Flat White

Backwards & Forwards: happy clappy happy

22 April 2019

1:03 PM

22 April 2019

1:03 PM

The week in politics, the week to come:

Looking back

Scott Morrison and the Coalition won the week. Nothing more need be said.

Looking forward

One week down, another month to go.

The Prime Minister’s challenge is simple: string together another four weeks like the last one.

Morrison’s problem? Unless he’s totally stupid, which he isn’t, Bill Shorten will be using this Easter hiatus to get the wheels back on his cart, to learn his lines, to memorise his numbers (and what policies Labor has already announced). He won’t be so easy a patsy for ScoMo as the campaign continues.

But the PM can take satisfaction in the strength and virility of his own campaigning, which is giving his beleaguered team confidence and hope, and is challenging the received press gallery narrative that this is a Shorten coronation, not a competitive campaign. He should be very happy he’s successfully exposed how brittle Shorten is when under real pressure: something Malcolm Turnbull never achieved in his ill-starred premiership, and especially in his incompetent, disastrous 2016 campaign.

It’s a shame that because of the Easter-Anzac Day hiatus, there’s no Newspoll this week to measure Morrison’s success and Shorten’s failure.

As Newspoll is often less a benchmark of voter sentiment than a momentum and confidence giver for the leading side, its absence this week works for a regrouping Shorten. If Billy boy has a good week, last week’s colliwobbles (being a supporter of the hated Collingwood Football Club, he knows something about those – and if there’s any one reason that Shorten should be unelectable, it’s that he’s a Collingwood supporter) will pass with nary a polling blip – another piece of luck that seems to have blessed Shorten throughout his leadership.

Expect this week that Labor will widen its battlefront from its overdone efforts on health. In making the savvy announcement they’d convene the new parliament before 30 June to overturn the Fair Work Commission’s Sunday and holiday penalty rate decision, Shorten and Labor are ramping up industrial relations. And it’s likely that Labor, having nailed all the colours of the rainbow to the climate change mast, that we’ll hear more about Paris emissions targets, NEGs and – ahem – electric cars.

Morrison, on the other hand, will continue to talk up the vital importance of a strong economy. But he will also strive to continue where he started before the Easter break and keep Shorten on the defensive about his slipperiness and lack of clarity, detail and honesty vis a vis his many and various tax and spend plans. To keep with the superior economic manager line, any Coalition policy and the inevitable announceables (trans: bribes for marginal seat voters) should be modest and consistent with federal government responsibilities, not those of states and local councils.

But ten days into the campaign, the government has not yet cut through in terms of its own positives. It’s high time the Coalition brains trust dropped more than lavishly funded initiatives (trans: more bribes for marginal seat voters), and announced some clear, coherent and strategic policy plans.

Take health. In 2016 the Coalition went into that election with no health policy. Despite almost being defeated by Mediscare, which reflected voters concern about health issues, Turnbull ignored health as a priority and utterly failed to address those concerns in his remaining time as PM. No wonder health minister Greg Hunt voted with his feet last August – out of sheer frustration. But a comprehensive Coalition health policy is still lacking, just as with big-spending Labor.

To take on Labor’s health spending splurge, the Coalition therefore must not aim to out-splurge but prove it has a coherent policy narrative about making healthcare more efficient, affordable and sustainable, and that only the Coalition has the courage to do what is necessary, not just what is popular.

But although something tells me I’m whistling Dixie, I want to be proved wrong.

So, despite the interruptions for the year’s most solemn religious and secular observances – welcome not least for reminding us this nation was built on the Judeo-Christian Western tradition and the Anzac spirit – the campaign battle this week will test whether Morrison can maintain last week’s momentum, and whether a rattled Shorten can recover from his self-inflicted discombobulation.

Highlight of the week

Scott Morrison let cameras into his Sutherland Shire Pentecostal church on Easter Sunday, to focus on the Prime Minister at charismatic Christian worship.

What was he thinking?

Yes, it illustrates his humanity. There’s no question Morrison’s sincere and passionate about his religious beliefs, and a PM with a personal moral compass based in sincere faith and belief is a Good Thing.

But for many Australians – members of mainstream Christian denominations as well as non-Christians, atheists and those who identified themselves as Jedis in the census – images of the PM in full charismatic mode were confronting and not prime ministerial.

Australians prefer the religion mainstream as well as their politics. To most Australians who believe in God, especially those from Catholic and mainstream Protestant traditions, religion is an acutely private and personal thing. For them it’s not a thing one advertises or involves happy-clappy worship and most Australian Christians don’t believe, as Calvinist fundamentalists do, that only they are in fact Christians because they’ve been “born again”.

To his credit, Morrison hasn’t previously worn his Pentecostal faith on his sleeve in politics. Why, then, start now? It was an error of political judgment, and his advisers should have told him not to allow it.

Morrison should have taken a leaf from the Royal Family’s book. Be seen entering and leaving the church – without a Kevin Rudd church-doorstop – and leave it at that. That’s what Shorten did.

Bismarck once said that making laws and sausages should not be watched. The same applies to politicians at worship.

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