In yesterday’s Age, Mark Kenny said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership was reaching the “terminal stage”. Kenny cites the continued (ahem) feedback from certain portions of his party, the consistent loss of two-party preferred polls to Labor (the very measure he used to justify the ousting of his predecessor), and the thinning margin between Turnbull’s personal approval and that of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as factors, and concludes: “Disappointed voters had already stopped listening.” 

David Crowe added in The Australian that “the campaign to weaken Malcolm Turnbull’s authority is paying dividends … The campaign has chipped away at Turnbull’s most valuable asset: his stature as the nation’s preferred prime minister.”

Last month Kenny warned Turnbull neared the “danger zone” — this followed the 14th consecutive news poll, “or, as Turnbull’s critics will have it, around halfway to oblivion.”

Talk like this has a tendency to become a self-fulfilling prophecy — just ask our last three prime ministers. And of course, some people simply never stop making that prediction, making it hard to know how seriously to take it. But if we go on past media coverage as a guide, when will Turnbull be sent packing? We found just how long other PMs lasted from when the doctors columnists pronounced that it was all over for them.

Kevin Rudd

June 7, 2010 — The Sydney Morning Herald, on “disastrous polling”: 

“The Australian electorate has delivered its first political death threat to Kevin Rudd. For the first time since Rudd became Labor leader, a major opinion poll has found that the voting public would decisively reject the party at an election … Why? The threshold event appears to have been Rudd’s decision to shelve his proposed emissions trading scheme until at least the end of 2012. Rudd’s commitment to action on climate change was a deep part of his political persona.

“By so easily abandoning it, he raised an existential question in the public mind — if he doesn’t stand for this, what does he stand for? If we can’t believe his commitment to this, which commitment can we believe?”

June 24, 2010 — Gillard becomes Australia’s first female prime minister as tearful Rudd stands aside:

Time from death knell to knifing: 17 days

Julia Gillard

March 23, 2013 — The Sydney Morning Herald, on the challenger-free leadership spill:

“Julia Gillard called a party room meeting to settle the Labor leadership matter, and the winner was Tony Abbott. Labor managed to inflict serious new damage on its present leader, fatally wound its only real alternative, expose itself as deeply riven, and subject itself to ridicule … After more than 2 1/2 years of being consistently in a losing position in the Nielsen poll, the great bulk of Labor MPs did not believe the government could win the election that Gillard had called for September 14.”

June 10, 2013 — ABC’s The Drum, on the “significant shift in support against” Gillard:

“The view of some former staunch supporters is that not only can she not win the election, but she almost certainly cannot lift the primary vote from where it now sits.

“The only option, if Gillard decides to step down, is former leader, Kevin Rudd. No thought is being given to anybody else. It galls many in the Labor Party that the leadership could return to Rudd. The reasons they moved so overwhelmingly against him in the first place are well documented and, on the evidence, haven’t changed. In fact the leaks that derailed majority government for Gillard in 2010 only stiffened their resolve.”

June 10, 2013 — The Australian:

“Many in the Labor caucus now share the view of most MPs in NSW that while Labor may not win the September 14 election with Mr Rudd as leader, it faces a wipeout under Ms Gillard, with the loss of as many as 40 seats. Key Labor MPs in Ms Gillard’s Victorian stronghold have become spooked and can no longer be counted on to support her.”

June 26, 2013 — Kevin Rudd defeats Julia Gillard 57-45 in Labor leadership ballot, paving way for a return to PM

Time from death knell to knifing: 16 days

Tony Abbott

February 9, 2015 —

“Tony Abbott was ready to proudly accept a vote of confidence from his troops today. Instead he was given, at best, a stay of execution. The overwhelming message from the MPs who decide who should lead the Liberal Party, and thus the nation, was that he is not their first choice.”

February 14, 2015 — The Sydney Morning Herald:

“Abbott is fatally wounded. He is unpopular with the country. His government is perpetually behind in the polls. And now most of his own backbenchers have voted no confidence in him.”

August 4, 2015 — The Age on Choppergate:

“In the meantime, the damage to the Abbott government is difficult to overstate, with Bishop’s conduct seen as symptomatic of an administration out of touch – just like Abbott’s awarding of a knighthood to Prince Philip.”

September 14, 2015 —  Malcolm Turnbull ousts Tony Abbott in dramatic party coup

Time from death knell to knifing: 212 days

Malcolm Turnbull?

Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard got just over two weeks between the first whispers they would go and their eventual knifing. Threats against Tony Abbott’s leadership, however, hung around much longer. How much time does Turnbull have left? 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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