Senior Liberals have dismissed speculation of a leadership challenge and rallied around Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull after his disastrous showing in a series of opinion polls.
Mr Turnbull’s personal approval ratings plummeted in the wake of last week’s ill-judged call for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s resignation over his relationship with a Brisbane car dealer in the OzCar affair.
While Labor increased its lead over the coalition, the polls released on Monday also found a majority of voters thought Mr Turnbull was arrogant and not altogether honest.
Mr Turnbull made no public comment on the polls, while a number of his frontbenchers spoke in his defence. Opposition leader in the Senate, Nick Minchin, acknowledged they’d had “a pretty tough week” but he said they would be competitive at the next election, due late next year.
He said the polls were a rollercoaster and urged his colleagues to keep their feet on the ground.
“I don’t want an opposition leader who’s too scared to get out of bed in the morning,” Senator Minchin told Sky News on Monday.
“Malcolm is a risk-taker and sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don’t and when they don’t you get a bad poll.”
Senior Liberal Tony Abbott also stood behind his leader, saying the opposition had a bad week but Mr Turnbull would be leader going into the next election. “Just as Malcolm didn’t flinch last week it’s important that the party doesn’t flinch this week,” Mr Abbott said.
But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was unforgiving after last week’s bruising battle in parliament, saying people were tired of politics of “fear and smear”.
“The government’s getting on with the business of jobs and supporting business in the midst of the worst recession in 75 years and I think the Australian people are just tired of the politics of fear and smear,” Mr Rudd told reporters in Sydney.
And Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese ruled out any temptation on the part of the government for an early election, saying it intended to serve its full term.
The polls are bad, particularly The Australian’s Newspoll which shows Mr Turnbull’s approval rating has been slashed from 44 per cent in mid-June to 25 per cent while his disapproval rating rose from 37 per cent to 58 per cent. A similar story was told by the Fairfax/Nielsen poll in which the disapproval rating for Mr Turnbull had leapt 13 per cent to 60 per cent since mid-May.
News Limited’s Galaxy poll, published in metropolitan daily newspapers, showed that a total of 51 per cent of people thought Mr Turnbull was somewhat deceitful and dishonest.
Newspoll found 68 per cent of people thought Mr Turnbull arrogant while a poll by Essential Research found 69 per cent of people thought he was arrogant, a rise of 13 per cent.
Overall, Labor improved its two party preferred vote lead over the coalition by three points to 56 per cent in the Newspoll, while the coalition’s retreated by three points to 44 per cent.
The Nielsen poll also saw Labor increase its two party preferred lead by five points to 58 per cent while the coalition’s fell by three points to 42 per cent.
Opposition education spokesman and manager of opposition business in the house, Chris Pyne, dismissed any call for a leadership change.
“It would be bizarre, weak-kneed and pathetic if the Liberal Party were to, at the first sign of an ill wind, decide to change its leader for no other reasons other than getting some bad press over a week’s period,” Mr Pyne told reporters in Adelaide.
Opposition spokesman for workplace relations Michael Keenan said they had taken a hit but now needed to concentrate on holding the government to account. “As for changing leaders and everything, I think that’s just a ludicrous suggestion, it’s not seriously being considered,” Mr Keenan told AAP.
Victorian Liberal senator Mitch Fifield said there were no rumblings within the party for a change.
“The only conversations that I’ve had with colleagues are that Malcolm is the best person to lead us and that he should lead us to the next election,” Senator Fifield said.