Hewson's View | Signs are lining up to point to an early election

There is a growing feeling that the next federal election will be held this year. Although the Government could wait until May 18, 2019 to hold a joint House/Senate election, and as late a November 2, 2019 for a House election alone, its flexibility is constrained by the timing of several state elections, and other events.

SHARPEN YOUR PENCILS: Could an early federal election be on the cards for later this year? The pundits are starting to think so.

SHARPEN YOUR PENCILS: Could an early federal election be on the cards for later this year? The pundits are starting to think so.

State elections are to be held in South Australia on March 17 this year, then Tasmania on May 19, then Victoria on November 24, and NSW on March 23, 2019.

If Turnbull wants to hold an election with “clear air”, and assuming he wants a joint House/Senate election, his best window may be July/August, recognising the May budget and the footy finals in September.

However, there are some who believe that the final resolution of the dual citizenship issue may require a “Super Saturday” of by-elections and, if so, why not hold an early federal election to clear the decks?

Of course, all eyes are on Turnbull who made something of a rod for his own back when seizing the leadership from Abbott, when he said: “The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership”.

The last Newspoll on December 17, 2017 was Turnbull’s 25th consecutive “loss”, recording a two-party vote of 53/47 against his government.

Of course, if, as expected, Turnbull reaches his own “benchmark” in the next few months, nothing will happen. There are no obvious alternatives. But, the media frenzy will further complicate his already almost insurmountable tasks of resetting and seizing the political agenda, and rebuilding unity within his Coalition, with the Nats still inclined to run amok, and a few conservatives within the Liberal Party hell-bent on grabbing any platform they can to gain attention. 

The main danger for Turnbull in attempting a “reset” is that the electorate, to use his words, has already “made up their mind” on his leadership, and have simply stopped listening. 

There is widespread disappointment in the electorate that Turnbull failed to deliver on the policy front, against the very high expectations with which he seized the leadership from Abbott.  This disappointment has been compounded by a growing sense that Turnbull also lacks an effective political strategy – he seems to just “react”, often in an apparently ill-considered way, to events and circumstances as they unfold. 

Turnbull began the policy reset when releasing the mid-year Budget update just before Christmas, promising personal tax cuts. However, he has a long way to go for the electorate to believe he can deliver, given the state of Budget “disrepair”, and the very risky global economic and geo-political scene in prospect for the next several years.

However, he is still in the contest as Shorten has his own, considerable, personal and party issues that are yet to be the focus of intensive media and electorate attention.

 In short, neither side has yet demonstrated an effective response to the cost of living issues and pressures with which most voters struggle, day-in-day-out. Until they do, voters will continue to shift their support from the two major parties, in favour of minor parties and independents, making the final electoral outcome more difficult to predict.

I suspect 2018 will be another year of political disruption and distraction, at the expense of good government.

 – John Hewson


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