Julie Bishop

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has surged to nearly level pegging with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as Australians’ preferred Liberal leader in a stunning Essential Report today.

In July, Turnbull was the pick of 30% of voters to lead his party while Bishop was preferred by just 16%. But after four months of drift and dysfunction, Turnbull has collapsed to just 21%, while Bishop is preferred by 20%. Tony Abbott has also picked up two points to 11%; “someone else” in on 18%, just three behind the Prime Minister. Turnbull’s numbers on leadership of his party have literally halved since December last year.

Turnbull’s collapse is particularly significant among Coalition voters: he was the pick of 50% of Liberal voters in July, but is now preferred by 36%; Bishop is backed by 20% of both Coalition and Labor voters and is by far the preferred leader of Greens voters. Bishop easily leads Turnbull among female voters, 22%-17%.

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But Bill Shorten too has fallen in the eyes of voters: he was, by his own standards, riding high after the election as the preferred leader of his party with 27% of voters — easily his best ever rating. Now he’s back to 17%, an even bigger fall than Turnbull. However, neither of his two most obvious replacements, Anthony Albanese or Tanya Plibersek, have benefited — the former is preferred by 12% (11% in July), the latter 14% (12% in July).

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Shorten is also down strongly with Labor voters — from 51% to 37%, but also down with Liberal voters, from 16% to 8%. Plibersek, like Bishop, is the preferred leader of her party for Greens voters. Shorten leads Plibersek 16%-14% among female voters.

Meanwhile a third of Australians actually paid more attention to the US presidential election than to the July federal election: 33% took more interest and 38% said they had about the same interest, while 22% said they took less interest, with Coalition and “other” voters paying slightly more attention to events across the Pacific than Labor and Greens voters.

Voters are strongly supportive of greater transparency and tighter restrictions for political donations, but views vary across voting intention. There’s strong support for immediate disclosure of donations, caps on donations and curbs on foreign, corporate and union donations, as well as support for forcing politicians to reveal who they meet with; only full public funding for political activities isn’t supported.

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But despite the Coalition traditionally being the laggard when it comes to reform of donations disclosure, it is Labor voters who are least enthusiastic about reform. For example, 61% of Labor voters support a ban on foreign donations, compared to 70% of Coalition and Greens voters; 53% of Labor voters back a ban on both corporate and union donations compared to 64% of both Coalition and Greens voters.

Meantime support for changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act remains unchanged: 44% of voters support the removal of “offend or insult”, compared to 45% in September.

On voting intention, the Coalition is down a point to 37% and Labor is steady on the same level. The Greens are up a point to 11%; the Nick Xenophon Team (3%) and One Nation (6%) remain steady, for a two-party preferred outcome of 53%-47% in Labor’s favour.

Peter Fray

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