Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to hold a double-dissolution election is looking more and more foolish by the day.
“Photographer. Catch that smile!”
In a double dissolution, the quota for election to the Senate is almost halved, increasing the likelihood of minor parties winning seats and making it practically impossible for either major party to get a majority in its own right.
It was frustration with the Senate’s refusal to pass key government legislation that prompted Mr Turnbull to seek a double dissolution in the first place.
While it is dangerous to rely on opinion polls, it is equally dangerous to ignore them. The latest Newspoll and the Morgan Poll both show that the major parties are running neck-and-neck after preferences, while there has been a surprising swing towards minor parties.
It is instructive to look at the primary vote for the major parties nationally. According to the Morgan Poll, the primary vote for the Liberal/National Party Coalition is 37.5 per cent, down 8 per cent from the 2013 election. If this were to be reflected in the actual vote, the Coalition would win on average just five of the 12 Senate seats in each state, and one in each of the two territories.
However, the ALP polled just 32.5 per cent, a fall of about 1 per cent from the last federal election. At this level of support, Labor would win just four Senate seats per state, while the Greens, with 13 per cent, would be likely to win two seats in each state.
If this were to be reflected on polling day, Labor and the Greens between them would have half the members of the Senate, giving them a blocking vote on any major issue.
If Bill Shorten wins a majority in the House of Representatives, he might need just one defector from the minor parties and independents to give him a working majority in the Senate. All this is a direct result of Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to call a double dissolution.
Regional differences are expected to influence the outcome, particularly in the lower house. The Coalition has suffered from the end of the mining boom and the collapse of commodity prices, substantially cutting government revenue and in some states causing increased unemployment.
According to the polls, Labor has enjoyed a major turnaround in Tasmania, Western Australia and Victoria, where it convincingly leads the Coalition on a two-party basis.
In addition to the factors listed above, there are other issues, including the fact that Turnbull punished leading members of his party who supported Tony Abbott, and his government is blamed for threatened cuts in government expenditure, particularly in health and education.
While the Liberals still lead Labor in New South Wales and Queensland, Labor has closed the gap and seems certain to win seats in both states.
Since the election campaign began, Mr Turnbull’s genial smile has remained unchanged, though he has barely laid a glove on Mr Shorten on the issues where Labor is vulnerable.
These include Labor’s proposed carbon tax, its weak border protection policy, its new tax on residential property owners, and its vigorous support for same-sex marriage, the “Safe Schools” program and the gay lobby.
Mr Turnbull has even failed to make headway on the ostensible reason why the election was called: Labor’s opposition to the proposed Australian Building and Construction Commission, designed to curb illegal behaviour by the CFMEU in the building industry.
It is almost as if Mr Turnbull does not believe his government’s propaganda on any of these issues.
Mr Turnbull has failed on his promise to deliver an infrastructure revolution in the Australian economy, instead repeating a collection of well-worn platitudes, which have even been dismissed by some who would be expected to endorse it.
Speaking at the opening of a science centre at Sydney University in April, Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Spence said that there had been “a lot of stupid talk about innovation”.
He said: “It is paradoxical that the Government advocates the importance of translating research into tools that will build the economy of the future, while simultaneously proposing to cut funding to the very institutions in which the majority of that research will take place.”
Last November, Mr Turnbull had a revealing exchange with Melbourne University’s Vice-Chancellor over the universities’ role in innovation. Professor Glyn Davis tried to explain to the Prime Minister that to make it work, one needed to have universities closely linked with large corporations investing in research and development. This does not exist in Australia.
Professor Davis pointed to Warwick University in Britain, where Jaguar, Rolls-Royce and Tata invest heavily in research and innovation. Mr Turnbull dismissed these comments as “defeatist and dispiriting”. Unfortunately, they are true.
Mr Turnbull is the emperor with no clothes. The electorate has woken up to him, and will vote accordingly.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.