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Monday, 11 April 2016

The government is looking vulnerable all of a sudden

It's been about a week since things started looking very shaky for the government. In my eyes it started last Monday night when Q and A host Tony Jones interrupted the program to announce that the ALP had overtaken the Coalition in a Newspoll opnion poll by a 2PP margin of 51 to 49. There was a brief silence in the Adelaide auditorium as the numbers sank in with the audience.

Since then things have gone slightly awry. Indicative of the new purchase the ALP has with the electorate is the way their suggestion for a royal commission on banks has hung around. The idea won't die, even though Turnbull and his Liberal frontbenchers keep saying that ASIC can do the same job as a royal commission and anyway has the same powers as a royal commission. The Panama Papers story - which came out last week, again on Monday, on 4 Corners - has made such a big impression on the imaginations of voters. People just cannot seem to forget those notions of billions of dollars of taxable income being sequestered in financial havens, all the while they themselves are paying PAYG each week or each quarter as they are meant to do.

Turnbull has looked a bit shaky also on the issue of tax reform, which most recently came down to a decision by the states as to whether they would be allowed to raise part of income tax themselves. Turnbull floated the idea, it was rejected resoundingly by the states, and the idea disappeared. That was the week before last. Christopher Pyne, the industry minister, summed up the way the issue had been handled when he said from that Q and A panel - which he participated in on Monday night - that it had been a bit of a mess. Not that I personally fault Turnbull on this account. I felt it was handled in a reasonable way. But that wasn't the look for the majority of the public. For them, it looked bad.

Then we had the case of the helicopter crisis that had engulfed Abbott's government reemerging when it came out that Barnaby Joyce - the deputy leader of the Coalition - had used a helicopter for a short flight that could have been covered in a 45-minute drive.

Each of these things in themselves is hardly terminal but in aggregate they add up to a weakened government that cannot seem to get its issues through to the electorate, hence the stubborn way the ALP's royal commission idea has hung around like a bad smell. Liberal MPs must be hoping that the media will forget about Bill Shorten's idea as soon as possible. As long as the idea remains talked about, the government won't have and clear air for exposing its own ideas. And that will be very bad for them. It's less than three months until the election.

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