Another fearless prediction

As longterm readers know, my record on political and other predictions is mixed, not as bad as some have made out, but by no means uniformly accurate. Still, I’m going to venture my most fearless prediction in some time.

Bill Shorten will be Prime Minister after the next election.

Like most Australian voters, I have no great enthusiasm for Shorten. But, I’ve come to the view that Turnbull is, as the Fin remarked recently, “all hat and no cattle”, and the same can be said of most of his ministry. In particular, Scott Morrison is the most striking instance of the Peter Principle I’ve seen in some time. Brutally effective as Immigration Minister, he handled the Social Services portfolio quite deftly, but has floundered as Treasurer.

Turning from personality to policy, Labor certainly deserves a win. They have stuck to their guns on issues like carbon pricing, and advanced serious and credible policies on tax and public expenditure, something that hasn’t been attempted since John Hewson’s Fightback! disaster in 1993.

By contrast, the Turnbull government is an enigma. Will it go to the election with the policies Turnbull inherited from Abbott? Or will be asked to “let Malcolm be Malcolm”? Or will we see a continuation of the studied ambiguity of the last five months? No one seems to know.

For the moment, Turnbull’s popularity looks like the trump card. The experience of his last stint as leader suggests that this is a fairly weak reed.

The best hope for the government is that the post-Turnbull surge was not so much driven by support for Turnbull as by an underlying LNP majority, submerged by Abbott’s absurdities.

60 thoughts on “Another fearless prediction

  1. I think you are wrong on Shorten winning, but the peter principle analysis is astute.

    Abbott won despite his deep unpopularity as opposition leader because the Labor government was deeply unpopular and lacking in credibility – it was in chaos.

    A deeply unpopular opposition leader rarely defeats a popular prime minister.

  2. The only coherent thing coming from the LNP is that they are not the ALP and everything is the ALP’s fault. The war on the poor is something that occasionally leaks out with them trying to obfuscate it.

  3. I think the default is to give a first term government a second go. You have to demonstrate that the government is actually illegitimate to win. So Newman was intentionally screwing people over and pissed people off and got kicked out for that reason. Is Turnbull going to do that?

  4. JIM- Turnbull’s popularity is flaking off as we speak. The last two weeks he’s started to look like a buffoon (Channel Ten has slayed him twice in two days). Their ain’t no deep well of trust he can build on. The electorate were always going to give him one chance and one only. Abbott torched all the others. And now we’re told we’ll get nothing on tax reform until the May budget, while Labor romps around with its own policies in the field.
    Turnbull’s a dilettante PM. He’s ticked that box on his bucket list and has no idea what to do next.

  5. Lt Fred – This is the most incompetent government in my lifetime. Voters expected Turnbull to improve it. He’s done nothing. They will not get all sentimental and give him another go. They will boot him out.

  6. It’s a bold call – but one that is starting to look sensible. Turnbull could remain popular and still lose the election. It has happened before the electorate can separate a leader they like personally from a government that is incompetent.
    I think there are striking parallels between Turnbull and Rudd. Both were broadly popular with the public, but internally unpopular with the unattractive but powerful factions within their own parties – and were brought in as acts of desperation to turn around the fortunes of their parties. Both made their politics known and both failed to get much of substance done and saw their popularity evaporate as a result. The two major parties have deep internal problems that can’t be masked by popular leaders.

  7. Tone’s government certainly was, and people realised it. Turnbull’s stuff ups – eg, the NBN – are hidden.

  8. John – Whether you are right or wrong, one thing is for certain, your prediction will not be as bad as Elizabeth Farrelly’s prediction that St Malcolm will reign for longer than Menzies. Now that is sticking your neck out.

  9. An example of Morrison’s contempt for the poor and those on Welfare from his own lips:

    However, the Treasurer disagrees. While he might once have been keen on an indirect tax rise “we have got so many people on welfare in this country these days that once you have compensated all of them then there was not enough money left over to deliver genuine tax cuts”.

