MUNGO MACCALLUM. Turnbull manages the fallout.

Apr 10, 2018

So the 30th Newspoll has finally dropped, and as he waits for the mushroom cloud to dissipate, just what will Malcolm Turnbull do to manage the fallout?

Well, as little as possible. He would rather ignore it completely, but that is hardly an option.

So instead he will have to pretend that it doesn’t really matter – all the voters want to hear about is his Enterprise Tax Plan, he is getting on with jobs and growth, it will all come right before the next election. Business as usual.

This just might suffice if it was a one off – if, as the irrepressible Christopher Pyne  said wistfully last week, people would to talk about it on Monday and Tuesday, and would then move on. But unfortunately the 30th Newspoll is not the end of it. There will be a 31st, then a 32nd, and so it will drag on.

Optimists look hopefully to a glint of a silver lining in the mushroom cloud, but as Turnbull himself  pointed out in that memorable interview, the trajectory is clear. Our current prime minister went on to the inevitable conclusion: after 20 losing Newspolls in a row, the people have made up their minds about (Mr Abbott’s) leadership. So thus, presumably about his own.

This does not mean there is a desire for a change of Liberal leaders: a healthy majority of all voters and a bigger one of Liberal voters are uninterested in another whirl around the revolving door. But this does not mean a rousing endorsement of Malcolm Turnbull; it appears to be a more a reflection of their frustration – a feeling that the situation is hopeless and all they can do is wait it out.

There is certainly no push for Peter Dutton (except, of course, from The Australian) or for any of the other putative contenders. But there is great unrest and discontent among the party room, and while the Newspoll result is unlikely to provide a trigger for open rebellion, it certainly won’t help.

It may be significant that Dutton, apart from freelancing shamelessly around other people’s ministries (mainly Julie Bishop’s) has quietly changed his position of unquestioning support for Turnbull. Now when he asks about his leader, he reverts to the old formula: he of course supports his leader – whoever who it may be. He supported Abbott, now he supports Turnbull. Dutton can no longer be relied on.

But the more raucous outbreak of sniping, undermining and wrecking came predictably from the renamed Monkey Pod Group – the Abbottistas who decided, by no coincidence at all, to use the occasion to float yet another lead balloon in the direction of the Prime Minister.

The pathetic farce of the conservative rump espousing rampant socialism in the form of a new government owned coal-fired power plant is too silly to be taken seriously, so it hasn’t been. But as a tactic of disruption, it has already provide a minor triumph. Turnbull and his energy minister Josh Frydenberg have been forced to respond — not with summary dismissal but with a somewhat unconvincing explanation of the technologically agnostic nature of everything connected with the still precarious National Energy Guarantee.

But, they insist, they are not about to splash a few billion in taxpayer funds to build the current brainstorm. Well why not, complain the rump, when Turnbull was prepared to splash billions for his Snowy 2.0? The real answer is that whatever its shortcomings. Snowy 2.0 is more or less rational policy; Abbott’s new coal fantasy is not.

But as always, the timorous Turnbull either cannot or will not say this in straightforward terms, and especially not when he is embroiled in his own nuttiness over haranguing AGL to flog one of his assets to a Chinese saviour who will then, somehow, bail out a clapped out power station (albeit one on valuable site) and make it stagger on a for a few years of quasi-life to placate the coal lobby. This has always been not only absurd, but an alarming display of Turnbull’s impotence, which in itself will delight and encourage the Abbott mob.

It need hardly be noted that they are little more than a small basket of deplorables – perhaps a handful of Libs and a few Nats hanging on for the ride. The idea that this can build into a serious insurrection should be rejected out of hand, and no doubt would have been in more propitious times. But with a bit of rebranding – misappropriating the name of a war hero whose family has been, justifiably outraged – the lunar right has grabbed enough headlines from the Murdoch press for the so-called Monash Forum to have gained yet another 15 minutes of distraction and disruption.

In this they have been ably abetted by Abbott’s old amanuensis, Peta Credlin – it is not known whether she still bakes them cakes, as she did when she was Abbott’s landlady, but she remains a fierce political warrior, using her media position to trumpet ridiculous estimates of the numbers in the conclave.

Its denizens may or may not go ape over the Newspoll – really there is no need for them to, there will be plenty more polls for them to gloat over. But if they intend to formalise their amalgamation as a permanent faction rather than a single issue ginger group, there will have to be changes.

The Monash label will have to go – apart from being utterly inappropriate and and largely unwelcome, it now has an odour of the mean and tricky about it, and we can’t have that. Given the preponderance of As in the claque – Abbott, Abetz, Andrews – it would be tempting to stick to alliteration and suggest the Arsehole Forum.

But if that is too confronting, why not honour the right’s great patron and chief propagandist and inaugurate the knuckle draggers as the Murdoch Forum. Even Turnbull, that obsessive sucker-up to the Dirty Digger, could barely object.

And let’s face it, the timing could not be more appropriate; Newspoll has long been the jewel in the Murdoch crown. It may not be the only poll that counts, but it is certainly the one most politicians worry about. And you can bet that includes both Abbott and Turnbull. It may not materially change things – yet. But there will be a lot of sore Liberal heads next week as they contemplate the morning offer and try and figure out what, if anything, they can do about it.

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