AMID THE ENNUI of a timid, misdirected Coalition campaign, a ray of light has shone on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull; his opponents’ efforts — hitherto a tightly disciplined exercise in the seamless delivery of unmitigated bullshit — have begun to unravel and with them, some hypocritical realities of Shorten Labor have oozed out. A week ago, Turnbull was gone. It remains to be seen whether he can capitalise on the chinks in Labor’s armour.
First things first: I didn’t watch the so-called leaders’ “debate” last night, and from what I have since heard, I didn’t miss much; these events — whilst allegedly integral to our democratic processes — have never, as far as I can recall over the past 30 years, made one jot of difference to the eventual outcome of an election: and nor would they, rendered sterile by rules of “engagement” that make spontaneity and authenticity impossible, filled with platitudes and the regurgitation of slogans served up for weeks and months and years beforehand, and “judged” by an aptly named worm that is neither representative of the voting public nor statistically valid or reliable in any way.
The fact those who didn’t mark the debate as a saccharine draw scored a paper-thin win to Bill Shorten doesn’t and shouldn’t come as a surprise, either: these “debates,” by virtue of the ridiculous format they follow, typically favour Labor leaders and opposition leaders in that order. Shorten is both.
Let’s pray there are no further “debates” between now and 2 July. Politics in its current incarnation is debased enough as it is without wilfully adding such rubbish into the mix and insulting the intelligence of the Australian public even further than is ordinarily the case.
I had intended to publish over the weekend a precis of where I think the campaign stands, with three weeks down and five to go (and I’m sorry, but after a day at the markets on Saturday, I instead went to and celebrated yesterday’s stellar win over Geelong by the Carlton Football Club) but it’s no real secret that after months of dithering, directionless government this year followed by the opening rounds of a misfiring and frankly pathetic campaign, had the election taken place a week ago, I think the insidious Shorten would have narrowly scraped home to form a government.
What the summary I had planned to publish would have said is that after a dreadful week in which Labor’s tight controls on the semantic diarrhoea it has been passing off as an agenda for office began to unravel, Turnbull — and the Coalition — have been dealt back into the game; at this stage it remains to be seen whether this process continues, and whether or not the government can finally begin to land some killer blows upon its opponent. But at the very least, the effronterous march of Shorten and the ALP toward the Treasury benches appears to have been stayed.
The revelation of gaffe-prone frontbencher David Feeney’s “forgetfulness” about investment properties he has negatively geared doesn’t just undermine Labor’s “hit the rich” rationale for abolishing negative gearing concessions, but merely represents the tip of a very large iceberg; with 1.8 million Australians directly involved in this practice, it defies belief that the ranks of organisations queuing up behind Shorten to rail against “the rich being subsidised by the taxpayer” in writing investment losses off against income — the ALP, the unions, and particularly those catering to teachers, nurses and emergency services personnel — are not awash with individuals with negatively geared property, and this includes the senior national leaders of these entities.
I suspect we will never know, of course. But where there is one David Feeney to be found, there are no doubt others: and whilst Feeney has made millions out of the taxpayer in the form of parliamentary salaries, the fact is that 77% of those who negatively gear properties earn less than $100,000 per annum, and 90% of them have just one or two investment properties.
This will — or it should — be an issue on which Turnbull and his acolytes run hard over the next month.
But Feeney is nothing if not generous, for he also forced during the week an admission that for all its hot air and blather about the Gillard-era Schoolkids’ Bonus — abolished by the Abbott government, with indications over the ensuing two years that a Shorten government would restore it — this blatant Labor Party election bribe would not be reinstated if it won office, which is more of a revelation than first impressions might suggest.
The ALP needs to win over hundreds of thousands of additional voters if it is to defy electoral history and return to office after a single term; the Schoolkids’ Bonus — which this column flatly opposed when it was cooked up by Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, despite the fact I have school-aged children — should now be made a talismanic symbol by the Coalition parties of just what else Labor has suggested it would dish out if it won that is also in line to be scrapped.
For a self-confessed liar with the dubious record of professional trustworthiness that Shorten now asks voters to endorse for the Prime Ministership, this should be the thin edge of the wedge; the Schoolkids’ Bonus was set to cost $4.5bn over four years, and despite trumpeting a plan to slug Australians with $102bn in extra taxes over a decade and insisting that figure was both accurate and achievable, Feeney’s admission ultimately forced Shorten to concede that it wasn’t affordable.