    ‘So many people on welfare’ !?! Yes it’s nirvana living below the poverty line. So much so that it’s a growth industry apparently.

    And that’s what he’s prepared to say publicly!

  10. I’m having two problems with this prediction. The first is that, not having announced their policy, the Libs may try and pick the eyes out of Labor policies in May and go to a post budget election. Shorten had to announce now to prove he had some substance, was something more than an Abbott-hater. In my view, those of the population who listen to policies don’t mind if a party waits until the last moment to unveil them.

    The second is that I think it ignores Shorten’s deep unpopularity. He seems to have no real traction and I can’t see him swinging the undecided voters. In fact, I think he could lose seats to the Greens who don’t get picked up in two-party preferred surveys, and who the Labor Party have made a target, rather than a partner.

    I do agree that if Labor wins, it’ll be under Shorten – it’s too late to knife him know without “Labor Instability!” headlines all over the country. But Shorten’s major problem is Shorten. My counter-prediction is that he’ll earn credit for doing a good job, but that someone else will be leading Labor this time next year.

    On past predictions, I wonder if Ian MacFarlane would have preferred an alternate history where you had been right, a Federal LNP had emerged and his disastrous decisions could not have occurred. Can’t see it happening, because although the highest a Nat can aspire to is Deputy (or Acting) PM, that’s a bit higher than they might get compared to facing off the entire Coalition for the position.

  11. Tanner – Shorten isn’t “deeply unpopular”. He’s just another opposition leader having trouble getting traction (although he’s really starting to get it now). Further, as Malcolm’s standing falls, Shorten’s will rise. Basic political gravity. Shorten has, in the last year, in parliament, given the three best stump speeches I have heard. He is superb on his feet when given time and space. He’ll get that in an election campaign.

  12. Its Morrison that’s “all hat and no cattle”. He is a born used car salesman or real estate agent – the sort who never deliberately lies because he is quite incapable of distinguishing truth from fiction.

    Turnbull is playing ultracautious – he’s ahead and the only thing that could really threaten that is a major blowup with the right of his own party. So he’s throwing them plenty of symbolic bones, without actually giving them much real meat.

    Shorten is, I know from his spell in government, a really good administrator. But his media persona and, worse, his charm and charisma face-to-face are really lacking. And unfortunately that really matters in an election campaign. Also he he needs to sack his speechwriter – his speeches are an ordeal to sit through.

  13. Surprised with Turnbull’s negative gearing panic attack. Suggests that something might be with going on with their own polling.. Labor looking financially credible?

    Labor could spring a surprise and flatfoot the LNP by putting up a female leader like Catherine King. A female leader may deflate Turnbull’s appeal. A couple of % may be enough to get back into gov’t

  14. I will side with you, Prof John. There is an even chance that the Labor strategists will accumulate some signature shortcomings of the Turnbull administration and make issues of them during the campaign. It wouldn’t be hard to write the campaign script: “They’ll privatise Medicare” and it doesn’t matter how much the Coalition denies it or points out that they were only outsourcing delivery, the Labor Party can play on the electorate’s reflexive distrust of privatising government services.

    Also, I think some senior Labor people would like to make more of Turnbull’s total botch of the NBN. That is not something he can blame on any other minister or Tony Abbott: he owns the disaster. If Labor don’t make an issue of that they deserve to lose.

  15. I’m siding with the professor. Turnbull doesn’t appear to have good political judgment. Here’s John Key offering to settle refugee kids in New Zealand. It’s a quick and painless way to defuse a poisonous situation, and look halfway decent as well… but instead there’s this blather about looking for third countries to settle refugees. At least Howard could see the short term fixes when they came along; Turnbull appears oblivious.

