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Source of PM’s poll problems far bigger than Abbott

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Tony Abbott during Question Time on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Tony Abbott during question time at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 27 February 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew Meares

Malcolm Turnbull was under no illusions as he made a campaign-style visit to a Canberra business on Monday morning following a terrible Newspoll.

But he may be succumbing to another.

The event, at a bottle recycling plant in Canberra’s industrial precinct of Hume, would illustrate the government’s defining theme through to the next election: the “risks” of soaring electricity prices and plummeting reliability inherent in Labor’s renewables mix.

Flanking Turnbull was his Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, and the ACT’s only federal Liberal, Assistant Minister Zed Seselja. Both are gifted advocates for the government – as currently configured – despite being former Abbott men from the party’s right wing.

???Turnbull’s attack proceeded forcefully, hitting all its marks: high costs, galloping blackouts; the harm to business; jobs; households.

First question? “How much worse do the polls have to get before you’re replaced as leader?”

Ordinary folk would call that rude. But remember, it was Turnbull who nominated this very metric of governmental success when challenging Tony Abbott in 2015.

After initially batting away this impertinence, the PM yielded to a second invitation: “The election is two years away . . . we saw an outburst on Thursday and it had its desired impact on the Newspoll. It was exactly as predicted and as calculated”.

Turnbull was simultaneously oblique yet frontal. Abbott had engaged in wilful damage, political sabotage. “…He knew exactly what he was doing and he did it,” he said.

There were two more press questions on the Abbott-Newspoll problem, and the trio left.

His policy argument obliterated, the Prime Minister was reduced to claiming his precipitous poll dive was the fault of an otherwise irrelevant third party, to wit, Abbott.

Even last week, Liberals were grumbling that Abbott had timed his assault to affect the survey.

This is a dangerous fantasy. Harder heads must surely acknowledge that voters began their march away from Coalition a long time ago – a function of poorly conceived, poorly sold policies that are unpopular and unconvincing.

Cutting pensions and family payments while proposing big, unfunded tax cuts for corporates is a task beyond even a unified government. Throw in Turnbull’s transformation to attack dog against renewable energy, and the penalty rates cuts which the government backs, and it’s not hard to see where the problems really are.

A harsher truth is that Turnbull survived the 2016 election through a combination of luck and Abbott’s fat 2013 margin.

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