Australian politics and the psychology of revenge


Lloyd Cox, Macquarie University

It’s hard to read the recent felling of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as anything other than an act of revenge by Tony Abbott and his closest supporters.

This is indeed the judgement of former foreign minister and opposition leader Alexander Downer and former Liberal Party treasurer Michael Yabsley, as revealed in ABC’s Four Corners.

This judgement fits with everything we know about the humiliation and embitterment Abbott and his conservative allies felt after Turnbull toppled Abbott in a leadership spill in 2015.




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It also accords with what modern psychology and social science would lead us to expect in circumstances where a person or group experiences what they perceive to be unjust treatment at the hands of an adversary. The feelings of grievance and damage to the ego can often only be ameliorated by revenge against those who inflicted the harm.

Such feelings, and the aggression they cause, apply no less to politicians such as Abbott and his conservative colleagues than they do to anyone else.

How then, can revenge become a force that controls us?

The emotional basis of revenge

The predisposition to harm those who are perceived to have harmed us – the essence of revenge – is a fundamental human desire.

Cultural and legal deterrents against “taking the law into your own hands” might mitigate the destructive potential of vengeful behaviour, but it can never fully remove it.

That’s why we observe revenge in all societies and walks of life, including politics. It’s what Francis Bacon, writing nearly 400 years ago, warned of as a kind of “wild justice” that can destroy both the avenger and their victim.

While revenge often involves planning and cool calculation (the proverbial “dish best served cold”), psychologists and social scientists have long recognised it’s always premised on particular emotions.

Shame and humiliation, typically caused by the perceived erosion of respect and esteem in the eyes of others, are particularly important instigators of vengeful thoughts and actions. When others undermine our feelings of self worth, this often triggers resentment and rage and the desire to strike back against one’s tormentors.

Doing so constitutes a form of emotionally gratifying communication. The avenger “teaches” the object of revenge a lesson. They make the victim of revenge feel what they once felt, communicating a psychologically satisfying message of righteous redress to the victim, third parties and, most importantly, themselves.

The substance of this message varies, but typically includes assertions about the resolve of the avenger to uphold rights that have been violated, to preserve respect that has been threatened, and to shore up social and personal honour that has been besmirched. The avenger demonstrates to themselves and the world they are somebody not to be crossed.

Psychologically, this helps the avenger restore an ego deflated by their previous humiliations. Revenge, to put it bluntly, helps the humiliated person feel better about themselves. It helps them cope. They take satisfaction in the knowledge the source of previous harms is now being punished, and that they deserve their punishment. This is why revenge has often been described as “sweet”.

Modern neuroscience and psychology affirms that revenge is indeed sweet. Inflicting harm on those who have previously harmed us arouses feelings of pleasure in those parts of the brain regulating emotion. Even thinking about or planning revenge – the so called “revenge fantasy” – releases feel-good chemicals in our brains.

This is why we can become so preoccupied and even obsessed with vengeful thoughts. The more we think about revenge, the more we reinforce neural pathways that trigger those thoughts and release those chemicals. We can become addicted to the feeling of revenge, which can lend a certain vindictive cast to a person’s character.

Such a character trait typically manifests itself when the person feels themselves, or persons and groups with whom they identify, to be the victim of an injustice. Revenge fulfils what justice demands. Revenge erases unjust humiliations. It turns the world right side up again. Vengeful acts are thus always redemptive acts – or at least, that is the hope. More often than not, they end up being hugely destructive acts.

The destructiveness of revenge – a common literary theme from the ancient Greeks, through Shakespeare to contemporary writers – can be understood in two senses.

On the one hand, the victim and perpetrator of revenge can both be damaged. The reasons are obvious in the case of the victim. For the perpetrator, the destructiveness arises from being consumed by vengeance. This can overtake all rational judgement about what is in the avenger’s interests, and what is a proportional response to a perceived harm. Sometimes, no price seems too high to pay to realise revenge.

On the other hand, revenge can be hugely destructive because it unleashes cycles of further revenge and counter revenge. Anthropologists confirm instances of tribal warfare in the New Guinea Highlands, and blood feuds in Mediterranean peasant societies, where cycles of revenge have lasted for generations, long after the source of the original conflict has been forgotten.

Today’s political parties are not immune to such human failings. In fact, where towering personal ambitions meet huge but often fragile egos, vengeful behaviour is inevitable.

While all of this “madness”, as Turnbull called it, was not just the product of vengeance – deep ideological fractures within the Liberal Party and Australia more generally were just as important – it was nonetheless a key ingredient.




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Conservatives harnessed vengeful motives to their broader efforts to re-capture the Liberal Party. In so doing, they became slaves to their emotions, animosities and personal ambitions. They will now pay the electoral price.

When they do, we can expect further vengeful recriminations. Such is the logic of “wild justice.”The Conversation

Lloyd Cox, Lecturer, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Could Section 44 exclude Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce from parliament?


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Tony Abbott is now the prime minister’s Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs, while Barnaby Joyce is Special Envoy for Drought Assistance and Recovery.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Luke Beck, Monash University

Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce have each accepted job offers from new Prime Minister Scott Morrison to serve as his special envoys.

The prime minister’s offers may have been a clever way to keep these two former leaders busy and put their abilities to use. But these jobs may have inadvertently rendered both Abbott and Joyce disqualified from parliament under section 44 of the Constitution. That section disqualifies any MP who accepts a paid job in government that is not a ministerial position.

The special envoy jobs

Tony Abbott is now the prime minister’s Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs, whereas Barnaby Joyce is Special Envoy for Drought Assistance and Recovery.

Special envoys are not ministerial positions. Neither Abbott nor Joyce is part of the Morrison ministry. Their roles are to work with the relevant ministers and the prime minister to advance policy in these respective areas. The precise details of what they will be doing are not yet clear.




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Section 44 of the Constitution sets out several grounds on which a politician will be disqualified from membership of parliament. Being a dual citizen is only one of them.

