Scott Morrison’s attempt to pull off another federal election miracle is floundering
Scott Morrison is in trouble. His colleagues know it and they don’t know how the prime minister will get out of it.
“The mob left him,” says a liberal MP about the mood in the country.
They have identified a cycle of resentment and grievance that has gripped the nation and undermined every benefit of tenure.
Finding fault in the Commonwealth has become a popular instinct, curated by shrewd Prime Ministers and fueled by criticism of the launch of the vaccine and anger over the summer’s lack of rapid antigen tests.
A dangerous time, then, for the Prime Minister, freshly recovered from COVID and enforced isolation, to visit the flood-ravaged areas of eastern Australia, starting with Lismore.
Regardless of the potential shortcomings elsewhere – in this case the response of the NSW government – the coalition fears the Prime Minister is becoming a political whipping boy.
So there was understandable anticipation – and concern in some government circles – about what a walk among the sodden and suddenly homeless might entail.
“He’s bracing for another cobargo,” a minister said before Morrison landed, in reference to the hostile reception the PM received during the bushfire crisis two years ago.
Morrison’s supervisors decided against a street walk in Lismore. Probably wise. It could have turned ugly, given the strained tempers acknowledged by the Prime Minister.
“I absolutely understand the frustration, I understand the anger, I understand the disappointment, I understand the sense of abandonment,” he said.
But he still had to be willing to help, heal and help rebuild, with a combination of budget support and subsequent farmer and business packages.
If voters are poised for resentment, Morrison is aware that the federal response must be, and be seen as, generous, even if, as his allies reveal, he intends – somehow – to ensure that NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet does too accused the police.
That’s because restoring confidence in the prime minister has become a critical task for the coalition as we could be just 66 days away from an election.
Anthony Albanese ridiculed the coalition and even claimed he knew when we were going to vote.
“They will call the elections within a week of that [March 29] Budget,” he said at an economic summit in Sydney.
“The election is scheduled for May 14, sometime between April 3 and April 6.”
The Labor leader’s confidence is growing as the PM runs out of options – and time – to restore coalition shares.
And it infuriates government legislators.
“Anthony Albanese has not spoken out in favor of change, although there is a sentiment for change,” says one MP.
Albanese and his strategists appear to have anticipated this sentiment among some voters.
“I’m not proposing revolution, but I’m looking for renewal,” he told business leaders.
Albanese continues to present himself as a safe option, a continuity player who will do better and without upsetting the business sector.
“We need to rediscover the spirit of consensus fostered by former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke to bring governments, unions, business and civil society together around their common goals of growth and job creation,” he said.
“If Labor is successful in the next general election, I will be guided by Bob Hawke and his successor, Paul Keating.”
Emphasizing ‘renewal’, Albanese dusts off Kevin Rudd’s tactics in his attempt to bring down John Howard.
Nor did Rudd claim to be the revolutionary. Instead, his public projection was that of a younger version of Howard who could offer a comfortable transition from liberal blue to ALP red.
It’s a deliberate contrast to Bill Shorten’s 2019 campaign, which proclaimed virtue in adventurous redistributive proposals on taxes, interventionist proposals on wages and a forward-looking stance on climate change.
Albanese claims to be the peacemaker after a ‘lost decade’.
“And the first step is to move beyond climate and culture wars and focus on what matters – the national interest,” he said.
Beige better than bold
Determined to avoid any comparison with Shorten’s ambitious, transformative agenda, Albanese dropped a Whitlamesque “it’s time” reference from his written speech when promising an end to climate wars, replacing it with the less sparkling “and it’s time.” that we do that”.
It’s better to be beige if it means more attention to your opponent.
Historical contrasts are everywhere these days, and not just the Lismore-Cobargo comparison being made today.
A Coalition MP says the Morrison government has fallen victim to its own gains during the pandemic, just as the Rudd government did after the global financial crisis.
“Go early, go hard and go on budgets,” then-Treasury Secretary Ken Henry advised the Rudd administration.
Labor threw the kitchen sink at protecting jobs and the economy. And it worked. dodged recession. Hardly a scratch.
So successful, in fact, that Tony Abbott was able to turn the GFC into a net negative for Labor with claims that it had been lavish and wasteful.
The Morrison government threw the kitchen sink, home and children’s legacy against the pandemic, funding a hibernating economy and the impact of closed international and national borders.
Many lives and livelihoods were saved. Senior coalition members only wished the gratitude hadn’t evaporated so quickly.
Albanese may have dropped it from his speech today, but coalition officials say there is an unmistakable and unforgiving ‘it’s time’ factor emerging from voters, even if there is limited interest in the Labor leader in some quarters.
Luck and longevity aren’t Morrison’s friends right now.
If he were to pull a rabbit out of a hat at this late stage, it would likely have myxomatosis.