Things still aren’t looking up for Malcolm Turnbull.
While the Prime Minister saw a small boost in his own personal approval rating recently, the latest Newspoll published by The Australian this morning has the Labor Party up, 53 to 47 percentage points on a two-party preferred basis.
There’s no question that non-stop media coverage of Tony Abbott’s opinions on governmental matters has weakened the Prime Minister’s agenda. Ongoing infighting between right and left factions has been a major destabiliser and Turnbull, it seems, is unable to appease either group.
Those who once respected the Prime Minister for his progressive visions have been disappointed by his indecision on many key policy areas—climate change, same-sex marriage, affordable housing—to name a few. He quite clearly cut a deal with the right before ousting Abbott from the top job, but taking such measures is risky business.
When Turnbull tried to regain credibility earlier this year with a socially-driven budget, he was ridiculed. Political commentators, voters and the ALP were quick to point out that the government’s framework was eerily reflective of a “Labor budget” and the Prime Minister struggled to explain.
His ballsy decision had backfired, leaving voters perplexed and his own party a jumble of mixed emotions. Ultimately, Turnbull’s ideology had entered the game too late.
So, what now?
The latest Newspoll signals another fallen rose petal for the government. No doubt, Turnbull is haunted by his infamous explanation for spilling Abbott’s leadership.
“The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership,” Turnbull said at the time.
Given this rationale, and the fact that Turnbull has lost 10 polls on the trot, is it time for the Liberal Party to start weighing up their options? And, if they do, could Julie Bishop be our next Prime Minister?
Surely, if popularity is a key consideration, then it’s worth some serious thought. A recent poll commissioned by the ALP, proved that Bishop’s approval rating far surpassed her party’s leader. While Turnbull was commonly described as “arrogant” and “smug”, Bishop was seen as “intelligent”, “smart” and “strong”.
The research mirrored a Roy Morgan poll last year, which showed Bishop overtaking Turnbull as preferred Coalition leader by 34 per cent to 25 per cent.
But purportedly, some in the Liberal Party aren’t convinced that Bishop’s voter appeal is enough to see her gain the top job. One source, as cited by the Daily Telegraph, said the party was too “haunted” by the devastating Rudd-Gillard switchover to ever back Bishop publicly.
And, quite possibly, Bishop faces similar concerns herself. In 2016, she all-but ruled out ever challenging Turnbull for the Prime ministership saying she didn’t “envisage” herself as leader.
“I’ve been deputy to a number of leaders and I think I play a positive role in that regard and most certainly my colleagues appreciate me being the deputy of the party” she said.
To some of us, Bishop’s message may well have read: ‘I do not aspire to lead. I am loyal. I am not Julia Gillard.’ Indeed, emphatic allegiance to Turnbull has always been required of Bishop, more markedly than any other Liberal frontbencher.
Being one of so few women in the Liberal Party can ultimately carry a heavy price tag. Bishop will continue to be seen as popular—as smart, and strong and intelligent, but it’s unlikely she would ever spill the leadership. Lest she be stuck with the poison chalice that so quickly befell Julia Gillard.
The only apparent way for Bishop to take the leadership is if Turnbull willingly hands it over. If he proves that he is more reflective than Abbott, that he is accepting of voter sentiment, he may just concede defeat before the next election.
Paradoxically, Turnbull’s most impressive act of leadership could be just to give Australia a fresh, new start.