Tony Abbott in Sydney.

Worrying signs: A fall in consumer confidence would be a concern for the Tony Abbott government. Photo: James Brickwood

Yes, the Coalition’s fall in the opinion polls has become an economic problem. The factors behind it are taking the shine off consumer confidence at a time when increased consumption and stronger business confidence are required to minimise pain in a transitioning economy.

The bloom coming off the change of government, the very sudden end of the Abbott honeymoon, plays a key part in today’s five per cent fall in the Westpac/Melbourne Institute consumer sentiment index. Westpac chief economist Bill Evans steers clear of the “voter intentions” demographic breakdown in the survey, but cites post-election fade as a factor.

As the accompanying graph shows, Labor voters are taking the change hard and feeling it in their view of the economic outlook, dipping below the 100 break-even point between pessimism and optimism for the first time in nearly five-and-a-half years. The big surge in coalition voters’ confidence going into the election appears to have run its course, no longer making up for the Labor trend.

Graphic: Consumer sentiment by voting intention

Graphic: Consumer sentiment by voting intention

If there weren’t very many Labor voters, that wouldn’t matter much, but their numbers are on the rise again. The Newspoll and Fairfax-Nielsen polls both have Labor ahead of the coalition 52-48, but Labor lags on primary votes 38-40 on the latest count.

The coalitions’ rhetoric and actions over its first couple of months haven’t been the stuff of confidence building. It seems no-one buys the idea that ending the carbon tax will solve all the nation’s problems – and if they did, it’s not happening until the new Senate sets up shop.

The language and demeanour of Treasurer Hockey remains too often that of a shadow treasurer. Having scared the kiddies over the past four years with the Great Big Gross Debt bogeyman, he’s effectively still all doom-and-gloom about said debt blowing out towards half a trillion dollars, never mind the apparent urgency of shoring up the Reserve Bank with $8.8 billion.

Whatever the rational merit of disowning the car industry, the way it’s being pushed this week is hardly confidence building. There’s a touch of hairy-chestedness about “demanding” Holden make a decision even before the Productivity Commission has finished its hearing, let along filed its report. The figures being bandied about by the industry and its lobbyists are enough to worry people, especially the idea that Holden closing will take a much broader slice of overall Australian manufacturing with it.

(As an irrelevant aside, the fate of Holden is likely to be decided by a woman. Mary Barra takes over as the CEO of General Motors next month. She comes to that job from being global head of GM’s product development – which means she knows what Holden is capable of, potentially a good thing if Holden’s future is to be in design and development. )

So it’s time to leave behind the habits of opposition – they’re not working in government. The effect of constantly telling everyone what a bad job Labor did is to suggest the nation remains in a deep economic mess. The dire threats of what-Daddy’s-going-to-do-with-you-when-he-gets-home (the Commission of Audit) does nothing for confidence, nor does the Gonski flippity-flopping or headlines about cutting childcare workers’ pay. The ceaseless combativeness and talking down of the economy isn’t working with the voters and that, in turn, is not working for our economic prospects.

As an aside, I meant to include in yesterday’s column the concluding paragraph of the Economist’s leader recommending greater public investment at this time (when it’s at its lowest point in Australia for at least three-quarters of a century):

“Public investment is not a panacea: Japan’s government paved over half the country in failed bids to thwart stagnation with stimulus. But what better time to invest in urgently needed infrastructure than when the cost of borrowing is at record lows? Greater public investment will boost economic potential in the long term and bolster spending in the short term. It should be at the top of today’s bubble-prevention arsenal.”

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor. Twitter @michaelpascoe01