Another ground for disqualification is set out in section 44(iv). That provision disqualifies anyone holding an “office of profit under the Crown”, unless the position is that of a minister.

The special envoy roles look suspiciously like offices of profit under the Crown.

What is an office under the Crown?

There is no doubt the special envoys hold offices under the Crown.

In Re Lambie (No 2) from March this year, the High Court decided that Jacquie Lambie’s successor, who was the Mayor of Devonport in Tasmania, was not disqualified under section 44(iv).

The High Court held that a position is under the Crown if hiring or firing decisions are made by the executive government. Mayors are voted in and out by the people, rather than hired and fired by governments.

The prime minister, who is the effective head of the executive government, appointed Abbott and Joyce to their special envoy roles. The prime minister can also sack Abbott and Joyce as special envoys if he wants.

Positions like Speaker of the House of Representatives, Leader of the Opposition, and Chairperson of a Parliamentary Committee are not “under the Crown”. They are parliamentary positions.

The key issue is whether the special envoy positions are “of profit”.

Is the position of special envoy “of profit”?

It has been reported that Abbott and Joyce were offered remuneration for their special envoy roles.

ABC Radio National Presenter Patricia Karvelas tweeted:

Access to staff does not make a position “of profit”. Nor does covering of work expenses. But a salary, however small, definitely makes a position “of profit”.

On the same day, having already accepted the special envoy job, Tony Abbott told 2GB radio host Ray Hadley that he would not be receiving any pay for his role as Special Envoy. Abbott said: “The other thing I want to say, Ray, is that I certainly don’t expect any extra pay”.

Hadley had not asked Abbott about payment. Abbott simply made the comment off his own bat.

This all suggests that Abbott may have been offered remuneration for the special envoy job, but decided to decline that offer.

The High Court has said that to fall foul of section 44(iv) it does not matter whether a person is actually paid. What matters is “the character of the office”.

In the 1992 case of Sykes v Cleary, the High Court held that Philip Cleary, who had won the federal seat of Wills, was disqualified under section 44(iv). Cleary was a teacher who was on leave without pay at the time of the election.

The High Court decided that it doesn’t matter whether a person is actually receiving payment. What matters is whether payment attaches to the position. Cleary held an office of profit under the Crown even though he was not receiving any payment.




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Chief Justice Anthony Mason and Justices John Toohey and Michael McHugh said:

The taking of leave without pay by a person who holds an office of profit under the Crown does not alter the character of the office which he or she holds. The person remains the holder of an office, notwithstanding that he or she is not in receipt of pay during the period of leave.

Logically, the same reasoning applies to an office-holder who waives their right to payment or declines to take a salary. A person is not saved from disqualification because they are not currently receiving payment.

Abbott and Joyce will be disqualified if, and this is the crux of the issue, remuneration was originally part of the special envoy job offers.

It doesn’t matter if Abbott and Joyce never asked for payment. It doesn’t matter that they declined an offer of payment. And it doesn’t matter that they aren’t actually being paid now.

If a non-ministerial position answers the description of an “office of profit under the Crown” then the holder of that position is disqualified.

Could Abbott and Joyce really be disqualified?

A clear answer is needed to the question of whether Abbott and Joyce were offered payment as part of their special envoy roles. Morrison, Abbott or Joyce could each easily answer that question.

If payment was indeed offered as part of the roles, the only way the issue of disqualification could be decided authoritatively is for the House of Representatives, where the government has a slim majority, to refer Abbott and Joyce to the High Court.

It is unlikely the government will refer Abbott and Joyce to the High Court, and quite likely that the opposition will pursue the issue – and also Peter Dutton’s potential section 44 problem – when parliament resumes in September.

The section 44 saga continues.The Conversation

Luke Beck, Associate Professor of Constitutional Law, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull beats Abbott over NEG, now Frydenberg has to win Victoria


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has secured a decisive party room victory over Tony Abbott, taking the government’s signature National Energy Guarantee policy another step towards implementation.

Tuesday’s Coalition party room, in a 155-minute debate, gave strong support to the plan. But sources variously said four or five MPs – Abbott, Andrew Hastie, senator Eric Abetz, Tony Pasin and George Christensen – had reserved their right to cross the floor when the federal legislation for the emissions target comes to parliament, and others expressed doubts and criticisms.

In a statement after the meeting, Abbott said at least a dozen had expressed “serious concerns about the NEG or about turning the non-binding Paris targets into law”.

During the debate, Abbott pointedly referred to “merchant bankers’ gobbledigook”.

Tuesday’s party room mood reflected that most Coalition MPs accept that to save marginal seats and give the government, embattled in the polls, its best chance of survival, they need to unite behind Turnbull and the government’s policies.

During the meeting, several MPs told the dissidents they should reconsider their position and show cohesion.

The fate of the NEG scheme now depends crucially on the Labor states – notably Victoria – giving consent to it, and on the parliamentary numbers for the federal emissions reduction legislation.

The government is likely to need Labor support to get the emission legislation through. The legislation will be introduced this parliamentary fortnight.

Labor’s position is that it does not want this legislation debated until the states have made their decision on the NEG. When it is debated, the opposition will seek to amend it for a higher target. It has not said what it would do if, as expected, its amendment failed.

The Victorian Energy Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, said after the Coalition party meeting: “We’ll study the Commonwealth NEG legislation thoroughly to see what concessions Malcolm Turnbull has given the climate sceptics in his party room.”

“We have said all along – we won’t let Malcolm Turnbull put our renewable energy industry and Victorian jobs at risk. We’ll continue to work through the COAG energy council to address our concerns.”

Energy minister Josh Frydenberg has a phone hook up with state ministers late Tuesday. They are set to release draft state legislation for the NEG mechanism.

But the states are not due to consider their support for the scheme again for some weeks, after failing to sign up last Friday. It is a race against time for the federal government, because Victoria goes into caretaker mode in October for the November election.




