Flat White

Backwards & Forwards: watch out Bill. This is all very Magpies and Blues, grand final 1970

29 April 2019

3:14 PM

29 April 2019

3:14 PM

The week in politics, the week to come.

Looking back

The Coalition shaded Labor last week, but this time by just a nose.

Scott Morrison is still blitzing the ground campaign with his mix of dagginess and attack dog. In the first fortnight and a half, backed by striking negative Coalition adverts and very rapid responses to anything dodgy Bill Shorten says, Morrison is succeeding in making the campaign a referendum on Shorten and his suitability to be PM.

Shorten didn’t has as bad a second week as the first, largely marking time until the Easter-Anzac Day week ended. But on Sunday and Monday came Labor’s latest multi-billion dollar promises, this time on effectively free childcare for middle Australia, and $1,00 dental care subsides to the elderly to keep their choppers chomping. Yet Shorten’s gaffes kept coming, notably his embarrassed “I’ll get back to you” throwaway to the hi-viz bloke in the Queensland seat of Herbert who had the temerity to point out the high earners Shorten wants to slug include salt of the earth Labor types doing traditional Labor jobs like mine work. How dare he!

Morrison, however, was dogged by the so-called Watergate affair on old water buyback contracts. Doing a preference deal with Clive Palmer also mired him somewhat, with the largely hostile media pack airbrushing Labor’s parallel flirtation with the talking blob of fat whose ad spend is paying off with poll support.

But the miserable ghosts Barnaby Joyce and Malcolm Turnbull most damaged the Coalition last week – Joyce with his train wreck interview with the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas about water buybacks on his ministerial watch, and Turnbull tweeting to finger Morrison and now Treasurer Josh Frydenberg about supporting Turnbull’s discredited National Energy Guarantee in cabinet.

Against all expectations, the Coalition continues to out-campaign Labor as we emerge from the holiday week and pre-polling gets under way. What fun!

Looking forward

Today’s Newspoll gives Morrison added momentum.

Yes, he’s still 51-49 down. But the gap with Shorten is closing.

One can dissect and debate the poll detail, including the first-time reporting of numbers for Palmer’s United Australia Party, and Newspoll’s assumptions of preference flows to get the 2PP figure. But that’s the only figure grabbing the headlines.

The insider mail is the Coalition’s competitive to hold or even gain seats everywhere outside Victoria, when even a few weeks ago this campaign was to be the government’s funeral march. Australia’s Massachusetts, Victoria, now looks like where this election will be decided, and despite good signs for the government – especially Sarah Henderson in Corangamite and the indomitable Gladys Liu in narcissist Liberal rat Julia Banks’s deserted seat of Chisholm – the cards there are still stacked in Labor’s favour, with a bit of help from Labor-left premier Daniel Andrews disgracefully spending public money on a multi-million dollar ad campaign attacking the Morrison government.

But even in Victoria the emerging barbeque-stopper of the campaign is not Labor’s high-cost (yet often uncosted) announceables like the childcare and dental plans, but how the hell is Billy-Boy going to pay for everything? Even allowing for the increased taxes Shorten promises, punters increasingly are unconvinced that even $387,000 million of moolah filched from mum and dad investors, self-funded retirees and the likes of hi-viz man in Herbert will be anywhere near enough to pay for Labor’s Corbynism.

Against this backdrop, the first debate between Morrison and Shorten is on tonight on 7 Two (bumping the likes of the wonderful Escape to the Country) is a must-watch. Even if the actual viewing audience is small, if Morrison bests Shorten that, plus Newspoll, will give him added momentum as the campaign reaches its mid-point.

Politics is a confidence game, and Morrison is showing it. Shorten, on the other hand, still looks tentative, under-briefed and, dare we say it, reminiscent of the complacent Turnbull of 2016. While Labor hardheads say it highlights the depth of their team (and perhaps it does), Shorten’s habit of deferring to accompanying frontbenchers at pressers doesn’t look like the mark of a leader in charge. Voters do notice these things.

By contrast, Morrison is like Ron Barassi coaching Carlton in the 1970 grand final. Down 44 points at half-time against a rampant Collingwood, Barassi instructed his players to nullify the Magpie kicking game with handballs and speedy movement of the ball. By full time, that 44-point deficit became a 10-point winning margin, and redefined forever how football is played.

Shorten is a genuine Collingwood man – surely a far greater blot on his character even than being a Machiavellian union leader and stabber of prime ministerial backs. He is playing this campaign like his unimaginative, complacent Pies did in 1970, and is in mortal danger of losing a thumping majority to either a hung parliament or even losing the election altogether.

And even if Shorten squeaks in, such results would diminish him and his authority within Labor, make his long-term tenure as PM far from assured, and leave him facing a Coalition opposition still in being as a fighting force.

Instead of an inevitable landslide, gentle reader, we have a genuine contest. Who woulda thunk it a month ago?

What to watch this week

Pre-polling starts today. For the next three weeks as many as a third of us will pass up democracy sausages and cake stalls for doing the deed early.

Keep a close eye on the number of pre-polling voters as they are reported. If the early turnout is heavy, it may mean that Morrison and the Coalition’s campaign revival will come to nought.

Billy boy will be hoping so, and it may yet be his only hope if his faltering hustings performance continues.

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