SYDNEY - Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull marked an unwanted milestone Monday by losing his 30th straight opinion poll — a benchmark he used to justify deposing former Liberal leader Tony Abbott.
Abbott was toppled in a September 2015 party room coup with Turnbull memorably citing his loss of 30 consecutive Newspolls in The Australian newspaper as the key reason why he had to go.
Turnbull has been reminded about it by commentators ever since, with Abbott vocal from the backbench as the party struggles to stay ahead of the Labor opposition before elections scheduled for 2019.
“I regret making those remarks at the time, making the remarks about 30 Newspolls,” Turnbull said Monday on why the rationale he applied to Abbott should not also apply to him.
“But what I promised to do was to provide economic leadership and traditional cabinet government and I have done both.”
Turnbull insisted he still had the support of the party and his focus was not on “personalities or the politics,” but reinforcing his message that were Labor to take power they would be a “high-taxing, anti-business government.”
Turnbull, who is considered a moderate, has struggled to push his agenda amid backbiting from the more hard-line factions in his party.
Australia’s politics has been turbulent in recent years, with a “revolving door” of prime ministers in charge. Four different leaders have served since 2013 as both Labor and the Liberals removed sitting prime ministers.
Asked whether he felt vindicated by Turnbull also losing 30 Newspolls, Abbott insisted to reporters: “It’s not about me, it’s got to be about our country,” while defending his right to “speak my mind.”
Rumblings in the media about a challenge to Turnbull refuse to go away with Abbott, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in the frame, although a move is not seen as a serious option yet with the public having little appetite for more change.
Bishop said “I don’t envisage those circumstances at all” when quizzed on whether she would consider a challenge if she was asked to do so by colleagues.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the prime minister had the support of the party.
“It’s not unusual for incumbent governments in between elections being behind in the polls, I mean we’re not actually that far behind, truth be told,” he said.
The latest Newspoll showed Turnbull’s Liberal/National coalition trailing Labor 48 to 52 on a two-party preferred basis. But Turnbull has a narrow lead as preferred prime minister compared to Labor’s Bill Shorten.
“It’s Mr. Turnbull who said that 30 Newspolls is a definition of success. That’s his problem,” Shorten said Monday. “I’m not like Mr. Turnbull. I don’t define my success or, indeed, my job by what Newspoll does.”