Why Turnbull can beat Shorten, then lose his party’s soul

Why Turnbull can beat Shorten, then lose his party’s soul, by Ross Fitzgerald.

Call it the historian’s instinct but, based on more than 40 years’ professional interest in Australian elections, I am starting to think that the government is likelier than not to be returned, especially if Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister is pitted against Bill Shorten as Opposition Leader.

Sure, the government has lost 33 Newspolls in a row to Labor, has a majority of just one seat, has suffered an unfavourable redistribution in Victoria and will be out-spent and possibly out-campaigned by Labor, the Greens, GetUp! and the unions. Sure, it has been a divided, do-little government whose leader is loathed by many conservatively inclined Liberals as Labor-lite. But the one person whose negative net approval ratings have been consistently worse than Turnbull’s is Shorten, and every time the government echoes Labor policy on school funding, the banking royal commission or climate change, Shorten-led Labor promptly moves further to the left. It’s an utterly dispiriting choice between a poor government and an even worse opposition but — if it has to be made — voters will likely choose the lesser evil.

At least in their own polling, the Liberals and the Nationals are starting to pick up a sense that, for all its faults, the Coalition government represents stability while Labor, under Shorten, means another lurch into the unknown with thuggish union leaders calling the shots. Throughout the electorate there’s no great confidence in either party, but at least Turnbull has become the devil you know. Turnbull is disliked, often heartily, but Shorten is deeply feared because of what comes in his baggage. …

During the past two years, Turnbull’s move to the left has infuriated much of the Liberal Party’s base, temporarily revived One Nation’s fortunes and spawned Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives. But it hasn’t really hurt the government’s electoral prospects because Shorten, unlike the last successful Labor opposition leaders, Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd, has tacked further to the left rather than back to the centre. Faced with a government that’s centre-left or an opposition that would be the worst Labor government in history, what are conservative voters to do but at least give Turnbull their preferences?