X MARKS A DARK SPOT FOR PM

Sunday Herald Sun - - News - PETA CREDLIN

NICK Xenophon’s shock de­ci­sion on Fri­day to quit Canberra and run in the up­com­ing South Aus­tralian state elec­tion is a much big­ger po­lit­i­cal story than some might think. With­out a Lib­eral loy­al­ist lead­ing the Lib­eral Party, we’ve got a sit­u­a­tion on the con­ser­va­tive side of pol­i­tics where the tra­di­tional sup­porter base is up for grabs. It’s also a risk for an un­der­per­form­ing La­bor. This mir­rors ex­am­ples over­seas where main­stream par­ties are be­ing chal­lenged, in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally, by pop­ulist con­tenders on the Left, Right and in the cen­tre. Gal­vanis­ing sup­port by their ar­tic­u­la­tion of griev­ance, play­ers like Xenophon and Pauline Han­son’s One Nation, are a thorn in the side of the two ma­jor par­ties but par­tic­u­larly for the Prime Min­is­ter, with his wrong­headed be­lief the Lib­eral base have nowhere else to go. They do, and as a 36 per cent pri­mary in Mal­colm Turn­bull’s lat­est Newspoll proves, they’re go­ing.

On the con­ser­va­tive side, his an­tag­o­nism of the base has meant a growing list of en­trants are vy­ing for the vote of dis­en­chanted Lib­er­als. Just as Cory Bernardi’s new Aus­tralian Con­ser­va­tives party is a risk in SA and along the east­ern se­aboard, Xenophon’s de­ci­sion to stand for the state seat of Hart­ley, and field a wider team of can­di­dates, is a game-changer. With the twin hor­rors of a statewide power black­out and stag­nant eco­nomic out­look, SA vot­ers should be lin­ing up with base­ball bats to oust Pre­mier Jay Weather­ill and his tired 17-yearold La­bor gov­ern­ment; only they’re not. A re­cent Galaxy poll pub­lished in June had the two ma­jor par­ties neck and neck at 50-50 two-party pre­ferred. On pri­mary vote, Xenophon was at 21 per cent and re­ports of polling that has him mid-20s statewide and over 30 per cent in some elec­torates, mean­ing he’ll likely pick up seats. In­stead of bad La­bor gov­ern­ment pro­duc­ing a Lib­eral land­slide, it looks as though it will in­stead send vot­ers to Xenophon and other in­de­pen­dents. If he gets an an­tic­i­pated foothold in state par­lia­ment, it will bol­ster his chances at the fed­eral elec­tion be­cause in­cum­bency, used well, is a boost in other con­tests. De­spite $50 bil­lion spent on sub­marines to save his skin, Christo­pher Pyne is fac­ing ex­tinc­tion when SA loses a yet un­de­cided fed­eral seat due to pop­u­la­tion de­cline. Xenophon’s de­par­ture as Se­nate deal-maker will also hurt the Coali­tion. While he says he’ll con­tinue to play a sig­nif­i­cant part in all ma­jor ne­go­ti­a­tions, in re­al­ity that’s al­most im­pos­si­ble once his state cam­paign ramps up. That’s a prob­lem for Turn­bull, who has re­lied on his sup­port, it makes Han­son the ex­pected ben­e­fi­ciary of this power shift, and it makes leg­is­la­tion more un­cer­tain.

With a Queens­land elec­tion due any mo­ment, One Nation will be watched very closely. Some polls list Han­son sup­port in the north at well into the mid-20s and, while lower in Bris­bane and south­east Queens­land, this makes it an un­pre­dictable race. A wily op­er­a­tor and un­der­es­ti­mated by many, Han­son has more party in­fra­struc­ture than pre­vi­ously and if she ends up hold­ing the bal­ance of power, it won’t just be chaos in the Queens­land par­lia­ment, it will be panic in the na­tional one.

It’s of­ten said but al­ways true; you can’t gov­ern in Canberra un­less you win in Queens­land and that’s Bill Shorten’s big chal­lenge. Un­for­tu­nately, Turn­bull is about as pop­u­lar in the Sun­shine State as day­light sav­ing, and with for­mer Queens­land se­na­tor Barn­aby Joyce now a NSW res­i­dent (and his cit­i­zen­ship still up in the air), the loss of Joyce’s com­mon touch is keenly felt by the LNP. Where Tony Ab­bott worked well in mid­dle and re­gional Aus­tralia, these ar­eas re­main Turn­bull’s Achilles heel. Things are grim for the Lib­er­als in Perth too. Turn­bull’s MPs are telling him the GST is­sue must be re­solved but the hard­heads fear his in­ac­tion will see the loss of future lead­er­ship con­tenders like Chris­tian Porter.

Vic­to­ria is in­ter­est­ing. A Leftwing leader in an in­creas­ingly Leftwing state, it’s the Greens that are the real threat to both par­ties. With­out a big pres­ence like Peter Costello, fed­eral Lib­er­als have strug­gled to cut through against Shorten’s home-ground ad­van­tage. Here, like ev­ery­where, Turn­bull’s dis­con­nec­tion with the Lib­eral base is telling. I’m told where he does deign to front party fundrais­ers, long-time sup­port­ers are greeted with a mo­rose PM who spends more time on his phone than on the charm of­fen­sive.

But above all of this noise, it’s the en­ergy cri­sis that will de­ter­mine his fate, for a sec­ond time. De­spite hav­ing Daniel An­drews and Weather­ill in sight over Hazel­wood and the SA black­outs, Turn­bull couldn’t help him­self and over­reached by mak­ing it his is­sue. It’s clas­sic Turn­bull; lack of judg­ment, overblown rhetoric and a fail­ure to de­liver on the ground. Un­less he can ur­gently ad­dress the en­ergy cri­sis in ways that don’t make a bad sit­u­a­tion worse, Turn­bull will have given them his head on a plat­ter.

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