  16. The people’s struggle never ends and it is always betrayed by the people’s representatives.

  17. Labor could win on the NBN alone. There is enormous anger out there on this. Add in their CGT changes and neg gearing overhaul and they’re looking like functional adults. If they add in no GST rise, a deemed tax rate on corporate income, restore funding to CSIRO on a pure research basis, same-sex marriage, fully fund gonski & the national disability schemes without leaving scamming loopholes, and kill the TPP, I would build them a statue and a triumphal arch!

    A royal commission in the criminal enterprise called the Liberal party would be a cherry on top.

  18. I can’t see the LNP can possibly take any policy to the election and be believed. Their outright lies before the last election about Gonski, the mysterious disappearing budget emergency, the return to surplus in the first year etc. The NBN should surely be a killer for Turnbull – the blowout from the pre-election $23b to the now $56b and counting is all down to him. Any credibility the LNP may have had as “good managers” of the economy is surely shot. His shrill comments about Labor’s negative gearing policy ranks with Abbott’s Whyalla will disappear because of the carbon tax for sheer stupidity.

  19. Unless Turnbull pulls a few rabbits out of the hat, the ALP are looking solid; whether that translates into a win or not, I don’t know.

    The previous two ALP terms demonstrated two significant problems: internal ructions while in power, ructions that one faction made good on; and, a couple of flawed policies, along with several disastrously poor attempts at defending both good policies and flawed ones. The good policies deserved credit that the media + Abbott managed to quash; the flawed policies should have been carted ’round the back of the shed and shone the business end of a shotgun, or at least modified into something better. Nothing kills a government popularity like defending the indefensible, and doing so long after everybody has wised up.

    Tony Abbott should not have been able to derail the ETS/CPRS mechanism, but he did an effective job from opposition of just that. The Abbottians don’t have time for Queensbury’s Rules or other niceties of civilised society. He shouldn’t have been able to win an argument about people dying during the home insulation scheme, it should never have come to that. Expert advice was seemingly ignored on several aspects of the execution of the scheme, and of safety aspects of the type of insulation permitted for use. I am still stunned that aluminium backed insulation and staple guns and house wiring and confined space and blazing hot summer days could be in the one sentence, without it triggering a few big red warning signs, up there in great big neon letters.

    So, the upshot is I don’t know if the ALP can squeeze the votes necessary to beat the LNP; should they get in though, they need to run a tighter ship on their policy formation and implementation, especially the roll-out phase where bad things can always happen. I don’t discount the chance that Abbott will make a grab for power again, around the point where PM Malcolm Turnbull is ready to call the election. After all, the policies are still the Abbott ones.

  20. I also think Labor has a better chance of winning than the polls suggest. Victoria and Queensland did it. The manipulation of the Murdoch press is lost on younger voters, and on line forums like this help spread reality. Rudd was also wildly popular, but both have feet of clay. Malcolm trashing Labor’s new policy on negative gearing, refusing NZ offer to take these refugees, tardiness in dealing with dodgy ministers, all point to poor political judgdment. If Newscorp were to report on this govt as sensationally as they do with Labor, Malcolm would be facing annhialation (spell?) except of course from the rusted on old “conservative” diehards who’ve lost their critical thinking faculties. Bill Shorten may not be the glamour puss, but he leads a UNITED hard working team. Malcolm and Lucy would have made great incumbents as Governor General. Looking good, popular and no decisions required. (Sorry Lucy)

  21. @Jaquix

    I think Malcolm had his eyes on that job too – first President of Australia.

    If Shorten doesn’t appear to have what it takes, I wonder if Labor will do to this Malcolm what they did to Fraser in the “Drover’s Dog” election with Hawke – I can see Plibersek with family friendly policies (i.e. neg gearing, Gonski, Medibank) being a very attractive proposition (sorry Albo).

  22. @derrida derider “Turnbull is playing ultra cautious ..”

    You could have fooled me. From where I am sitting it very much looks like Turnbull is just a sockpuppet of the Abbott bandwagon. They have pulled him down once and will do so again, they have basically neutered him.