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With Victoria the main obstacle, Frydenberg said: “It’s time Daniel Andrews stopped walking both sides of the street and put the interests of Victorians first and the businesses of Victorians first. And he would do that by signing up to the National Energy Guarantee before he goes into caretaker mode.”

The pro-coal MPs were reassured in the party room by the government’s acceptance of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recommendation for the federal government to underwrite new despatchable power projects.

After the meeting, Abbott released an angry statement in response to the “rampant hostile briefing of journalists while the meeting was underway.”

“Yes, as the Prime Minister said at its close, there was party room support for the minister’s position. Much of it though, was of the ‘yes … but’ variety: congratulating him for the work he’d done in difficult circumstances and saying that the NEG was the best way through a bad situation.

“But most then added that what really mattered was actually getting prices down – not just talking about modelling – and actually getting more despatchable power into the system via ACCC recommendation 4 [on underwriting].

“Unfortunately, most explanations of how the NEG (as it stands without price targets) might theoretically get prices down sound like merchant bankers’ gobbledigook.

“It was a real pity that the meeting broke up before the chairman of the backbench committee, Craig Kelly, was able to finish his contribution.

“Yes, there were lots of pleas for unity but as one MP said, we’ve got to be loyal to our electorates and to party members too, and not show the ‘unity of lemmings’”.

“Yes, there was lots of regard for the ‘experts’ and for ‘business leaders’ but as one MP said ‘I’m not here for the technocrats’.

“I heard at least four lower house MPs formally reserve their position on the legislation and at least a dozen express serious concerns about the NEG or about turning the non-binding Paris targets into law with massive penalties attached.

“This is the big question that the party room didn’t really grapple with: when the big emitters are not meeting Paris, why should we? Especially, as even the Chief Scientist said, the difference meeting our target would make is ‘virtually nothing’”, Abbott’s statement said.

The Business Council of Australia called on “state and territory leaders to now get on with the job of implementing the National Energy Guarantee by releasing the draft legislation.

“It’s up to Victoria and Queensland, along with the other states and territories, to stop playing political games with people’s power bills.

“COAG Energy Council must stop dithering and finally act to end the decade of dysfunction that has plagued our energy sector.”

UPDATE

The ConversationIn a phone hook-up on Tuesday night the COAG energy council agreed to release an exposure draft of the National Electricity Law amendments needed to establish the mechanism for the NEG.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tony Abbott loses traction in his fight on energy



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Before the Coalition party room meeting Abbott had again publicly left the way open to cross the floor when legislation comes to parliament, assuming Frydenberg gets a deal at the COAG Energy Council in August.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg had clear Coalition party room support on Tuesday to decisively stare down a fresh sortie by Tony Abbott on the National Energy Guarantee.

The frustration many government MPs feel about the ongoing argument was epitomised by the comment of marginal seat holder Ann Sudmalis who told colleagues, “The more that people stuff around with this issue, the greater the risk I won’t be here”.

Before the meeting Abbott had again publicly left the way open to cross the floor when legislation comes to parliament, assuming Frydenberg gets a deal at the COAG Energy Council in August.

Asked whether, if the premiers sent back a plan he didn’t like, he was committed enough to cross the floor, Abbott said: “The short answer is yes. I think that I have an obligation to keep faith with the position that the government took to the people in 2013.”

“My anxiety about the national energy guarantee is that it’s more about reducing emissions than it is about reducing price,” he said.

But Frydenberg has been actively mobilising pro-NEG forces in the Coalition to counter Abbott – last week, several MPs spoke out publicly – as well as to lock in backbench support before the final push with the energy ministers.

Ahead of the party room, industry representatives briefed a backbench committee meeting attended by more than 30 government MPs. Their message was that the NEG was the only realistic option available to restore investment confidence.

Those present were Jennifer Westacott, CEO, Business Council of Australia;
Innes Willox, CEO, Australian Industry Group; Mark Vasella, CEO, BlueScope; Arnoud Balhuizen, Chief Commercial Officer, BHP; Vanessa Guthrie, chair, Minerals Council of Australia, and Fiona Simson, president, National Farmers Federation.

Government sources said the briefing, which saw many questions, went well for the NEG supporters.

At the later party meeting, 16 backbenchers spoke.

Two, including Abbott, wanted Frydenberg to bring the detail that he planned to take to the August meeting to the party room first. Two urged greater focus on pricing in the NEG. The four dissidents were Abbott, Eric Abetz, Craig Kelly and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce.

Among the rest, according to the government briefer, there was strong support for both the policy and the process.

Turnbull stressed the importance of getting on with the policy and said that anything from the meeting with the states and territories would come back to the party room.

Frydenberg said the corner had been turned on prices. There was no silver bullet but the NEG was an important part of dealing with prices.

Turnbull declared Frydenberg had the confidence of the party room.

Abetz, speaking on Sky later, said his main concern was to keep prices down. He said the business leaders had told the backbenchers they were still sorting out details of the NEG with the government. Abetz said he didn’t like “signing blank cheques”.

He said that if there was to be a NEG there needed to be a reasonable place for coal, and urged that there should be “a commitment to retrofit some of our existing coal operations or build a new one”.

The ConversationAsked on Tuesday night whether he would cross the floor on legislation Joyce dodged the questioning, saying it was a hypothetical.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Abbott suggests sacking bank regulators as ASIC feels the heat


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has strongly condemned the performance of financial sector regulators, suggesting they should be sacked and replaced by “less complacent” people.

With increasing attention on the apparently inadequate performance of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), Abbott raised the question of what the regulators had been doing as the scandals had gone on.

“We all know there are greedy people everywhere, including in the banks,” he told 2GB on Monday. “But banking is probably the most regulated sector of our economy. What were the regulators doing to allow all this to be happening?”

Abbott said his fear was “that at the end of this royal commission we will have yet another level of regulation imposed upon the banks when frankly what should happen is, I suspect, all the existing regulators should be sacked and people who are much more vigilant and much less complacent go in in their place.”

