Turnbull attempting to trade legacy for longevity

MALCOLM Turnbull's honeymoon is over - but I'm yet to see a decent explanation as to why.

The Prime Minister has gone from the penthouse to the outhouse inside two weeks - at least in the eyes of the Australian media.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull MICK TSIKAS

It's strange. Mr Turnbull's polling may be heading south, but his party is still way ahead in the head-to-head race, and it's difficult to think of an actual decision that could have incurred the voting public's wrath.

He's being savaged in the press though.

What's happening? Two things in my view.

Mr Turnbull is an open admirer of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, and is clearly trying to understand how the Kiwi leader is on the verge of completing nine years in the top job, and in a strong position to head into a fourth term.

Bearing in mind the PM blood-letting here, how is that possible?

Mr Key is vanilla and has survived by understanding, and reacting, to public opinion. Anything controversial gets shelved, anything dynasty-defining that could stir a significant segment of the voter bloc doesn't make the legislative roster.

What's Mr Key's most lasting legacy from nearly nine years? A potential new flag, should the voting go the way polls predict in an upcoming binding referendum (and it's taken two votes to get there).

Back to Mr Turnbull. One fierce critic recently suggested he was passing up the mandate to become a great PM by avoiding the tough decisions.

Of course he is - he wants to survive. The brouhaha around a possible rise in the GST is a classic Turnbull use of a John Key tactic.

Float it unofficially, test the waters, and if it stinks, dump it before anyone says it was your idea.

It's smart politics, if hardly inspirational.

But there is a second factor in play that makes Australia different to NZ.

The media is more feral here. They are going after him.

And even if the public sees through the media hype, Mr Turnbull is still vulnerable - within his party ranks.

There's ample evidence MPs in Australia are prepared to react to a media outcry way before we really know what the public think.

Topics:  bryce johns malcolm turnbull politics

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