MUNGO MacCALLUM. Our Prime Minister needs to become more prime ministerial.

From bollocks one week to bollards the next. Malcolm Turnbull’s response to everything that went wrong with the last session of parliament was to ramp up the terrorist threat to install aesthetically pleasing road blocks to deter truck driving terrorist and then disappear into the outback.   

And in fact it may not have been a bad idea, because as the augurs once more pour over the entrails of his dismembered government, Newspoll reveals that parliament has become a no-no for our prime minister – after a fortnight in the bearpit, the voters tend to turn against him. To put it more brutally, the more they see him, the less they like him.

If this is in fact the case – and the numbers tend to confirm it – it is very, very bad news for his coalition colleagues.  Every Newspoll shows that the rot for the government has not only set in but seems to have become entrenched. The prime minister’s colleagues have one desperate straw to cling to: however much the voters loath them collectively, at least their leader is preferred as prime minister over the unloveable Bill Shorten.

So there is always a chance that Turnbull’s popularity – or at least his relatively lesser unpopularity — might, just might, be able to leverage his party to lift it back into the race. The argument is always that although it can hardly be denied that Turnbull has not met expectations – that in fact he has been a crashing disappointment – the voters still keep a vestige of hope that he may revert to becoming the man they had though he was back in those dim dark days when he knocked off the despised Tony Abbott.

But the Newspoll figures suggest the opposite: the punters are well and truly over Turnbull too. If anything, he may actually be hindering any faint prospect of a revival before his self-imposed deadline of 30 losing polls reaches the point of no return. And if this is the case, it will be the right wing warriors’ own silly fault.

After the last election the received wisdom was that one of the problems was that Turnbull had been too restrained, that he needed to get seriously belligerent about Shorten and all his works. So he did: parliament has resounded with outrage and bombast. But this is not the man’s style; the urbane Sydney lawyer was never trained in cage fighting and it showed.

For all his rhetorical talent, Turnbull is just not convincing in the role of bare-knuckle, no holds barred aggression in which Abbott excelled. The more the urgers of the right egg him on to greater excesses, the less it appeals to the broad section of the electorate who prefer their politics to have at least an edge of sincerity, not to mention civility.Turnbull’s rusted on supporters, those who have not already deserted him in despair, keep telling him to be himself, to revert to the old Malcolm. It may be too little and too late, but it may also be the last card left in the well-thumbed pack. Our Prime Minster needs to become more prime ministerial.

It is something worth pondering in the next few days as he rambles around the outback marginals before returning to parliament and what even his advisers have acknowledged has been a shambles.

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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