Flat White

Backwards & Forwards: the week in politics, the week to come

11 March 2019

6:00 AM

11 March 2019

6:00 AM

Looking back

If there’s a week to be rued by the Coalition if they lose the upcoming election badly, it’ll be this past one.

First, there was the unedifying spectacle of Christopher Pyne and Steve Ciobo calling time on their political careers after the Prime Minister so very firmly insisted that Lady Bracknell would have no further comment to make about losing ministers being unfortunate.  ‘I’m a fixer’ Pyne fixed Scott Morrison well and truly, and Morrison surely could sympathise with another late retiree, former deputy Julie Bishop, who decided last week was the time to go to the media and claim she wuz robbed of the prime ministership last August by none other than the Fixer himself. No winners circle for Julie, but perhaps it had something to do with her being unable to count?  The basic rule of a Liberal preselection is, however, many pledges you think you have, halve it and halve it again for good measure.  Bishop should have known better than to take her colleagues at their word: her failure was hers alone – just as she should own her astounding failure to win her preferred successor, Erin Watson-Lynn, more than just one vote in Sunday’s Curtin preselection.

Then there’s Malcolm Turnbull who went all the way to London to lament to the Speccie’s publisher, Andrew Neil, that he was tossed from the Liberal leadership last August because he was actually going to win the election now upon us.  This is the same Malcolm Turnbull who confidently predicted a Liberal sweep of July’s Super Saturday by-elections, only to see Labor win comprehensively in four and Xenophonite ex-Liberal Rebekah Sharkie win the other.  Think it’s fair to say if that was a test of Malcolm’s electoral nous, he sort of botched it. But apparently these days it’s the losers who write history.

But let’s not forget Tony Abbott’s contribution.  Debating his insurgent faux-Liberal challenger who’s never voted Liberal, Zali Steggall, Abbott reneged on his deeply-held position that the Paris emissions targets are disastrous and the Paris agreement should be formally dumped as did the Trump administration.  Agree with him or not, Abbott long has traded as a conviction politician in a political market-place when consistency and principle are in short supply.  More than a few of Abbott’s loyal conservative supporters have been left disappointed at his under-pressure reversal, while GetUp! and his vast army of talking head and keyboard warrior antagonists now crow he’s in trouble in Warringah.  They may well be right.

And Bill Shorten proclaimed this election as a ‘referendum on wages’, just as last quarter’s GDP barely ticked any growth at all, the US economy is in increasing slowdown and China is gearing for a second Cold War.  A wages breakout or hardworking Labor voters losing their jobs in the next three years when recession looks likelier than it has for more than a decade? Your call, Billy.

But at least there’s fun in Canada, eh?  Last week ‘woke’ progressive poster boy, Justin Trudeau, was mired in a crisis of his own making. His recently-resigned former Attorney-General, a woman and an American Indian, convincingly told a parliamentary committee Trudeau and his office bullied and subsequently demoted her to reverse a Director of Public Prosecutions decision to prosecute a company for bribing the son of the unlamented Colonel Gaddafi to win Libyan business, and another female minister quit in solidarity while Trudeau’s principal adviser was cut loose.  Why do you treat principled female ministers that way, Justin? Because it’s 2019?

But Trudeau also gave us the headline of the week, and in it you can hear the wails of lamenting luvvies over at the GrauniadJustin Trudeau’s disgrace is like watching a unicorn being run over.


Looking forward

Monday’s Newspoll shows just how difficult the Coalition’s task is from here.  Morrison is still in front of Shorten, but the overall picture has worsened to a 54:46 lead to Labor, or a net loss of 14 government seats on a uniform swing.  It’s hard to see even Harry Truman pulling it back, though Morrison is trying everything.

So if they can, Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will try and switch this week’s conversation to the economy and tax. They want less tax while Shorten and Labor are emulating John ‘was I ever a Liberal?’ Hewson by staking their entire campaign on imposing new taxes.  The Australian reports Morrison and Frydenberg are considering supercharging tax relief in next month’s pre-election budget.  Let’s hope that if that’s the plan, they keep away from the chequebook and writing off more billions in big-ticket projects and handouts that will jeopardise the surplus Frydenberg has for months promised to deliver.  It’s a temptation hard to resist when you’re deep in electoral doo-doo…

Perhaps Bill Shorten will tell us this week what he means by a ‘living wage’.  And, as older voters continue to ramp up against Shorten and shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen’s franking credit double taxation heist on their retirement nest eggs – nest eggs intended to keep them from being a charge on the public purse as much as possible – it’s clear (if only Morrison could but see it) this election is not a referendum about wages, as Shorten claims. It’s really an intergenerational election pitting thrifty savers against thriftless spenders, playing up to the we-want-everything-yesterday mentality of Millennials and still younger voters who were at best toddlers when the last recession and almost 20 per cent home loan interest rates hit.

Let’s face it, though, all this isn’t going to matter this week.  The crucial question is whether the federal  Coalition can get through it without yet another own goal, or goals.  If they can, they survive for the same question to be asked again next week.

And spare a thought for Gladys Berijiklian, facing NSW voters in a fortnight if they haven’t already voted (we don’t have election days any more, rather election months, something campaign geniuses don’t seem to cope with all that well), is finding her re-election threatened by the demolition of a rickety football stadium built by the 1980s Labor state government.  The Sydney Cricket Ground Trust administers Allianz Stadium and in announcing, on Alan Jones’s 2GB programme, that if elected he will sack Trust member Jones and the rest of them, Labor leader Michael Daley – he who thanked corrupt former MP Eddie Obeid in his maiden speech –  has pulled off a coup de theatre that has sucked the oxygen right out of the NSW government’s campaign, latched onto a Mediscare-like and potentially election-winning issue that has completely distracted attention from the Berejiklian government’s comparative competence and Labor’s dodgy recent history, and given party hack Daley the appearance of walnuts in his jocks in his standing up to Jones.  Those hundreds of thousands of early voters will be lapping this up and there’s a real and undeserved risk Berejiklian may not just say goodbye to majority government, but to government altogether.

All in all, a good week ahead for Australian election anoraks…plus the running omnishambles known as Brexit and the Justin Trudeau political death watch. Stay tuned!

Highlight of the week

Last week, Richard ‘au pair’ di Natale announced Julian ‘I love death duties’ Burnside AO QC as the Greens’ wonder weapon to defeat Josh Frydenberg in Menzies’s iconic seat of Kooyong.

But it turns out Burnside is not so much a star candidate as a supernova, exploding spectacularly before collapsing under his own denseness. Appearing with Liberal senator Jane Hume on Labor man Nick Reece’s Politics HQ show – on International women’s Day – Burnside was sucker-punched by Reece and Hume into confirming his membership of the ever so gentlemen-only Savage Club, and that he hadn’t (then) resigned because Savages don’t let ladies become members.  Then a rattled Burnside patronisingly berated Hume for interjecting – which of course she needn’t have, as he was already doing such a spiffing job destroying himself as a viable Greens candidate.

Frydenberg owes Hume a big drink.  The only problem in Hume so effectively skewering Burnside’s hypocrisy for happily belonging to the Savage while being a woke Green (he has, unsurprisingly, since resigned) she also took aim at gentlemen’s clubs, these days mostly harmless institutions yet hated by feminists, The Age and the ABC, but to which more than a few influential Liberals belong. In politics as in war, there’s always the risk of collateral damage.

This is the first of a series of weekly columns.

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