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Turnbull's sinking sizzle needs a blockbuster budget or he's cooked!

Peter Switzer
7 April 2016

By Peter Switzer

The looming Budget on May 3 is looking like a ‘make it or break it’ test for Malcolm Turnbull and his much-hailed Government, which, to date, has looked like a real disappointment. And next week there’ll be a couple of other tests that could easily scream: “Malcolm, you’re in trouble!”

This week, Newspoll — the basis for the PM’s accession to power, after Tony Abbott copped 20 bad ones in a row — was ominous. This chart shows Bill Shorten could win an election, even though he still trails Malcolm on preferred PM, which I do think is important for election results, as we’ve become more presidential in our elections.

However, the Newspoll figures tell us that Turnbull’s net satisfaction rating is down to minus 10 and only 38% of voters are satisfied with his performance — less than the government's primary vote.

For Turnbull fans, it’s not disastrous, as my Sky News colleague, Peter Van Onselen (PVO), wrote in The Australian this week: “Turnbull’s net satisfaction rating is down to minus 10 and only 38 per cent of voters are satisfied with his performance — less than the government's primary vote,” he observed. “While the PM’s critics have to some extent reveled in his polling demise, it’s too much to claim the downturn proves that last September was a mistake.

“To put Turnbull’s latest Newspoll numbers in context, the two-party vote is as high as it ever was under Abbott, and far superior to the 43-57 two-party-preferred numbers right before the leadership challenge.”

The current third party preferred is 49-51 for Labor but as PVO points out, John Howard often started election campaigns in worse positions. So the calibre of the Coalition’s campaigning will be vital, especially with Shorten looking more sellable and with the unions set to play dirty with lots of money and stunts. 

A banking royal commission, as suggested by Senator Sam Destyari, is a classic case in point, which lots of Aussies would like the sound of, though it looks like taking a sledgehammer to a walnut.

All this shows us how important the Budget will be. If it’s a dud, then these Government guys will be in trouble. But what should they say and promise to do on May 3?

I get this question all the time and the answer isn’t easy. I know we’ll hear Treasurer Scott Morrison talk about living within our means — about seven ministers said the same to media outlets on Wednesday, as if they were told to say it. I’d kill this coordinated message tactic as the media laughs at it, singles it out to readers, listeners and viewers and the Government looks hackneyed, predictable and second rate.

Scott’s message at the Budget should be:

  • Labor’s over-spending is a long run risk, if another GFC comes along — the Treasurer’s words, not necessarily mine, though its arguably right.
  • We’re cracking down on those receiving government assistance who don’t need it.
  • The economy is performing better than most in the world but there is a currency war out there pushing our dollar up, so we must defend our growth and jobs. This Budget will unashamedly help the economy, as did Joe Hockey’s last small business Budget.
  • And while we will assist the economy now, here’s our longer-term plans to rein in spending, fix the Budget’s deficit and debt and eventually deliver tax cuts.
  • This is a responsible Budget that will encourage business investment and job creation. We’re making a commitment to infrastructure investment, assistance to industries with export and hi-tech, productivity-generating potential, as well as other job creating businesses.
  • However, we know it’s time that there’s a crackdown on huge tax dodgers so everyone from international companies to those in the black cash economy should be prepared for a Government that needs cash and will look under every rock to find it!

Get the message? This Budget has to stimulate and inspire, with the economy showing some signs that it might be losing the momentum that gave us the great 3% economic growth in the December quarter.

This week, the latest Sensis Business Index, which snapshots the Small and Medium Enterprise sector, found 87% of SMEs now think the economy is slowing (35%) or standing still (52%)!

Luckily, business confidence has only fallen from +39 to +35, which are healthy readings, but the trend is not Malcolm’s friend. The Budget has to nuke us back into positivity about the economy and the Government or the PM might not be long for The Lodge!

Next week, we see the NAB business confidence reading, the Westpac consumer sentiment number and the latest jobs report. These will be crucial economic tests and could easily put more pressure on Scott and his Budget only three and a half weeks away!

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