He said the analogy was, “yes, punish the criminals but if the police are turning a blind eye to the criminals, you’ve got to get rid of the police and get decent people in there”.

Meanwhile Malcolm Turnbull, speaking to reporters in Berlin, defended refusing for so long to set up a royal commission, although he said commentators were correct in saying that “politically we would have been better off setting one up earlier”.

Turnbull said that by taking the course it had the government “put consumers first”.

“The reason I didn’t proceed with a royal commission is this – I wanted to make sure that we took the steps to reform immediately and got on with the job.

“My concern was that a royal commission would go on for several years – that’s generally been the experience – and people would then say, ‘Oh you can’t reform, you can’t legislate, you’ve got to wait for the royal commissioner’s report.’

“So if we’d started a royal commission two years ago, maybe it would be finishing now and then we’d be considering the recommendations … With the benefit of hindsight and recognising you can’t live your life backwards, isn’t it better that we’ve got on with all of those reforms?”

Turnbull dismissed Bill Shorten’s call for the government to consider a compensation scheme for victims by saying this matter was already in the commission’s terms of reference.

Among the reforms it has made, the government highlights giving ASIC more power, resources and a new chair.

But Nationals backbencher senator John Williams, who has been at the forefront of calls for tougher action against wrongdoing in the financial sector, told the ABC that ASIC has got to be “quicker, they’ve got to be stronger, they’ve got to be seen as a feared regulator.

“That is not the situation at the moment,” he said.

He had sent a text message to Peter Kell, ASIC deputy chair, a couple of nights ago “and I said, mate, Australia is waiting for you to act”.

Asked how the culture within ASIC could be changed, Williams said, “I suppose you keep asking them questions at Senate estimates, keep the pressure on them, keep the message going on with the management of ASIC regularly.

“As I have said to the new boss [chair James Shipton], you’ve got to act quickly, you’ve got to be severe, you’ve got to be feared. If you’re not a feared regulator, people are going to continue to abuse the system, do the wrong thing without fear of the punishment”.

He welcomed the increased penalties announced by the government last week.

The chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Rod Sims, while declining to comment on ASIC, said he agreed with Williams “that you really do have to be feared. And frankly I’d like to think the ACCC is.

“I won’t comment on others but you want people to be really watching out – watch out for the ACCC, watch out that you don’t get caught because if they catch us it’s going to be really dire consequences. And I think we’ve got that mentality,” he told the ABC.

Updated at 4:30pm

The ConversationIn an interview on Sky late Monday, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann admitted, “With the benefit of hindsight, we should have gone earlier with this inquiry.” This was in stark contrast with his colleague, Minister for Financial Services, Kelly O’Dwyer, refusing to make the concession when she was repeatedly pressed in an interview on Sunday.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tony Abbott and the revenge of the ‘delcons’


Dominic Kelly, La Trobe University

This article is the second in a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics. Read part one here.


When Liberal Party MPs dumped Tony Abbott for Malcolm Turnbull in September 2015, they could hardly have pleaded ignorance of the turmoil they were creating for themselves. The fact they were in government could largely be credited to the Labor Party having torn itself apart in the Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard leadership wars.

Almost three years later, veteran political journalist Paul Kelly believes Australian conservatism is in crisis:

Conservatism is consumed by confusion over its principles and purpose. It is fragmenting in party terms – witness the Coalition bleeding votes to Hanson’s One Nation and Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives. With John Howard long gone, it is devoid of any authority figure in office able to hold the movement together and retain it within the party. Abbott remains its figurehead with the faithful but his internal standing has nosedived.

Much as Rudd did for Gillard’s entire prime ministership, Abbott continues to stalk Turnbull, using his media allies to insert himself in national debates whenever possible. This delights his supporters, but infuriates those Liberal colleagues more interested in governing than fighting internal battles.

But can Abbott and the hardline conservative base succeed in reclaiming control of the Liberal Party?


https://public.flourish.studio/story/5533/embed


The ‘delcon’ insurgency

In April 2016, conservative Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine came up with the memorable term “delcon” to describe those “delusional conservatives” who remained firmly in the Abbott camp following the Turnbull coup. “The Delcon movement is tiny but viciously punitive to those it regards as heretics,” she wrote.

Devine had in mind prominent right-wing figures such as James Allan, a law professor at the University of Queensland, and John Stone, the former Treasury Secretary and National Party senator. Following the coup, both were quick to announce they would never vote for the Liberal Party “while led by Malcolm Turnbull and his fellow conspirators.”

But Devine’s delcon jibe did nothing to make them reconsider their positions. If anything, it hardened their resolve. Allan wore the term with pride, and re-affirmed his position that:

with Malcolm in charge it’s actually in Australia’s long-term interest to see the Coalition lose this next election, for the long-term good of party and country.

Stone preferred the term “dis-con” – claiming to be a disaffected, not delusional, conservative – and argued that voting against the Liberals was an act of principle intended to teach the party a lesson about loyalty.

Meanwhile, Stone and Allan have used every opportunity to urge the Liberal Party to restore Abbott to the leadership. They were especially emboldened by Turnbull’s disastrous election performance in 2016, which increased the power and influence of the Liberal Party’s right wing, even as it remained in the minority.




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Though other leadership options have been canvassed, Stone’s overwhelming preference is a restoration of Abbott:

Readers will know I have continued to believe the Coalition’s best chance at the next election will be by restoring Abbott as its Leader. A different choice, hailing from the party’s right (Peter Dutton?), would be enough to see many Dis-Cons stream back into the Liberal’s corner; but if the choice were Abbott, that stream would become a flood. Like him or loathe him, Abbott towers head and shoulders over anyone else in the Liberal party room, whether seen from a domestic policy viewpoint or as international statesman.

Minor party alternatives

However, while Turnbull remained in the job, disaffected conservatives were forced to consider placing their votes with other parties of the right. In the 2016 election, Stone recommended merely placing candidates from “acceptably ‘conservative’ parties” (such as Family First, the Australian Liberty Alliance, Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats and the Shooters and Fishers Party) above those Liberals who voted for Turnbull in the leadership spill.

