Joe average voter in the areas that are going to be hit hard and the anger is palpable, including some seats the Libs lied into last election.

  23. David Hand

    You guys should get out more.
    Pointing to first dog of all people for anti-Abbott satire is yet more talking among your selves in the left wing echo chamber where you live.

    Media glee at a great TV moment may get people’s attention but it has not shifted their thinking – something Rudd and Gillard never understood. When you think about the misogyny speech for example, Twitter, Crikey, and the echo chamber of the left were in orbit about “politics changed forever” and “Tony Abbott shown up before the world” and the 2 million or so hits on Youtube.

    But less than a year later, she was gone and Abbott was prime minister.

  24. rhwombat

    @#23: The sound of one Hand fapping.

  25. AR

    Surely the problem for the tories is TINA – there is no alternative.
    Apart from Bullturn, is there a single one of those never-will wannabes that you would trust to walk a dog – unless it were a very dumb dog it could end up leading the entire Front Bench – or pick oakum?


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