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- Analysis: Malcolm Turnbull needs to act after being given a wilted rose
A summer marred by ministerial crises and the prospect of a higher GST has taken the shine off the Turnbull government, sending the Coalition's share of the vote below that achieved by Tony Abbott at the 2013 election.
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Federal Labor is looking competitive again as Malcolm Turnbull's electoral honeymoon shows signs of waning. Mark Kenny explains why.
A four point two-party preferred slump to 52-48 still has the government winning but is set to dispel any lingering early election barracking from within the government. Just one in five voters (22 per cent) would look favourably on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull running to the polls before his full term is served. Mr Turnbull has told his party to be on guard for a snap poll should key legislation be blocked in the Senate.
Mr Turnbull's personal support remains high, with voters decisively preferring the incumbent PM to the alternative Bill Shorten by more than three to one at 64 (down 5 percentage points) to 19.
But the Coalition's overall vote has taken a hammering with both primary and two-party-preferred support dropping 4 percentage points since the last poll, while Labor's primary and two-party support has increased by 3 and 4 percentage points respectively.
The Coalition's first preference support sits at 44 per cent – down 4 points since November – whereas Labor's is up three points over that period to a still paltry 32 per cent.
Support for the Greens is high at 15 per cent – up 2 points – while support for the once popular Palmer United Party languishes at just 1 per cent.
The Coalition secured 53.5 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote in September 2013.
The nationwide Fairfax-Ipsos poll of 1403 respondents was taken over February 11 to 13 – just before Mr Turnbull was forced to reshuffle his frontbench following the political crisis which ended the career of Human Services minister Stuart Robert for breaching ministerial standards.
Parliament last week had been dominated by the controversy surrounding Mr Robert's 2014 private-public trip to China, in which he had accompanied a friend and prominent Liberal Party donor, Paul Marks, to a contract signing ceremony. The visit was supposedly undertaken as a private citizen, despite his being feted by the Chinese government, which he subsequently met.
Mr Turnbull will on Monday attempt to put the affair behind him with a three-day electorate blitz across Queensland ahead of the swearing-in of the new-look ministry in Canberra on Thursday.
Two-party support, based on preference flows from the 2013 election, is down four points since the previous Fairfax-Ipsos November survey, and 1.5 per cent lower than the overall share of the vote secured by Mr Abbott when he led the Coalition to power. It had been 56-44 in November.
Tellingly, Mr Turnbull's personal approval rating – the percentage of voters pleased by his performance minus the percentage of voters displeased – has dropped a precipitous 15 points since November, while Mr Shorten's has improved, albeit slightly, by 3 points.
Mr Turnbull's approval rating of 62 minus 24 disapproving gives him a net rating of 38. He had been at 53 in November, before losing several ministers to scandal or retirement over summer, and embarking on an open-ended tax reform discussion which had a 15 per cent GST at its heart.
Mr Shorten's corresponding numbers are 30 (approval) minus 55 per cent (disapproval) for a net rating of minus 25 – still poor but improving.
The findings go a long way towards explaining why Mr Turnbull decided to kill off the bigger GST option just over a week ago amid growing backbench unease driven by a hostile voter reaction to the prospect of higher prices.
Even future tax cuts failed to sway most voters. Asked if they would support an increase in the GST if it were accompanied by other tax cuts and by compensation for households earning less than $100,000 per annum, just over a third of voters said they would. That is a drop of 15 per cent in the period since November.
Surveyed at that time, support for a higher GST exceeded opposition to it at 52-41. Now it sits at 37-57. Among Coalition supporters, there is still majority support (51-43) for the prospect of using the GST to collect more tax through consumption in order to lower taxes elsewhere - most likely in lower income tax rates, and perhaps a drop in the company tax rate.
Treasury modelling, however, has found the economic growth benefits of income tax cuts paid for by a higher GST were likely to be extremely small, causing Mr Turnbull to conclude the economic gains would be outweighed by the political pain.
An investigation by the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson, last week found Mr Robert's activities had been "inconsistent" with the ministerial code, although it was Mr Robert's unknown holding as a shareholder in one of Mr Marks' companies that saw Mr Turnbull act to remove the minister. It followed the shock resignation over Christmas of former cities minister Jamie Briggs over another incident in China, and the standing aside of former special minister of state, Mal Brough.
Mr Brough formally withdrew from considerations on Saturday ahead of the reshuffle announcement, citing an ongoing Australian Federal Police investigation into his involvement in the Slipper-Ashby affair.