A week of internal warfare has left the Coalition reeling with its support in freefall and Malcolm Turnbull’s personal ratings plummeting to levels not seen since the peak of the dual citizenship crisis.
The latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll shows the Coalition primary vote has nosedived 6 percentage points to 33 per cent in a month and now trails Labor by 55 per cent to 45 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis.
That represents 4-point swing to Labor since the last poll a month ago when it led by 51 per cent to 49 per cent and a 5-point swing since the July 2016 federal election. That would result in up to 21 seats being lost if replicated on polling day.
As cabinet held a crisis meeting in Canberra last night ahead of this week’s parliamentary sitting, the poll showed the catalyst for all the trouble – the National Energy Guarantee – is popular with voters.
The poll of 1200 voters, taken from Thursday to Saturday night last week, shows 54 per cent back the NEG while just 22 per cent are opposed and 24 per cent don’t know. Among Coalition voters, the support jumps to 64 per cent.
The NEG is being attacked by climate sceptics in the Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, who are opposed to it having an emissions reduction target.
But the backflip has failed to appease the critics and has upset others who feel it will be too easy for a future Labor government to ramp up.
The poll finds 56 per cent believe the government’s efforts on climate change are “too little”, 28 per cent believe they are “about right” and 13 per cent say they are “too much”.
The other policy which is set to be dumped this week, the company tax cuts, also remains relatively popular with 47 per cent in favour of cutting the rate for all firms over 10 years, and 44 per cent against.
But the infighting in the Coalition has moved beyond the NEG. Ministers and MPs spent the weekend on the phones to each other.
‘Turnbull has lost his authority’
Peter Dutton is entertaining the prospect of a challenge and nobody could predict with any clarity how events would unfold this week.
“Turnbull has lost his authority and can’t stay as leader but we can’t go to Dutton,” summarised one minister of the general view.
The poll shows the infighting has destroyed the hard-won gains of the past eight months during which the Coalition, in all the published polls, had pulled within striking distance of Labor.
Mr Turnbull’s signature strength, his personal ratings, have also taken a battering since the last poll a month ago.
His approval rating fell 9 points to 46 per cent and his disapproval rating rose 10 points to 48 per cent.
It is the first time since the end of last year, when the Coalition was in the midst of the citizenship crisis, that Mr Turnbull’s disapproval rating has been higher than his approval rating.
Over the same period, Labor leader Bill Shorten’s approval rating has increased 3 points to 41 per cent and his disapproval rating has fallen 2 points to 52 per cent.
Mr Turnbull’s support as preferred prime minister has dropped 9 points in a month to 48 per cent while Mr Shorten’s has risen 6 points to 36 per cent.
‘But we can’t go to Dutton’
Senior minister Christopher Pyne, who usually dismisses trouble, acknowledged the seriousness of the situation last night.
“There are some people who don’t support the current leader and that is quite obvious,” he said. “We have the right policy mix and if we are united we will win the next election.”
Mr Turnbull attempted to take control of the energy debate Sunday by confirming a range of measures additional to the NEG which will directly address price concerns among MPs.
This includes threatening power companies with regulation to stop them gouging consumers, forcing retailers to offer customers the option of low-cost, default price contracts and effectively underwriting the construction of a new generator of “firm” electricity by agreeing to be a buyer of last resort of its power.
But when he defended the backflip on the NEG’s emissions reduction target of 26 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, it sparked a social media war with Mr Abbott who, as prime minister, committed Australia at the Paris climate summit to reduce its emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent by 2030.
“The target in the NEG is by 2030 to reduce emissions by 26 per cent from 2005 standards. We will meet this in a canter. As Tony Abbott said in 2015, it is a strong and responsible target, environmentally and economically responsible,” Mr Turnbull said on social media.
In response, Mr Abbott attacked him on Twitter:
“Emissions targets that made sense three years ago when all countries were supposed to be in Paris and we didn’t need policy change and wouldn’t face economic dislocation do not make sense now. @TurnbullMalcolm take note,” he tweeted.
‘I’ll leave you to all the speculation’
When asked about the numbers being marshalled against him, Mr Turnbull maintained his attention was on policy.
“I’m focused on getting energy prices down and I’ll leave you to all of the speculation,” he said.
The NEG would mandate power retailers to source energy which meets reliability and emissions reduction targets. The latter is a 26 per cent reduction in 2005 levels by 2030.
This sparked the revolt with rebels believing there should either be no target or that it should not be legislated because that was a surrender of sovereignty to Paris. To soften this, the government has agreed to regulate it but that has only worsened the situation.
Labor on Sunday announced that if elected, it would also introduce the default contracts for retailers which was an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recommendation.
Treasurer Scott Morrison accused it of cheating.
“At school, if you try to pass off others’ work as your own, if you try and copy off the person sitting next to you in class during a test, you get busted and the rest of the class knows you’re a cheater. That is what Bill Shorten and Labor are doing today, dishonestly trying to represent the government’s work on energy as their own,” he said.