    Like Abbott, Turnbull has sold his soul to become a Prime Minister. The very same corporate and quasi religious forces, which have rendered the US Republican party into the charade it presently manifest, store his cojones in a jar of formalin.

  23. @Jaquix
    All good and valid points. And I agree the word is spreading that Malcolm is a hollow man of platitudes. But John’s prediction leaves out some complications which make the outcome unclear.

    Shorten feels like the Arthur Callwell of our times. He’s no fool, but he doesnt feel yet to be offering alternatives to a series of mounting conundrums at home and abroad….which is also Malcom’s failing as well. I know gut feelings can be misleading but I have trusted mine since Kevin 07 revealed himself as no visionary but rather an egotist with his ‘MY government’ and the people elected ‘ME’ stuff and the orchestration of Labor Party conference as a Kevin celebration fest.

    Separately does Labor really want to win this election given the economy is increasingly based on an unsustainable housing bubble and when it burst they will bear the brunt of the blame game? I wouldnt want to predict when ‘the next recession’ will occur but the next 3 years is a fair (90%+?) bet and probably able to get better odds that John’s prediction. Perhaps this explains Garry Gray’s mutterings from left field.

    If Labor had seriously alternative policies especially how to sort an economic system as well as inspire/drive its grass roots campaigners I might think differently. But the evidence for the latter seems slim and Labor still seems wedded to a stale economic system which has failed the OECD world for the past 8 years at least in the real economy as against that of stock bond and land speculation. It just doesnt feel yet that Labor’s heart is in it.

    In a nutshell the problem is the similar to the US. Many people are sick of reactionary philosophy of the Turnbull/the Right. But they are also tired of being told by elites how to live their lives and Labor are caught up in that increasing distrust. That the latter hierarchical approach may offer good policies as well as bad is beside the point. Its the patronising approach to power manifested by top down management of power which too often has devolved into cant without substance which is on the nose and unfortunately Labor offers no alterantive. An interesting example of this style/attitude/method currently in NSW is council amalgamations albeit a coalition policy. The approach here is “we’ll listen to the public and then we’ll ignore them and do exactly what we want”.

    The problem is then who to vote for when the feeling is ‘a plague on both your houses’.

    So as with Hillary they arent to impressed with the establishment alternative. But our system does not allow a Bernie to have a fighting chance and in any case as with Corbyn in the UK there is still the problem of electability and whether alternative policies to the mainstream are yet coherent.

    So the jury is still out either way.

  24. @Peter Murphy
    I agree with you Peter Murphy. I wouldn’t be surprised if public opinion turns on the resettlement of refugees before the election and if so, Coalition has nowhere to go. It is a brave government to ignore the collective views of the medical profession and the churches.

  25. @Newtownian
    Yes, Newtonian, both major parties have followed an elitist policy mindset that the public resents. The difference is that within the ALP, there are a few Bernies and Jeremys nipping at the heels of the Right-nominated leader.

    The Party knows that if they push forward a Bernie or Jeremy, the Murdoch press would stoke up a ruthless campaign that the Party probably couldn’t withstand. The Right is also better at manipulating the numbers so it keeps on winning internal votes, but the social democrats are able to moderate policy and sometimes get their own agenda up.

  26. The interesting bit is how Turnbull has attacked the negative gearing proposal. Most stuff the ALP has served up has been water off a ducks back, but Turnbull seems genuinely worried now. He’s even given Labor a slogan, “Changing negative gearing will make housing more affordable, and that is a good thing!”. It seems fairly certain that house prices will fall anyway, and prolonging the bubble just make things worse.

    Of course there is much self righteous anger among those seeking to get ahead through real estate. These people will not give in quietly, and they will be backed to the hilt by Jerry Hall’s husband (even though he hates Malcolm). Tough job for the ALP. Maybe they should try selling it by pointing out that any sacrifice you make as an individual is for the greater good.

