The most important Newspoll ever

Monday, 21 June 2010 

Key Labor MPs are prepared to move against Kevin Rudd’s leadership to make way for Julia Gillard as early as next week.

Dennis Shanahan 19 June 2010

Hang on a second. What happened between Saturday and three days before, when Shanahan was writing this about Rudd?

Kevin Rudd’s leadership is under threat, but it is not subject to a challenge. … For all of this anxiety, there is no leadership challenge under way, in any form.

Nothing much, but that another Newspoll was approaching and it was time to crank up the excitement because, as The Australian constantly reminds us, it is the most important on the political landscape. Peter van Onselen building up the tension in the same newspaper tells us:

Newspoll continues to dominate people’s minds in terms of how both the parties and the party leaders are faring.

Yet the odd thing is that for the last fortnight it hasn’t. The last two weeks have been focussed not on Newspoll, which was showing the government slightly clawing back its lead to a winning position. All attention, including that of The Australian, has been focussed on the only poll out there still showing the government behind, the last AC Nielsen poll.

As it turned out the latest Newspoll has been a bit of fizzer, just a further slight edging up of the government’s polling, taking it now to where it was at the last election. There were no interesting questions, as hinted by Van Onselen, other than an inconclusive one on standard of living (especially surprising that no poll on Gillard v Rudd was given. Why ever not?). Eerily enough, given the drama of the last few weeks, the poll confirms that on 2PP, and despite the recent decline, this government approaches an election six months out in probably the most comfortable position in a generation.

Yet it doesn’t feel like that. It might be easy to dismiss the media’s beating up of one bad poll as simply making up a drama and, in The Australian’s case, a feeble attempt to influence the political process and change the leadership. However, there are some clear signs that the media is feeding off an insecurity that has a basis in reality.

One unsettling sign has been the dramatic collapse in Rudd’s polling. Such collapses have occurred to opposition leaders, but less so with Prime Ministers because usually they gain power as being part of something and it takes time for whatever that is to unwind.

Rudd partly came to power on international developments but a political strategy more than anything else. So when that international agenda fades and he makes some false steps on the political strategy, down he goes. It is probably not so much that there is a clear active dislike of Rudd, such as there was with Keating, say. It is more likely that with the international basis for his moral challenge gone, and having thrown away much of anti-political attack against his opponents, he appears adrift and out of control of events. It is why criticisms of the government stimulus programs began to stick. It is by taking on the miners that Rudd looks to be trying to appear to be a conviction politician once again.

It is not surprising that the media are having trouble with Rudd’s decline given that they never understood why he did so well in the first place. They can’t seem to decide whether it’s an issue (ETS flip-flop, the insulation program, asylum seekers, the mining tax?) or Rudd himself and his style. Irregardless, Gillard seems the solution even though there is nothing on the issues that she would differ from Rudd. Andrew Bolt on the Andrew Bolt Show thinks she would be more inclusive (such as she was with the teachers’ unions?) but what he really means is that a shaken Labor government would be humbled.

Yet while media speculation makes this seem all about nothing, there are the tangible signs as well. Penrith on the weekend shows that Labor’s base is melting away, and with it the base of Labor’s most powerful political machine. It is not even that transport and infrastructure are really the issue (when were they ever any good in Sydney’s western suburbs?) and that anyone thinks the Liberals will be any better. Rather that when any dissatisfaction is shown, there is simply nothing to keep traditional voters of either party tied down.

But, as Labor’s base melts away, so does its program. One of the many benefits of our anti-racial times is that the crap that is visited on indigenous communities will surely be visited on the rest of us as well. Part of the ground that was broken after an unsubstantiated child abuse scare in the Northern Territory was the ending of the right of indigenous parents to receive welfare on the basis that they might best know what to do with it. This new frontier excited Abbott so much that they he overcame his natural boredom with his indigenous portfolio and came back with the conclusion that it also ought to be applied to non-indigenous households.

Unfortunately, he has been beaten to the chase with the government outlining such an intrusion into non-indigenous households. Readers will no doubt be aware that this marks an historic change from the social democratic model that said that the system is the problem, to the new social democratic model that says you might be the problem as well. Paul Kelly thinks this ‘big news’ has been obscured by all the hoo-hah going on in Canberra this week. Little does he realise how intimately they are related.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 21 June 2010.

Filed under State of the parties

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4 responses to “The most important Newspoll ever”

  1. John Farrell on 21st June 2010 10:15 am

    You didn’t mention the implacable hatred towards Rudd from the opponents of the internet filter, URL logging, and the other increasingly totalitarian policies coming from Rudd and Conroy. Of course the internet filter has been “shelved”, meaning that Rudd doesn’t want to fight an election on that. This government has some awful policies and refuses to consult the people, therefore it must go. And governments will continue to fall until they start to listen.

  2. Broggly on 21st June 2010 2:41 pm

    Apart from the stupidity of handing out eftpos cards in communities where they can’t be used (more from government fiat than technological reasons as I hear), and so killing off local employers, the problem is the declaration of whole communities as being made up of irresponsible people. I wouldn’t mind so much if income management were applied to people who had shown themselves to be irresponsible, but the current system where you have to prove yourself responsible if you live in a bad neighbourhood is unfair and wasteful.

    Sometimes I wonder if bureaucrats decided to make it hard to buy anything to stamp out “humbugging” once and for all. Nobody’s going to ask you to buy some smokes if transport to the store eats up half your money.

  3. fred on 21st June 2010 4:43 pm

    I am so glad you have kept alive the issue of the beat-up and lies spread by the COALition, the media and assorted cronies, concerning the unsubstantiated allegations of child sexual abuse in indigenous communities that provided much of the grounds for hysteria at the time of the NT intervention/invasion.
    That shameful episode, continuing today in ostensibly ‘softer’ guise, deserves to be exposed regularly as a reminder of how disgracefully the major parties and the media have treated these people.

  4. David Jackmanson on 24th June 2010 1:18 am

    Well Mr Rudd has announced there will be a ballot for the ALP leadership on Thursday morning, and Ms Gillard has announced she will be a candidate.

    This sort of ridiculous shenanigan seems to confirm your thesis about the utter lack of a social base to Australian politics. If the ALP was actually implementing a program based upon the aspirations of Australia’s unionised workers, or even workers in general, it would be impossible for this sort of thing to spring up so suddenly.

    It’s not as if Ms Gillard – the shepherd of the ALP’s Workchoices Lite, the same industrial relations policy John Howard introduced in 1998 – can claim to be the leader of a significant group in caucus with a different set of policies to Mr Rudd. She can’t say “I will carry out this, this, and this plank of our platform, which Mr Rudd has failed to do”. She’s been Mr Rudd’s loyal lieutenant up till now; what can she possible say will be different under her? All she, like her union supporters can do is bleat about how the EEEEVIL Mr Abbott will bring back Workchoices, while she and they collaborate to make sure strikes remain almost completely illegal.

    This is not to say that a government with a real program arising from a real social base wouldn’t be very turbulent – but we’d know who stood for what, and we’d see leadership conflicts coming because they’d be based on actual policy. When the Queensland ALP kicked out Mr Vince Gair in the 50s it was because he, as Queensland Premier, refused to implement 3 weeks of annual leave for public servants. All Mr Paul Howes can talk about on Lateline is how Mr Rudd has “lost the message” and how terrible it is that Mr Rudd would sound out MPs as to whether they supported him.

    Bland managerialism at its worst. Blah.

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