When Malcolm Turnbull made his pitch to the media the day he successfully challenged Tony Abbott for the Liberal Party leadership, he warned of the possibility of Bill Shorten becoming Prime Minister.
The latest Essential Poll released this week has Turnbull leading 44-22 as the preferred PM. That’s a pretty handy lead for Malcolm, sufficient for him to think his continued popularity will be enough for the Coalition to win the upcoming election.
The problem, however, is that 34% are undecided, and Malcolm’s lead has been whittled back from 54-15 before last Christmas. At that time 31% were undecided. While that tells us Shorten has picked up only 7% and Malcolm has lost 10%, it also tells us that more people are unsure about who they would prefer.
For Shorten, the trajectory is heading in the right direction and so are the two party preferred polls with the very important qualification that there is still a long way to go. So what is the likelihood Bill Shorten could pull off a surprise victory?
While only 22% of voters think he would be a better PM than Turnbull, last August, a majority thought he would be a better PM than Tony Abbott.
This tells us he can win if the circumstances at the time are favourable to him. He was preferred over Abbott because Abbott was a disaster and everyone knew it. Turnbull is not a disaster but after six months in the job he has dropped his colours is now being seen as having lost some of his charisma.
No one would accuse Bill Shorten of being charismatic, but Tony Abbott wasn’t either. On that score they were equal. Over the past three months though, something has changed. Increasingly, Turnbull is being seen as weak, while Shorten has improved his delivery, dropped the zingers, announced popular policies and has looked more prime ministerial in front of the camera.
It would seem, therefore, that charisma, which is nothing more than form, has been forsaken in favour of substance (policy initiatives), at least with some of the undecided voters in the latest poll. And there are still 34% yet to make up their minds. This puts Shorten in the game.
But being in the game should bring greater scrutiny.
A national leader is, and should be, subjected to a fair degree of scrutiny. Both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott were put through an exhaustive media scrutiny. Bill Shorten has been put through the wringer several times over. His period as a trade union leader has been, and still is, under media scrutiny. Not much of it, however, has come to anything.
Malcolm Turnbull has enjoyed a highly successful business career, some of it in banking. So given the intense scrutiny Bill Shorten experienced as a trade union leader, why is Turnbull’s time as CEO of Goldman Sachs not being scrutinised as well?
We know of some of the deals Shorten did, quite legally, with employers when he was boss of the AWU. So, why don’t we know more about some of the quite legal deals done at Goldman Sachs while Turnbull was Australian chairman and managing director?
One can rightly argue this is gutter politics, but have you noticed that a lot of former investment bankers seem to find their way into politics? Mike Baird, premier of NSW and John Key, PM of New Zealand, in addition to Malcolm Turnbull, come quickly to mind.
There is no suggestion here that there is anything sinister, unlawful or illegal going on, but when one also notices that many former investment bankers hold important government positions in the US and Europe as well, is it not reasonable to ask if Turnbull’s entry into politics is more than simple ambition?
Or is it just a reflection of the high regard governments have for bankers and the experience they bring with them. Perhaps.
Much information about Australian companies and individuals is going to surface shortly as we learn more about the various tax avoidance schemes exposed in the Panama Papers.
It will, no doubt, fill newspapers, blogs and current affairs programs for some time. When it’s finished, we will all know more about what goes on in this murky world.
But in the meantime, Bill Shorten has been the victim of some pretty foul character assassination plots over the past two years. It has been so intense in some cases, people have paid more attention to it than they have government. A nice distraction, so to speak.
Government is about governing for the common good. It’s about policies. It’s about management. It’s about responsibility.
At the moment, Labor, via Shorten, have been putting out realistic, reasonable policy initiatives while the Coalition, via Turnbull, have dithered, flip-flopped and given the appearance of being so internally at odds with each other, they can’t get anything on the scoreboard.
One would have thought that this is what a concerned electorate would be looking for, hence we should not be surprised that Shorten has recorded an improvement in his polling and that Turnbull’s polling is in decline.
If it continues this way, Bill Shorten can win.