  27. Jaquiz @20:

    The manipulation of the Murdoch press is lost on younger voters

    If you have seen a copy of the Brisbane Courier-Mail over the past year and a bit, you would agree that calling it “manipulation” is a bit like calling the impact of a wrecking ball on the components of a Swiss watch “manipulation”. In last years Queensland State election, the comically crude partisanship of the Mediocre Male may well have been decisive in pissing off the sort of voters who decide the outcomes of elections.

  28. @derrida derider

    rasp of An interesting contribution DD, especially about Bill Shorten’s administrative skills. But the important question, at least for me, is: what can you authoritatively tell us about Turnbull’s administrative skills. From where I stand, he’s a dead loss, and his complete mismanagement of the NBN testifies strongly to that.

    More to the point, maybe, is that none of the leaders on either side appear to actually have any grasp of politics. Howard, before he went completely fruitcake and lost his seat, did seem to have some grasp of politics – probably because he’d had long and bitter experience as a teacher.

    But Shorten and Turnbull: how much do they really understand politics ? Or really, any of the current crew on any of the parties ?

  29. @bjb
    Personally I think Tanya is a very worthy, decent and hard working politician, but a bit boring – better as an able deputy to someone. Sorry Tanya!

  30. @John Brookes

    Well John, I’m completely willing to halve the value of my house/land (gee, halving my rates !) just as soon as everybody else does too.

    But I think if we did, we might be doing a massive bailout of the banks. Because the banks wouldn’t halve the value of all those mortgages, would they ? So many “underperforming loans”.

  31. Turnbull has lost his mojo; his burning ambition was to be PM and now that has been achieved that lofty state theres nothing left to do. His memoirs perhaps.

  32. If there is one thing that the several changes of prime minister—during their terms—has demonstrated, it is that it creates the very real risk for the usurper that they are either bound by promises made to the incumbent’s power base in order to make them switch allegiance, or they are stuck with the problem of defining themselves and suitably justifying why the previous prime minister had to go, and yet not damaging the party’s standing in the process; of course, the usurper may well face both problems.

    Shortly after knocking off Rudd, Julia Gillard was in real trouble trying to explain how she was a better prime minister than the one the electorate clearly wanted, i.e. Rudd; she may well have had a real case to support her, but the public didn’t see the political issues or difficulties that other politicians had in dealing with Rudd, so the public weren’t too impressed with the knocking off of Rudd. By then, Rudd’s popularity had taken a hit, thanks to his canning/deferment of the ETS/CPRS issue, which we should remember was in turn due to the hatchet job of Abbott and his backers (including the Andrew Robb/Nick Minchin black assassins) in knocking off Turnbull and then ignoring any agreement he had come to with the ALP. Remember that Abbott doesn’t play by the rules unless it suits him to do so.

    The upshot is Malcolm Turnbull has an exposed tummy for similar reasons to why Gillard had trouble, and with the sly jackals in his party, that’s a bad way to be; the public could in this case see how flagrantly bad the PM Tony Abbott was, so ironically the public are a bit more forgiving for Turnbull knocking off the sitting PM, whereas his party isn’t so rapt about it. If Abbott has enough soothing noises whispered into his ear, perhaps he’ll be so bold as to challenge Turnbull once again.

    So, an opportunity is there for the ALP to take advantage of. If Shorten can somehow overcome his hot-and-cold black stump performances and deliver the best he can be, I’d say he has a realistic chance. If he keeps up the patchy performance of the zingers and bland delivery, then I’d say he has a much lower chance of taking the ALP to a successful election.

  33. Going on prior form the “Press Gallery” are fully capable of inflating the capabilities of their preferred candidate and incapable of noticing or acknowledging their own biases; my prediction is that right up till the last night we’ll be seeing selected excepts that make Shorten look inept.

  34. Little off-topic but I hope you will excuse it JQ. You said once that you thought Turnbull would make a better PM than Gillard (back in the hating Julia days). What do you think now?

