Any time New Zealanders get despondent about their politics they can look across the Tasman. It is more than 10 years since Prime Minister John Howard's four-term Government was defeated and, since then, Australia's main parties have struggled to find stable leadership.
The Labor Party, in power from 2007-13, replaced the Prime Minister twice and the Liberal Party, having dropped Tony Abbot for Malcolm Turnbull in 2015, could be looking for another leader before the federal election due in May next year.
Under Turnbull, the coalition Government's position in the polls has gone from bad to worse. It fell from 39 per cent to 33 per cent in the latest monthly Ipsos poll for Fairfax Media. Yesterday Turnbull was forced into a back-down on a signature climate change measure opposed by Abbott and a number of Liberal MPs — not many but enough to defeat the measure in Parliament if the Opposition votes against it as it probably would. Labor is 10 points ahead in the polls and would relish an early election.
But the mood the polls reflect is not one that any Prime Minister might satisfy. Turnbull toppled Abbott because the country seemed to need a consensus leader rather than a polarising one. Turnbull has performed that role to a fault in the view of many.
Australians say they are not sure what he stands for. They play politics hard over there.
An outsider could find the energy policy Turnbull announced last week eminently reasonable.
It addressed both electricity prices — a hot issue in Australia for some time — and the country's commitment to reducing carbon emissions. It required power generators to supply a minimum amount at all times and set an annual emissions reduction target.
Large industrial consumers of electricity had been calling for clear direction on future emissions policy and they welcomed the Government's "national energy guarantee".
But yesterday the policy unravelled amid speculation Turnbull was about to face a leadership challenge.
One of the speculative replacements is Peter Dutton, the combative Home Affairs Minister who has crossed swords with New Zealand's Justice Minister, Andrew Little, recently on criminal deportation to this country. But at present he rates lower in opinion polls than the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who might step up if Turnbull lacks the numbers.
The trumpets for Dutton reflect a hardening on the conservative side of public opinion, emboldening Abbott to tweet on the emissions policy, "No. no, no. Let's create a real contest, not a false consensus. Let's fight the Labor Party on this, it's the only way to win the election."
Polls are showing both major parties slipping and small fringe parties making gains. To some extent Australia appears to be infected with the same virus that has soured politics in Australia, Britain and Europe in recent years.
The discontent probably arises from high immigration, population pressure on infrastructure, stagnant wage levels and resentment of business and finance since the global crisis 10 years ago. Australia has been particularly critical of its banking system of late.
It is a troubled country, in need of a leader it likes. That is a need that can have unfortunate results.