Treasurer Joe Hockey with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Abbott seeks rebirth on second anniversary

Two years on from Tony Abbott's decisive win over Labor, voters are puzzled.

The Liberal leader has delivered on his core promises to axe the carbon and mining taxes and stop the boats.

But repealing the mining tax required breaking a promise not to touch superannuation and involved scrapping the Schoolkids Bonus.

The carbon tax - a price paid by polluting companies - has been replaced by taxpayer money being handed over to the polluters via the emissions reduction fund.

The boats have stopped, but there are serious concerns about the mistreatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention.

Job creation is - at least according to Treasurer Joe Hockey - three times that under Labor, but the unemployment rate is stubbornly high.

Economic growth is the mantra, but some states have the look and feel of recession.

The government has rolled out a swath of national security laws and given intelligence agencies unprecedented amounts of taxpayer money, but the community is feeling insecure.

A new carbon emissions reduction target has been set before talks in Paris, but taxpayers are now footing the bill - not the big polluters.

Earlier this year the parliamentary Liberal Party was so concerned about Mr Abbott's poor judgment that 31 members voted for an empty chair to replace him in a spill motion.

Cabinet ministers have been at odds over policy, including citizenship laws, the national vote on same-sex marriage and competition reform, as well as being left out of the decision loop on a series of 'captain's picks' by the prime minister.

And two years down the track, the coalition has completely reversed its election day 54-46 per cent lead over Labor.

On the Labor side, at least one in five voters have a 'don't know' opinion of Bill Shorten.

Notably, this figure has shifted from 43 per cent when he took over the reins in November 2013.

But despite having a lead as preferred prime minister, Mr Shorten remains an enigma for many Australians.

Qualitative research shows about 60 per cent of voters have consistently believed he is 'intelligent' and 'hard-working', but over the past 24 months there's been a slight rise in voters describing him as 'erratic' and 'superficial'.

Mr Shorten's confusing stance on the China free trade agreement and attempt to shut down the unions royal commission has many voters wondering whether he has the national interest at heart or is beholden to his union power base.

Whether Mr Abbott gives the opposition leader a year to articulate a clearer vision, or calls an early election, remains to be seen.

But the third and final year of the term will be important for Mr Shorten and Labor, not only to set out a credible alternative plan for the economy and national security, but to tell voters what sort of a prime minister he would be.

The Electorate of Canning by-election in Western Australia on September 19 will take a snapshot of the national mood, just over two years on from the federal poll.

Some Liberals are talking down its importance, pointing to the loss to Labor of the Brisbane seat of Ryan in 2001 before John Howard won the general election later that year.

Others say a narrow win will send shockwaves across the party and destabilise Mr Abbott's leadership.

However, former Howard chief of staff and now Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos is more realistic with his assessment that "A win is a win is a win".

"Politics is about momentum and you build up momentum by winning," he says.

And he'd know.

Mr Howard suffered a spate of bad polls in his first term, taking a hit from conservative voters over gun control and from moderate voters over the GST and failing to respond to the Pauline Hanson phenomenon.

But his 'safe hands on the economy' message cut through in the end, with the coalition winning a majority of seats in 1998 despite Labor winning 51 per cent of the two-party vote.

Howard described it as a 'near-death experience' and went on to lead for a further nine years.

His apprentice, Tony Abbott, will be hoping to repeat it.


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