Leading article Australia

Labor is beatable

2 March 2019

9:00 AM

2 March 2019

9:00 AM

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen is pretty darn sure of himself. What he wants out of May’s election: a clear mandate to implement Labor’s policy programme. More than any other Labor frontbencher, Mr Bowen is talking up getting that mandate. Most notoriously, he told millions of retirees alarmed by his dividend imputation tax, and therefore their nest eggs, that ‘if you don’t like it, don’t vote for it’.

At this business end of the electoral cycle, opinion polls consistently show Labor is at least comfortably in front of the Coalition. The most recent Newspoll says 53-47, Ipsos 51-49. Add to the polls the electoral arithmetic of redistributions and state-by-state breakdowns, and Mr Bowen is entitled to feel smug about Labor’s position with the election less than three months away. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Morrison should be deeply worried.

Yet in recent weeks Mr Morrison is the one with a spring in his step.  Ever since his defeat by Labor and Dr Kerryn Phelps and her motley crew of self-righteous and self-important independent MPs on the ‘Medivac’ bill, effectively giving activist doctors de facto control of who comes to Australia and the circumstances in which they come, the PM has been energised. Having perpetually flogged the government with the accusation that the Liberal party has forsaken its base, Mr Shorten has been revealed as a willing captive of activist latte-sipping elites, the sort of smug poseurs who populate ABC panel shows and Fairfax (what was) opinion pages.

As for Mr Bowen’s dividend double- tax and other tax grabs, the groundswell of electorate resistance is growing. That’s why Labor has been so desperate to try and discredit the Tim Wilson-chaired parliamentary inquiry on Mr Bowen’s full-frontal attack on retirement incomes; they know it’s clever intergenerational warfare politics but very poor policy that will turn many self-funded retirees into pension-dependent welfare clients, and thus impose a far greater burden on the ever-fewer working age Australians who underwrite those pensions.

Mr Morrison and his team may be disappointed that Newspoll did not match the Medivac bounce of Ipsos, but they must not be disheartened. They should remember imminent elections focus voters’ minds and that if they campaign well, show fiscal discipline, stay united and offer a sound and affordable policy vision for the next three years and beyond – not matching Labor in high-spending bribes pandering to the politics of grievance – then the government is in with a shot of winning the unwinnable. Since Medivac, Mr Morrison has moved from a wipeout position to being competitive as voters take a long hard look at Mr Shorten and those from whom he takes his orders. If he plays his cards right the PM can yet dare dream of electoral victory.

When Mr Bowen boasts about having the biggest policy agenda of any Opposition in over 20 years, he merely reminds us of John Hewson and his Fightback! election of 1993, the so-called unloseable election which Dr Hewson, ‘the feral abacus’ lost. Paul Keating and Labor back then turned a ten-point poll deficit at the start of the campaign to a narrow but decisive election win. Medivac can yet be Mr Shorten’s birthday cake moment, when in 1993 the electorate decided Dr Hewson was not for them. In his smug hubris, the arrogant Mr Bowen should be careful what he wishes for.

Just dump Paris

The risk for Mr Morrison is that in trying to outdo Labor he emulates them. This week’s $3.5 billion Climate Solutions package (including $2 billion in handouts for renewables thought bubbles no sensible investor would underwrite) and $1.4 billion for Mr Turnbull’s Snowy 2.0 wheeze, are intended to demonstrate the government’s commitment to meeting and even exceeding Paris targets. If you didn’t know better, you’d have assumed the Climate Solutions handout package was Mr Shorten’s latest scathingly brilliant idea. Yet again the Coalition plays on Labor’s turf, seeking to appease green activists, brainwashed schoolkids, unbalanced fanatics and their media mouthpieces who will never approve anything this government ever does, let alone vote for the Coalition. It’s pointless and futile. If the PM truly wants to win on climate, he should stop trying to match Labor. Mainstream Australia puts affordable energy ahead of economy-damaging actions to reduce CO2 that, given our puny share of global emissions, are little more than basket-weaver virtue-signalling. If Mr Morrison wants a politically-courageous climate policy that’s an electoral winner, he can achieve it without spending a cent, let alone billions of dollars. Just dump Paris.

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