by Chris Wallace
The Australian today publishes another Newspoll snap of how voters see the Opposition leadership. Peter Costello emerges as more likely than current Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, in the view of voters surveyed, to beat Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the next election.
Newspoll is the most influential political poll in Australia. It's a powerful tool which, for the good of the polity, needs to be seen to do the right thing as well as actually doing so.
Ideally stewardship of Newspoll should be akin to the federal government's stewardship of the Australian Bureau of Statistics: don't mess with the numbers, they're just too important. To News Corporation's credit, the numbers are high integrity. The reporting of Newspoll may be skewed at times, but the numbers never are.
An important variable is the questions sometimes tacked on to the regular voting intention survey and it's here that some current interest lies.
The extra Newspoll questions being asked now about the Opposition leadership contain just the current leader (Turnbull) and one alternative (Costello). There are good reasons to widen this survey question - specifically, adding shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey to the list.
There's a widening gap in the chatter about the Liberal leadership. The journo chat centres on Costello but it's Hockey that Liberal MPs are increasingly talking about. The so-called "Sunrise election" option is more palatable than a Costello leadership to many Liberals if Turnbull has to go down (especially to those in on the Liberals' internal polling). From a news perspective alone, it's hard to see why Hockey shouldn't be included.
There's a precedent. When Labor was in opposition, the same Newspoll question included the then Opposition frontbenchers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
Including Hockey would more fully inform Liberal MPs about how the leadership alternatives are seen by those who really count: Australian voters.
It's in the public interest that Liberal MPs make an informed choice. If Newspoll can make a more complete contribution to knowledge about the standing of credible alternative Liberal leaders by including Hockey, that will be a good thing.
Chris Wallace publishes Breakfast Politics. 25 March, 2009