Newspoll: Governments usually win one election more than they deserve. Was 2019 one of them?

Today’s Newspoll is dire for the Prime Minister. The two-party preferred split of 53:47 is bad enough but can be overcome with still nine months to a likely election date.  It’s the slump in his personal approval as everything going wrong around the country is sheeted home to him.

Vaccine rollout underperforming? His fault. Confusion over vaccines? His fault. States going into lockdown to counter the Delta variant of covid? His fault?  Your hot water service blows up? His fault.

Scott Morrison and the federal Coalition may say, rightly, that much of this is beyond their control. Despite the charade of National Cabinet, the states run their own public health shows and make their own decisions about restricting liberties, lockdowns, hotel quarantine and border closures. State premiers, especially the eastern seaboard trio of Daniel Andrews, Gladys Berejiklian and Annastacia Palaszczuk call the shots, not Morrison. 

All true, but as John Howard once said, prime ministers run the country, and voters don’t care about responsibilities. They just expect the PM to fix whatever’s wrong.

Morrison needs to get that into his head. Fix whatever he can on his own watch, but use the bully pulpit of his office to retake the national agenda from the premiers.  When they act to excess, Morrison should use his moral authority to curb them, even if his political or constitutional jurisdiction is limited or non-existent.

But what the Prime Minister also needs to do is show he has a core set of fundamental political values, and start acting on them.

As a Liberal he should be standing for smaller government, lower taxes and public debt, freedom of choice and personal responsibility, but what he’s given is much bigger government, some lower taxes but public debt that will not be paid off in our children’s lifetimes, and acquiescence to government controls over people’s daily lives that even two years ago were unimaginable.

It’s hard to shake off the conviction that Morrison went there so readily because he had no political belief structure of his own.

With Morrison, the sense of conviction politics that was fundamental to John Howard’s success as PM is absent. Being pragmatic and doing ‘whatever it takes’ to deal with a crisis is not enough. In the time remaining this term, Morrison must rediscover that being a true leader involves having a set of values and acting on them – something that goes beyond merely holding a great office of state.

Since 1949, federal governments consistently have won one more election than they deserved: Gorton in 1969; Whitlam in 1974; Fraser in 1980; Keating in 1993; Howard in 2004; and Rudd/Gillard in 2010.  If Morrison does not regain his leadership mojo soon, he will maintain this trend.

Terry Barnes edits our daily newsletter, the Morning Double Shot. You can sign up for your Morning Double Shot of news and comment here.


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