The truth about Doctor Nelson and the polls

There was of course another interest rate rise today, which is bad news for a lot of ordinary, hard-working Australians. The rate increase also curiously, as a product of our current position in the electoral cycle, helps the Rudd Government in political terms and inflicts just that little bit more pain upon the Coalition. The Opposition, of course, has been collectively left smarting in the knowledge that this latest rate rise represents just another refutation of their economic credentials and legacy. I am sure that senior members of the Coalition sleep well knowing that just as the Coalition terrorised Federal Labor for a decade in relation to their economic legacy during the Keating era, it appears that the Rudd Labor Government will have the pleasure of returning the favour ad nauseum with respect to the Howard years.

It is quite clear from Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson’s comments that he does not know quite how to tackle the twin peril of his own poll ratings, already deep in relegation territory, and this latest rate rise:

The Coalition has also lost further ground on a two-party preferred basis, down 6 points to 37 per cent, while the Government has a 63 per cent share of the vote.

Dr Nelson downplayed the poll as he arrived to chair a shadow cabinet meeting in Sydney this morning.

“I’m firmly locked in the underdog status, but the most important thing today is that the Reserve Bank of Australia will be delivering the report card, for the next 30 days and beyond,” he said.

The underdog reference is of course an understatement, if the polls are anything to go by, and Nelson’s reference to the Reserve Bank delivering a “report card for the next 30 days” does not really make a great deal of sense. If the Reserve Bank really has delivered a “report card” on government policy, which I don’t think anybody sensible believes it has, the report card would certainly provide an F grade to the previous Howard Government, and at minimum, a C grade to the government for the minimal tangible impact it has had on the national economy since assuming office. After the seemingly unstoppable barrage of interest rises over the last six months, I think most Australians with an interest in the matter would recognise that the country has a systemic problem on its hands with regards to inflation; one that is going to take a sustained and concerted effort from the government over a reasonable duration, if any relief is to be provided at all.

But let’s consider Doctor Nelson’s position as Opposition Leader for just a moment. To be honest, he seriously does have a severe case of the “Simon Creans”; in fact even worse than the current Minister for Trade had it five years or so back. Although he is not doing a particularly good job, I don’t personally believe that the job he is doing warrants the abysmal poll ratings he is receiving. Nelson’s leadership ratings are no doubt being impacted by the policy inertia that the Coalition has exhibited of late, and also the extended honeymoon that the Rudd Government has enjoyed since the election. Let’s be frank; the Rudd Government has, in political terms, been kicking arse and chewing bubble-gum since November 2007. Not many beats have been skipped – at least not any of enough significance to slow the government’s momentum.

So while, just to re-iterate, I think a transition of the leadership to Malcolm Turnbull is inevitable and the right solution for the Coalition, the situation is a bit more complicated than that politically. If Doctor Nelson feels that he has not yet been given a fair roll of the dice in the leadership, I think he has every reason to feel vindicated on that point. Of course, Simon Crean had every right to feel the same way, and yet the right decision for his party was definitely for him to step aside in 2003, if not even earlier. Like Labor back then, it seems that the Coalition’s political fortunes may be forced into decline for an extended period, substantially but not entirely as a result of a poor collective choice made regarding the party leadership.