But by April 2017, increasingly exasperated with the Liberal Party’s unwillingness to remove Turnbull, Stone was ready to abandon the party altogether:

If … nothing has been done by mid-year, we still loosely unattached Dis-Cons will need finally to make the break – to sever our former Liberal loyalties and definitively look elsewhere to lodge our votes. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, of course, beckons, as do the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps most attractive may be Cory Bernardi’s Conservative Party; but one way or the other, decision time approaches.

However, the recent electoral results of these alternatives have been decidedly underwhelming. One Nation seemingly came from nowhere to win four Senate seats in 2016, but performed significantly below expectations in subsequent state elections in Western Australia and Queensland.

The performance of Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives in the South Australian election in March this year was even more disappointing. Launched in April 2017 as the party for conservatives fed up with the direction of the Liberal Party under Turnbull, the party received a miserable 3% of votes in Bernardi’s home state, and has since suffered the defection of one MP to the Liberals.

Abbott’s relentless campaign

And so, an Abbott-led Liberal Party remains the goal for disaffected conservatives, and Abbott has proven more than willing to present himself as their flag-bearer. One report suggested he is preparing the ground for a return to the leadership in opposition, though Abbott publicly refuted the story.

But the former prime minister continues his relentless campaign to undermine Turnbull’s leadership. He launched Pauline Hanson’s book at Parliament House, urging the Coalition to work with the “constructive” One Nation, and mischievously suggesting that “you are always better the second time around”.




Read more:
The pro-coal ‘Monash Forum’ may do little but blacken the name of a revered Australian


Abbott is also a central figure in the Monash Forum, a loose collection of conservative Liberals and Nationals urging the government to invest in coal-fired power stations. Tellingly, the story of the group’s emergence was first broken by Peta Credlin, Abbott’s former chief of staff.

As they did in 2009, conservative MPs are exploiting internal divisions over climate and energy policy to undermine Turnbull’s leadership. The Monash Forum was slammed as “socialist” by Paul Kelly, and derided by Miranda Devine as merely “the usual suspects among the tiny delcon contingent of Liberal MPs”.

The ConversationBut though their numbers may be small, the delcons’ political impact is immense. They are determined to bring down the prime minister at any cost, including doing long-term damage to the Liberal Party.

Dominic Kelly, Honorary Research Fellow, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Poll wrap: Newspoll not all bad news for Turnbull as Coalition’s position improves



File 20180410 75748 1wbz2ar.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A big difference between the losing streaks of Malcolm Turnbull and former PM Tony Abbott is that Abbott often trailed Shorten as better PM, while Turnbull has always led Shorten.
AAP/Brendan Esposito

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted April 5-8 from a sample of 1,600, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up one), 37% Labor (down two), 10% Greens (up one) and 7% One Nation (steady).

This was Malcolm Turnbull’s 30th successive Newspoll loss, matching Tony Abbott’s streak before Turnbull ousted him as Liberal leader and PM in September 2015. Famously, Turnbull justified moving against Abbott partly because of the Newspoll losses.

Turnbull’s ratings were 32% satisfied (down one) and 57% dissatisfied (steady), for a net approval of -25. Bill Shorten’s net approval fell five points to -25. Turnbull led Shorten by 38-36 as better PM (39-36 previously).




Read more:
Government loses 30th consecutive Newspoll, despite slight improvement


A big difference between the losing streaks of Turnbull and Abbott is that Abbott often trailed Shorten as better PM, while Turnbull has always led Shorten.

On best Liberal leader, 28% preferred Turnbull (down two since early February), 27% Julie Bishop (up one), 13% Abbott (steady) and 9% Peter Dutton (up two). Coalition voters gave Turnbull 46%, Bishop 22%, Abbott 15% and Dutton 7%. Abbott and Dutton performed best with One Nation voters.

By 55-27, voters thought the 30 Newspoll losses demonstrated a failure of Turnbull’s leadership.

On best Labor leader, 24% preferred Shorten (up two since early February), 23% Tanya Plibersek (down two) and 23% Anthony Albanese (down one). Labor voters gave Shorten 36%, Plibersek 27% and Albanese 22%. Plibersek now leads Shorten by 33-26 with Greens voters (43-18 previously).

There was little change in Turnbull’s ratings on nine leaders’ attributes since early December. Shorten’s ratings increased six points on “arrogant” and four points on “has a vision for Australia”.

By 50-41, voters supported Australia becoming a republic (51-38 in August 2017). If Prince Charles becomes King, support rises to 55-35 (55-34 previously).

Other than the 30 Newspoll losses, this was not a good poll for Labor. Labor’s primary vote was down two points, and the total Labor/Greens vote fell back one point to 47%, after breaking out of a long run of 47% support last fortnight.

The Coalition has tended to do better under Turnbull when Parliament is not sitting. The fading of the Barnaby Joyce scandal and the big company tax cuts as issues may explain the Coalition’s gains.

Former Nielsen pollster John Stirton wrote in the Fairfax papers that the new Newspoll, which is conducted by Galaxy Research and uses online and robopolling methods, is far less volatile than the old Newspoll, a landline-based live phone poll. The new Newspoll started in mid-2015, and the Coalition’s chances of getting a tie by luck have been greatly reduced.

However, it is not just Newspoll that has the Coalition continuously behind. Until a 50-50 tie in Ipsos’ respondent-allocated preferencing method (see below), the Coalition had trailed in every poll conducted since September 2016, apart from a short-lived YouGov series that published polls in the second half of 2017.

Although both left-wing and far-right partisans would like to see Turnbull dumped, Turnbull has led Abbott by an overwhelming margin in every poll in which voters are asked to compare the two. In a June 2017 ReachTEL poll, voters favoured Turnbull over Abbott as Liberal leader by a 68-32 margin.

