Scott Morrison Newspoll Malcolm Turnbull Ipsos

Two opinion polls with contrasting stories came out today. You can bet Newspoll, which shows the government pulling back some ground but still trailing Labor badly, 47-53, is closer to reality than the Ipsos poll from Fairfax, which showed unalloyed gloom and doom for the Liberals on 45-55.

Apart from being insufficiently frequent to offer more than a snapshot, Ipsos continues to have a problem with its estimate of the Greens vote, which it insists is 15% nationally. Newspoll — which used to overestimate the Greens itself — has it at 11%. There’s no way the Greens have 15% support nationally, and might not even have that in Melbourne anymore. What does seem clear, though, is that expectations that the Greens might face a Senate wipe-out next year might have been overblown, although they’ll still struggle.

Whether you buy The Australian‘s narrative of a Liberal resurgence under Morrison (although Peter Van Onselen essentially called it bullshit) or Fairfax’s narrative that the government has actually gone backwards since even the smoking-ruins aftermath of a pointless leadership spill, it is clear Scott Morrison is a different leader than Turnbull.

Turnbull would still be wrestling with the leaked religious freedom report and its toxic “let’s clarify how to discriminate against kids” recommendation even now, engaged in a complex calculation of how much he had to pander to the right on it. Morrison tried a couple of days of holding the line — “it’s existing law”; “it’s a report to government not of government” (I’ve love a bottle of wine for every time a politician’s run that one) — before a tactical retreat at the end of the week saying discriminating against kids would be out, and quick.

Ditto on aged care, with Four Corners now causing royal commission even before programs go to air. Morrison moves fast where Turnbull dawdled in what was for him an uncharacteristic but deeply damaging paroxysm of indecision about how to respond to various crises.

(You even wonder whether the government’s monstrous bill to force tech companies to insert backdoors in their products and plant malware on their users’ devices might suffer the same fate now that even reactionaries like Miranda Devine have worked out the dangers of undermining encryption.)

This has helped with what would have happened anyway — the 56-44 result in the aftermath of the leadership debacle was never going to hold; the question was always once voters got over it, where they’d land on the “new” government, which is still an open question.

And while Morrison’s agility is good news for the government, the same problem remains as under Turnbull — why that agility is needed. The Coalition’s tendency to invent ways to trip itself up in the manner of a vaudeville drunk, continues unabated. Who leaked the religious freedom report? If it was a moderate disgusted at the idea of discriminating against kids, they’re a genius, and may well get a ban on discrimination against teachers as well, but at the cost of blowing up the government in the lead-up to the Wentworth byelection. If it was a conservative, nice work — you’ve ensured the further rollback of the indulgence accorded to reactionary institutions. Another triumph.

As for Wentworth, don’t believe the hype. This is a very safe Liberal seat that will take a colossal protest vote to pose a threat to the Liberals, no matter how awful Dave Sharma is as a candidate. A bold prediction: the government will hang onto it despite a sizeable swing, and Scott Morrison will continue to respond quickly as more political fires break out. But will that be enough? Probably not. They would have been better sticking with Turnbull.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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