  35. Lets also not forget the lack of innovation in the Fed gov’t innovation policy.

    Turnbull/Pyne came out with a $1.9B innovation policy, subsequently over-shadowed by a huge $19B Singaporean innovation initiative. And most of the Turnbull/Pyne $1.9B was just a coat of paint on current policies – there wasn’t any real innovation reform proposed.

    We still have no radical policy innovations like the Hawke/Keating type structural reforms put forward..

  36. @John Quiggin

    Yair, you do have a bit of a problem getting people right, don’t you.

    You even thought Peter Hartcher was (is ?) a good journalist. Do you still think that ?

  37. One of the things that strikes me about your comment is the part where you write ‘Labor certainly deserves a win’.

    When I think about elections, I think about the effect different results might have on the people of the country; whether an election result might make the world a better place for people or a worse one. To use as a specific example the first election I have any personal recollection of, the important thing about the 1972 Australian federal election was what a Labor win meant for the inhabitants of Australia, or what a Coalition win might have meant for the inhabitants of Australia. If you want to talk about deserts, why not talk about what the country deserves? isn’t that far more important than anything the parties might deserve, whether as reward or as punishment?

    Talking about what the parties deserve (wins or losses) makes it seem as if elections are like sporting or beauty contests, competition where the voters act as a judging panel, awarding the equivalents of blue ribbons and wooden spoons. Elections are more important than that.

  38. If I had to vote for either Abbott, Turnbull or Shorten and the criteria was ‘vote for the decent human being’ then it’d be a no-brainer. Only Shorten would qualify. I think there is too much emphasis on a person’s suitability or electability that ignores the basic measure of a person.

  39. I think it might be a hung parliament (ALP 70-72 LNP) with around 8 independents / Xenophon / Greens having the balance of power and quite possibly the ALP forming Government.

  40. Impressive JQ. How did you know that Turnbull would go from bad to worse after your prediction? And all in a week.

  41. JQ has been taking some criticism for some alleged poor political predictions. He hasn’t banned anyone in this thread… yet. It takes a big person, in the forbearance sense, to run, even by default, a venue for criticism of himself. I would proffer this, probably gratuitous, advice. A lesser focus on personality politics and a greater focus on economics, society and democracy might be more illuminating? Contention might not be reduced but at least we might be contending over questions of real import… maybe? Just a thought.

  42. I told a friend of mine who was very positive about Turnbull when he became PM to remember that deep down he is a Tory – he is very wealthy, a winner in the growing inequality between rich and poor. His instincts are to support capital. Any proposal to reduce inequality through reducing the wealth of the 1% will be strongly resisted by him. Its important to see people for who they are. And his apparent social progressiveness seems to be shrinking before our eyes.

  43. The statistical pattern in Australia history is that governments are re-elected more often than not. That’s true if you consider only Commonwealth elections and also true if you consider Commonwealth and State/Territory elections together. So anybody making book on an Australian election who was being guided by historical patterns would have to start by giving the incumbent government an edge.

    The statistical pattern also shows first-term governments favoured for re-election slightly more than others. So anybody making book on historical patterns would have to give a first-term government a slightly greater edge.

    The Australian pattern seems worth mentioning because it’s not a universal one (you don’t find the same pattern in the historical statistics for the UK or for France, for example).

    Although first-term governments are historically favoured for re-election, defeats are not rare. I count four examples in Federal elections. Admittedly the most recent of those was in 1931; but I count five examples in various States in the last forty years (and still more before that).

    Another Australian historical pattern is that the opinion polls just before an election are generally extremely good predictors of the actual result. But the pattern is also that opinion polls move around a good deal over time, so polls now don’t have the same value as predictions of the eventual result.

    It’s not a definite historical pattern, but a plausible deduction from the evidence, that a change of leader for a political party can have a short-term effect on opinion polls and can also have a long-term effect. So what we’re seeing now looks very much as if a short-term boost in the polls for the Coalition resulting from the change from Abbott to Turnbull is dissipating, and we’re about to find out what long-term effect it’s had, if any.

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