Ipsos: 52-48 to Labor

A Fairfax Ipsos poll, conducted April 3-5 from a sample of 1,166, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since early December 2017. Primary votes were 36% Coalition (up two), 34% Labor (up one), 12% Greens (down one) and 8% One Nation.

Ipsos is the only live phone pollster left in Australia; all other polls use robopolling or online methods. Ipsos gives the Greens higher support than other polls, at the expense of Labor.

Turnbull’s ratings were 47% approve (up five), and 43% disapprove (steady). Ipsos gives Turnbull better ratings than other pollsters, particularly Newspoll. Shorten’s net approval was -15, down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 52-31 as better PM (48-31 previously). By 62-28, voters thought Turnbull should remain Liberal leader.

By 49-40, voters supported cutting the company tax rate from 30% to 25% over the next ten years. Two weeks ago, ReachTEL had voters opposed to tax cuts for big companies by 56-29.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor maintains its lead as voters reject company tax cuts; wins on redrawn boundaries


In March 2017, tax cuts were passed for companies with turnover of up to $50 million a year. The government is now trying to pass cuts for companies with more than $50 million in turnover. Since these are big companies, I think ReachTEL’s question is better than Ipsos’.

Essential: 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential poll, conducted April 5-8 from a sample of 1,033, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 37% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (up one) and 7% One Nation (down one).

Primary votes in Essential are the same as in Newspoll, but Newspoll’s two party result is better for the Coalition. Newspoll is now assuming that One Nation preferences flow to the Coalition at about a 65% rate, consistent with the November 2017 Queensland election. Essential continues to assume the Coalition will win just half of One Nation’s preferences.

Turnbul’s net approval in Essential was -3, down one point since March. Shorten’s net approval was -8, also down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 41-26 as better PM, unchanged since March.

Shorten’s ratings on being a capable leader and good in a crisis increased five points since June 2017, and he had four-point increases on “visionary” and “more honest than most politicians”. Turnbull’s ratings dropped four points on “arrogant” and “aggressive”.

There were two double digit differences between the two leaders: Turnbull led by 15 points on “intelligent” and by 13 points on “out of touch”.

On best Liberal leader, Turnbull had 24% (up three since December), Bishop 17% (down two), Abbott 11% (up one) and Dutton just 3% (down one). Among Coalition voters, Turnbull had 45%, Abbott 17%, Bishop 13% and Dutton 4%.

37% thought the government should prioritise renewable energy over coal, 13% thought they should prioritise coal over renewable energy, and 35% thought the government should treat both industries equally.

Far-right Hungarian government re-elected in landslide

The Hungarian election was held on Sunday. There were a total of 199 seats, with 106 elected using first past the post, and the remaining 93 by proportional representation.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s far-right Fidesz won 48.5% of the vote, and 134 of the 199 seats. Another far-right party, Jobbik, was second with 19.5% and 25 seats, while the social-democratic MSZP won just 12.3% and 20 seats – their worst result since 1990.

The ConversationFidesz’s vote was up 3.2% since the 2014 election, and they won 91 of the 106 first past the post seats.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from the hill: An ugly set of numbers triggers havoc in the Turnbull government


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce, a National, hasn’t a vote for the Liberal leadership. But he’s a man of opinions and now he’s on the backbench there are no restraints on his expressing them.

On Monday night, amid the feeding frenzy over Newspoll, Joyce declared that if, as Christmas approached, polling indicated Turnbull was heading to electoral defeat, he should call it quits. There was an obligation “not to drive your party or the government off a cliff,” he told Sky.

A new unhelpful spot fire erupted into flame.

With the fateful 30th Newspoll finally out there, the government on Monday descended into an orgy of destructive self-indulgence. It was a collective performance made up of individual bitterness, tactical misjudgement, and plain ill-discipline. Just the sort of thing to further disgust a public already turned off by the shambles of Canberra.

For Abbott, Monday was the occasion for the primal scream. It might be two-and-a-half years since Turnbull seized his job, but the former prime minister’s pain hasn’t abated a jot, nor his sense of what he sees as the injustice delivered to him.

As he pedalled through the Latrobe Valley, Abbott told 2GB it was for Turnbull to explain why the 30 lost Newspolls measure that he invoked in his 2015 challenge “applied to me but shouldn’t apply now.”

And then there were the other points Turnbull had raised back then – about the need to restore cabinet government, and the lack of an economic narrative.

“Well, I ran a perfectly orthodox cabinet government”, Abbott insisted; as
for having no clear economic narrative, “I completely reject that. There was a very, very clear economic narrative under my government.” For good measure, he threw in a defence of the 2014 budget – which in fact began his political demise.

On the policy front, he topped his call for the government to build a coal-fired power station by suggesting it should nationalise the Liddell power plant, owned by AGL, which is resisting selling to another company despite sustained bullying from the government.

Given everyone knew Abbott would be grabbing the spotlight after Monday’s Newspoll, the government had to make a tactical judgement about how best to counter.

It could keep a low profile, with minimal prime ministerial and ministerial appearances. While that would give maximum room to Abbott, it would also avoid further fanning the poll story. Or Turnbull and his ministers could confront the bad poll day full on. That was the course chosen – and it was hard to see the sense of it.

Ministers were out everywhere, backing Turnbull. That just gave the impression that his leadership was in need of protection, despite there being no challenge.

In a round of media appearances, Turnbull said (for the umpteenth time) that he regretted citing Newspoll, declared he had the backing of his colleagues, and submitted himself to some humiliation.

On 2GB, Ben Fordham announced he had invited listeners to say what he should ask Turnbull. “I hate to tell you PM: the overriding response was, ‘when will you resign?’” Fordham told his guest, with the cameras looking on.

“Oh really,” Turnbull said. “Well, well the answer is I’m not, I am not. I am going to go to the next election and win it”.

