David Flint

Time to stand up

Polling: voters crying out for leadership

The government would have it that their relaxation of refugee policy has nothing to do with the increase in asylum seekers. Sri Lanka’s debonair UN Ambassador Palitha Kohona argues convincingly that the dominant reason for the influx of Tamils is more likely to be economic. And after the Oceanic Viking debacle, the people smugglers  now know that if they apply  the slightest  public pressure, the Rudd government will cave in.

So we should stand by for the advent of whole fleets of people smuggling boats.

This will mean that more people will put their lives and their fortunes in the hands of the people smugglers. Some will die, as many already have. Had this happened under the Howard government, righteous hysteria would have already have drowned out the evening news bulletins and filled the opinion columns.

Some commentators previously favourable to the government are now showing signs of exasperation with the Prime Minister’s endless spin. The Age’s Misha Schubert, says the Prime Minister’s denial that no special deal was done with the Tamils on the Oceanic Viking makes him look “at best a complete dill or at worst a serial dissembler.” Laura Tingle of the Financial Review says he and his government risk looking shifty and evasive, going down the same path as the Blair and Brown governments.    

While individual polls do not tell us much, they are useful when over time they indicate a trend. Yet notwithstanding government difficulties, there is no trend of support to the Opposition. Newspoll’s survey of Queensland’s marginal electorates explains why. On every key issue the electors of Bowman, Dawson, Dickson, Flynn, Herbert and Longman don’t think much of the government. In every electorate – every electorate – the voters think the government is doing a bad job over its relationship with Telstra, and over asylum seekers arriving in Australia. They say the government is too soft with asylum seekers.

Equally or even more importantly, more think the government is doing a bad job over the ETS.

But that said, on the two party preferred vote the government would easily hold all six electorates. The poll did not ask them about the economy. There the government claims the credit for our present happy economic state, although all of the heavy lifting in terms of prudent regulation and paying of debt was done by the Howard government.

The mismanagement and monumental profligacy of the government has received superficial examination in the mainline media. And if you doubt that remember the length and depth of the media examination of “children overboard” or the AWB. (The Howard Government contributed to the latter by its inexplicable decision to hold a public inquiry into the AWB. This gave Kevin Rudd a regular evening TV platform to make wild unsubstantiated allegations which make Malcolm Turnbull’s unwise Grech affair allegations seem like the sort of reprimand the Archbishop of Canterbury gives to recalcitrant churches in the Anglican Communion.)

But when it comes to border protection or the ETS, Malcolm Turnbull cannot blame the media for his inability to attract voters. The Nationals are, with Senators Barnaby Joyce and Ron Boswell, in the vanguard. Now Senator Nick Minchin is leading a growing phalanx of Liberal opponents to the ETS, with the erudite Senator Cory Bernardi in the forefront. Bernardi enjoys a rare  distinction; he was dismissed from the shadow ministry by Malcolm Turnbull.

Senator Minchin was right to damn the ETS as an abomination. If carbon were a pollutant significantly causing global warming, and if reducing Australians’ carbon emissions would have any effect on warming – if there is warming – then a carbon tax might be appropriate. The ETS will hand over control of our economy to a powerful and eventually international bureaucracy with the purpose of increasingly impoverishing most Australians. Only the  elites – powerful  bureaucrats and carpet baggers will profit. The rest of us will be impoverished.

It seems that the electors in the regional Queensland are more perceptive than those of Wentworth. Even with minimal media  exposure about the totally pointless cost of a Rudd-Wong ETS, they are sceptical – as any sensible person should be. On this Senator Minchin is right. The ETS is just not a scheme which the party of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies could possibly espouse. 

Now it is true that in the dying days of the Howard government the cabinet unwisely and with an inadequate briefing approved an ETS to be introduced in the future. They seemed to have more information than the present government has before it committed to a $49 billion broadband scheme, but such a proposal for an ETS needed a more thorough investigation than that.

In any event rank and file Coalition voters don’t want a mirror image of Rudd Labor, and the Newspoll shows that. Now the Morgan Poll has found 46% of LNP voters disapprove of the ETS with only 37% approving. That disapproval rate will only increase. The most auspicious time for the ETS was when the Gore myths and climate horror stories first emerged. The public is now increasingly sceptical, and rightly so.  

There are some Liberal voters who feel so strongly about an ETS they say they will not forgive their party if it betrays them. The enactment of a Rudd-Turnbull ETS before Copenhagen would be viewed as such a betrayal.

And importantly, there are a number of uncommitted Labor voters who on the issues of the ETS and the asylum seekers could easily swing across to support a Coalition policy.  ALP support for an ETS is presently high, but as Rod Cameron believes, this will evaporate when they know how useless and how personally costly this will be. And they know this  in any election campaign if  the Liberal party offers strong opposition.

Malcolm Turnbull‘s task should not be to compromise but be to reveal the truth about any ETS, and then to campaign against it. He should also offer strong border protection, saying just what he would do.  But as Alan Jones says when Turnbull sees a fork in the road, he turns left.

Now that he has carefully considered all the facts, and taken an honourable place in the Minchin phalanx, Tony Abbott has emerged as the person who could best lead the Liberal party and the Coalition in opposition.

The voters know that Abbot is absolutely straight – that he answers questions truthfully and without spin. He is one of the least affected politicians, and is obviously strong intellectually, morally and physically. He is also a considerable communicator, both written and oral. There is real leadership potential there.

His life as an athlete and an intellectual, and his evident attachment to the best in such a balanced life means that rank and file Australians will identify more with him than many others.   

Tony Abbott’s time is coming.


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