Labor has hit the front in Newspoll, with a 52-48% two-party lead, as the separate crises engulfing ministers Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds take a toll of the Morrison government.
As the parliament’s fortnight sitting begins, with a big national women’s protest set for Monday, Newspoll has Labor and the Coalition equal on primary votes – 39% each – for the first time this electoral cycle.
The government fell 3 points on primaries, while Labor rose 2 points.
Labor has surged ahead on the two-party vote from the 50-50 results of the last two polls, in January and February.
Scott Morrison has taken a knock in his personal ratings. He fell 5 points on the “better PM” measure, to 56%; Anthony Albanese improved 4 points to 30%.
Satisfaction with Morrison’s performance was down 2 points to 62%; his dissatisfaction rating was up 2 to 34%, for a net approval of plus 28%.
Satisfaction with Albanese rose 4 points to 42%; dissatisfaction with him was down 4 points to 41%. His net satisfaction rating is plus 1.
Publicity around the slow early start to the vaccine rollout may have also fed into the poll.
Handling the March4Justice is fraught for the government given the strength of feelings around the rape allegations, which have morphed into the wider issue of women’s voices being heard.
The Newspoll reverse puts extra pressure on Morrison as he and “March4Justice” organisers on Sunday night were in a face off.
Morrison on Sunday said he would not go outside Parliament House to meet the protesters, but march organisers were waiting until Monday to confirm whether they’d accept his invitation to meet a delegation in his office.
It’s expected they will do so after making their point. The delegation would likely include Brittany Higgins, whose allegation she was raped by a colleague in the office of then defence industry minister Reynolds sparked the series of events that have culminated in Monday’s march.
The Newspoll comes as the Western Australian Liberals suffered a massive rout in the state election, being reduced to two or possibly three seats in the 59-seat lower house.
The Nationals are expected to get four seats, entitling them to become the official opposition. Liberal leader Zak Kirkup lost his seat.
On counting to date, the McGowan government polled nearly 60% primary vote, achieving a two-party swing of nearly 14%. The result is the latest, and most dramatic, evidence of voters rewarding leaders for their successful handling of the pandemic.
Morrison – whose government initially supported Clive Palmer’s challenge to the WA hard border but later backed off for political reasons – said Labor’s victory was “a resounding endorsement of Mark McGowan’s leadership, which I didn’t find surprising”.
The PM pointed to the distinction voters make between federal and state elections, citing 2001 when the WA Coalition government received a drubbing but John Howard won federally.
While it’s true voters distinguish, Howard’s victory came after he made significant policy changes and following the Tampa affair and the September 11 attacks in the United States.
Albanese said many people had voted Labor for the first time. “It shows they’re open to voting Labor and I take great encouragement from it.”
Morrison again indicated the election will be next year.
Though the direct federal implications are limited Saturday’s result leaves the WA Liberals with reduced on-the-ground resources and funding for the federal election, in a state which has been important in holding up the Morrison government’s majority. The Liberals currently have 11 of the 16 federal seats.
The federal Liberals in WA are presently mired in problems, with the uncertain futures of Porter and Reynolds who are both from that state.
The Liberals might also lose a seat in the WA redistribution, which threatens Porter’s electorate of Pearce.
The crisis over Porter is worsening for Morrison, who has ruled out an independent inquiry to determine whether he is a fit and proper person to be attorney-general after a deceased woman’s allegation he raped her in 1988, which he strongly denies.
Agitation for an inquiry continues to mount. On Friday a former boyfriend of the woman, business executive James Hooke, said he had had discussions with both the woman and Porter that were relevant. He supported an inquiry and said he was willing to testify if one was set up.
Morrison will face questions this week about Porter, who is on mental health leave. The PM will also have to release the results of an inquiry into who knew what when in his office about Higgins’ allegation.
The March4Justice protest is expected to number more than 100,000 nationally. The organisers anticipate more than 5,000 in Canberra. March4Justice was established “to protest the Australian Parliament’s ongoing abuse and discrimination of women in Australia”, but now has a broad agenda of demands.
Ministers generally are refusing to go outside the building to meet the women. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told the ABC he would be too busy.
The demonstrators will hand over a petition to Labor’s Tanya Plibersek and the Greens’ Larissa Waters at the protest, which starts at noon.
They invited Marise Payne, who is Minister for Women. Payne’s office on Friday said the women should email the petition. By Sunday she was offering a meeting before the march, but the organisers refused.
A spokesperson said on Sunday night Morrison’s offer of a meeting was being considered.
“Given that so many have come to the steps of Parliament to make their voices heard, the question is, why can’t the Prime Minister take the last few steps through the front door and hear them directly?”
Morrison said, “I haven’t had a habit of going out to do any marches when they’ve come to Canberra, because as Prime Minister, when you’re in Canberra, it’s a very busy day.
"But I’m very happy to receive a delegation and I’ll respectfully receive that, as I’m sure they will respectfully engage with me.”
UPDATE - Monday Morning
Organisers of March4Justice have declined to meet the Prime Minister.
Janine Hendry tweeted early Monday:
At the weekend, Scott Morrison had invited the protesters to send a small delegation to meet him after the demonstrations. He refused to go outside parliament house to see them in person, as they requested.
Some Liberal women parliamentarians are set to be present, but the Minister for Women, Marise Payne, has refused.