Then there was Wayne on the talkback line. “I’m a rusted on Liberal and you’ve taken the party – you nearly lost the unlosable election. I find you politically inept, and basically you’ve taken the party in my view too far to the left and I think you should do the honourable thing and resign, put it to a party vote because quite frankly if we go to an election with you we are doomed as a party”.

“Well thanks Wayne for the advice,” said the PM. “I don’t propose to take it, however.” Turnbull then went on to invite Wayne to tell him how he had taken the party to the left, and argue the toss with him.

Now one can say it’s admirable that a leader gets out and deals with criticisms. But Monday didn’t seem the day for maximum exposure.

Or for canvassing long-term leadership ambitions, as did Peter Dutton. “I think people are best to be honest about their ambitions”, the Home Affairs minister told 3AW. His comments were in the context of reaffirming his loyalty to Turnbull and were not new, but such candour just set off another spot fire of questioning, that soon reached Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison, both of whom acknowledged the batons in their knapsacks.

The ConversationThe 30th Newspoll was destined to be difficult. Abbott was determined to make it so. Joyce is a loose cannon. But the strategy adopted by Turnbull – for he and his ministers to try to control the story by swarming all over it – simply made him a bigger target. It displayed a lack of political nous but also suggested he is feeling more than a little rattled by the situation in which he finds himself.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Government loses 30th consecutive Newspoll, despite slight improvement


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

As widely anticipated, the government has lost its 30th Newspoll in a row, although it slightly reduced Labor’s two-party lead.

The Coalition trails 48-52%, compared with 47-53% a fortnight ago. The Australian reports it is only the second time since April last year that the government has come within this striking distance.

Given a universal expectation of a bad poll, the Coalition will breathe a sigh of relief at the numbers overall, especially after last week’s controversial push by dissident Coalition backbenchers on energy policy which created bad media.

Despite its continued lead, the poll contains some disappointments for Labor. The ALP’s primary vote fell 2 points to 37%, while the Coalition vote rose a point to 38%. The Greens are on 10%, and One Nation stayed at 7% in the poll, taken Thursday to Sunday.

Bill Shorten is only 2 points behind Malcolm Turnbull as better prime minister, an improvement of a point. But Shorten’s satisfaction rating fell 2 points to 32% and his dissatisfaction rose 3 points to 57%, to equal Turnbull on both measures. Turnbull’s ratings were largely unchanged.

Turnbull can also be grateful for the competitive instinct of newspapers. Before the Newspoll, Fairfax Media – which polls only intermittently – had a “spoiler” out in its Saturday papers that suggested the government’s position mightn’t be as dire as it had been painted.

The Fairfax-Ipsos poll had the Coalition trailing 48-52% on the two-party vote, when preferences were distributed, as is usual, on the basis of the last election. But distributing preferences according to how people said they would allocate them brought the result to 50-50%.

Even more encouraging for Turnbull, 62% said the Liberal party should stay with him as leader, rising to 74% among Coalition supporters.

The Fairfax poll formed a useful bit of inoculation for Turnbull, who was also out in the media ahead of Newspoll with a round of interviews.

When he was informed of the Newspoll, he told The Australian the “electoral contest is very close and the election is there to be won”.

Turnbull had ensured that if his government had a 30th consecutive Newspoll defeat it would turn into a faux crisis because he used the Abbott government’s 30 lost Newspolls as one of his grounds for challenging the former prime minister.

Since then he has to contend with a disruptive Abbott who on Monday is
“pollie pedalling” in the Latrobe Valley, making sure he is best placed to exploit simultaneously Turnbull’s pain over the Newspoll and his difficulty with the energy issue.

Abbott, who has been stirring since he was ousted, declared on Sunday: “the last thing I want to see is instability in government”.

Interestingly, “Newspoll” has been rather different in Turnbull’s time than it was in Abbott’s, as former Nielsen pollster John Stirton wrote at the weekend.

In mid 2015 the Newspoll organisation closed and Galaxy was commissioned to do the poll, which retained its name but has undergone some changes in methodology. “When Tony Abbott lost his 30 Newspolls they were almost entirely the old Newspoll which tended to bounce around a bit, as polls do,” wrote Stirton on Sunday. “The new Newspoll is a very different poll. Turnbull’s 29 losses have all been the new Newspoll, which doesn’t move around much at all”.

“Everything else being equal, Turnbull was always more likely to lose (or for that matter win) 30 polls in a row than previous prime ministers because the new Newspoll simply doesn’t move around as much as the old one.”

Stirton stressed he was not suggesting there is anything wrong with the poll results. “Newspoll is a very good poll and there is no suggestion that the individual poll numbers are in some way wrong. It’s just that the poll is much less variable than it used to be and short-term changes in sentiment are less likely to show up”.

The climactic hype around this poll reflects the degree to which polling has been driving political judgements and media analysis, often to the detriment of both.

The plethora of polls, which now never let up between elections, has made “leading” harder. When things are going poorly for a government, the followers are endlessly and quantitatively reminded of looming disaster, increasing their agitation. And polls are easy stories for the media, falling on especially fertile ground in the 24-hour news cycle.

This Newspoll confirms what seems to be a constant message – that it is more likely than not Turnbull will lose next year’s election. So inevitably, the previews have been accompanied by leadership speculation.

But there is no sign of any move against Turnbull, and the Fairfax poll shows why any such a move would be ill-judged.

Even if Liberal MPs believe they are heading into opposition – and the Coalition received another blow last week when the proposed redistributions in Victoria and the ACT helped Labor – they would need to face the question: who would be best to save the furniture?

Labor’s changing back to Kevin Rudd before the 2013 election was about furniture-saving – and he did indeed do that. The switch was rational and benefitted Bill Shorten in the 2016 election.

But how many Liberals would think Peter Dutton or Julie Bishop would attract more voters than Turnbull? There is nothing to suggest that Dutton could improve the Coalition vote, and Bishop would be an almighty gamble in a role that would throw her into the rigours of a tough economic debate.

The ConversationTurnbull remains the Coalition’s best bet, whether to give it a chance of pulling off a victory or limiting its loss.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

After 30 Newspoll losses, Turnbull is down, but certainly not out



File 20180409 149360 1j9tjhl.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
If Malcolm Turnbull is to draw any comfort from a self-inflicted wound, he might consider the history of leaders who have endured bad polling and prevailed.
AAP/Darren England

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Live by the polls, die by the polls – or, just maybe, be given a reprieve by the polls.

With his ill-advised reference back in 2015 to “30 losing Newspolls” in his successful challenge to Tony Abbott, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made himself a hostage to fortune.

Foolishly, he tempted fate, and is now living with the consequences.

However, if Turnbull is to draw any comfort from a self-inflicted wound, he might consider the history of leaders who have endured bad polling and prevailed.

Fickle polls and election results

Newspoll didn’t exist in Robert Menzies’ day. But if it had, the founder of the party Turnbull leads might have been on course in election year 1954 for 50 losing Newspolls.

Menzies prevailed in that year thanks to the Labor “split” and the Petrov Affair, which involved the defection of a Russian spy at the height of the Cold War and on the eve of the 1954 poll.

Turnbull might also draw on Paul Keating’s example in the lead-up to the “unlosable” March 1993 election.




Read more:
Government loses 30th consecutive Newspoll, despite slight improvement


People forget the extent to which voters disliked Keating and the Labor Party after he became leader in December 1991 at the expense of the popular Bob Hawke. After the Keating takeover, the ALP’s primary vote was down in the mid-30s, compared with the Coalition‘s low 50s.

In an election-eve poll in 1993, Newspoll recorded Keating’s net approval rating at minus 25. Yet he prevailed for what he described as a victory for the “true believers”. This was after running the mother of all scare campaigns against John Hewson’s austerity “Fightback!” package.

In more recent memory, John Howard was deemed to be on political death row in the lead-up to the 2001 election. Labor under Kim Beazley led the Coalition 60-40 in its absolute trough in mid-2000, according to the Roy Morgan polling organisation.

After losing the formerly safe Liberal seat of Ryan in Queensland in a March 2001 byelection, Howard’s obituaries were being written. But by mid-2001, he had prevailed in a byelection in the Melbourne suburban seat of Aston. He went on to exploit the “Tampa affair”, in which he refused entry to refugees rescued at sea by a Norwegian freighter. He benefited politically from terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001.

Two months later, Howard fought a “khaki election”, in which Australia had joined the US in Afghanistan in combat against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He won 82 seats to Labor’s 65. Under Beazley, Labor recorded its lowest primary vote since 1934.

The turnaround in the Coalition’s fortunes attests to the fickleness of public opinion polls taken mid-term, when real choices between parties and candidates are more snapshots than a definitive reading of the electorate’s mood.

Turnbull might give himself pause, however, if he reflects on more recently polling episodes. Julia Gillard’s ousting of Kevin Rudd in 2010 came on the back of polling that showed a slide in approval for Rudd himself.

But sometimes neglected is that Labor under Rudd was still leading the Coalition 52-48.

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Gillard went on to lead Labor to a deadlocked election against Tony Abbott in August 2010. She formed a government with the support of independents.

Turnbull will have the recent bad memory of squandering a 14-seat margin, gained by Abbott in 2013, in last year’s federal election. This will long be regarded in conservative circles as an unnecessarily long and poorly-executed campaign.

Turnbull ended up retaining a one-seat majority. This resulted in a further diminution of his authority within his own party.

Where to now for Turnbull?

This brings us to the latest Newspoll and its lessons for Turnbull and poll-watchers in this next phase leading up to an election due by mid-2019.

If there is a lesson for Turnbull in the examples of his predecessors, it reinforces the point made above that polling between elections is an imprecise science.

On the basis of the latest Newspoll and a Fairfax/Ipsos poll at the weekend, the outlook for the prime minister is not all doom and gloom.

Both Newspoll and Ipsos reflected a slight improvement for the government. According to both polls, Labor is leading 52-48. This is close to the mean for polling over much of the past two years since the 2016 election, although better for the Coalition than recent polls.

For Turnbull, the Fairfax/Ipsos poll had some encouraging news on two separate fronts.

First, this poll found that when voters were asked to allocate preferences, the Coalition and Labor were running neck and neck, 50-50.

Second, voters overwhelmingly want Turnbull to remain leader. Some 74% of Coalition voters – and 62% of all voters – told the Fairfax/Ipsos survey they believed the Liberals should keep Turnbull.

These two elements should provide a modicum of encouragement for a beleaguered prime minister.

On the other hand, Turnbull can draw little satisfaction from the precipitous drop in his own approval ratings. When he ousted Abbott, he was sitting on a plus-38 approval: he is now down to the minus-mid-20s.

This is an astounding collapse in public esteem, and one that reflects a pervasive level of disappointment among voters in Turnbull’s leadership.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Coal fires Tony Abbott’s pre-Newspoll play


In an interesting sidebar to The Australian’s reporting of the latest Newspoll, a majority of focus group participants felt that Turnbull was “out of touch” with the electorate compared with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Shorten is comfortably leading in this important polling category.

Conversely, Shorten lags on leadership qualities of trustworthiness, decisiveness, experience and likeability.

You can be sure that in the run-up to the forthcoming election, the Coalition will launch the mother of all campaigns against Shorten in its efforts to further drive up his negative polling.

Whether this will work will depend on a range of imponderables. These include Turnbull’s own performance, the budget’s reception, and an end to damaging internal tensions in the Liberal Party itself. These and other events such as fallout from the actions of an unpredictable American presidency are all impossible to predict.

Turnbull is down, but he is not out, even if a slow drip-drip of negative polls will continue for the foreseeable future. He will now face a tiresome fortnightly reckoning with Newspoll beyond the current 30 negative polls benchmark.

The ConversationTo paraphrase a former Liberal leader, life for Malcolm Turnbull is unlikely to become much easier.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.