Apparently, according to Feeney, there are other “savings” and boosts to the budget bottom line to come as part of Labor’s program.
What else in the bag of goodies Shorten is waving around the country isn’t affordable either? The seeds of doubt are there to be planted.
To be fair, the wild swings taken at Labor last week by Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance minister Matthias Cormann — arguing there was a “black hole” of some $67bn in Labor’s election costings — went some way to planting them, and we spoke about this on Thursday; the accusations were met by righteous and indignant protestations from the ALP that the “black hole” was a figment of the government’s imagination. But even the best rationale that could be offered up in its support found Labor $32bn short: and pressing this advantage home over the next five weeks will be paramount.
Today, The Australian chips in with a piece featuring former Queensland Treasurer Keith de Lacy — a Labor stalwart who mightn’t have had much corporate credibility during the term of the Goss government, but who has since become a rather distinguished voice within the business community — who takes the opportunity to rip into the federal ALP, dismissing Shorten’s claim that Labor has “excellent relations” with corporate Australia, and branding the opposition’s taxation policies the “most anti-business policy (he’s) ever seen federal Labor put to an election.”
This, from one of the few genuinely respected ALP figures to have been responsible for Treasury books anywhere for a protracted period in recent decades, is a damning indictment. As far as I’m aware, de Lacy isn’t nursing grievances or pursuing a vendetta against Labor, and so it’s probably safe to take his judgement at face value. And that judgement, of course, validates everything the ALP’s economic critics have been saying about it for almost a decade.
Labor’s ghastly social policies have taken big hits as well, with “Safe” Schools now permanently discredited by the departure of co-founder Roz Ward, whose outbursts included the declaration that Australia’s “racist” flag should be replaced with a hammer and sickle, and anecdotes of suggestions by her that people who believed “Safe” Schools was about stopping bullying when it was really aimed at destroying traditional values must be very stupid indeed.
Another of the Daily Telegraph‘s regular writers today highlights Shorten’s overreach — in seeking to pander to another minority community, this time Aborigines, in his efforts to win votes by demonising the mainstream majority — by insisting Australians are fundamentally racist and that only he, Bill Shorten, could terminate this outrage at a stroke.
Never mind the fact that millions of those racists must first vote for him if he is ever to do so: yet in any case, the idea of Shorten stamping out what pockets of racism exist in Australia is akin to the expectation he will walk to Parliament House in Canberra every day across Lake Burleigh Griffin. It’s just bullshit.
There are other things I could point to over the past week that have conspired, slowly, gradually, but definitively to expose the part of Labor’s neck that houses its collective jugular vein, but the point is that in increments and across a broad framework whose constituent areas are being filled in one at a time, the tightly controlled cacophony of bullshit that has been Shorten’s stock in trade for two and a half years is now being found out as rather loose.
So what is “fair?”
Is it fair to be a party to the virtual bankrupting of Australia — as a government minister and later as the leader of a conspiracy to prevent anyone else fixing the damage — in order to claim the Coalition is an assortment of economic vandals? The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
Is it fair to mortgage the future living standards of not one but several generations for political gain spanning a single electoral cycle?
Is it fair to set Australians against each other, actively fomenting class envy and hatred, for the grimy anticipated return of a handful of votes?
Is it fair to aspire to govern Australia, preaching one set of standards for the wider population, whilst some in Shorten’s midst (and perhaps Shorten himself: we don’t know) operate on a different set of principles altogether?
Is it fair to fling borrowed money at voters to bribe them? Is it fair to promise people what the country simply can’t afford to spend? Is it fair, when caught out, to take the bribes off the table, saying there’s not the money to pay for them — in the same breath as announcing a $102bn tax slug on everyone in the country?
And the decidedly iffy, questionable past of Bill Shorten — the dodgy election donations, the dodgy workplace agreements, the selling out of workers whose fortunes he was entrusted with, and the dubious personal dealings he has had inside and outside his party — are a legitimate, and critical, part of any properly calibrated Coalition onslaught.
There are storylines and avenues of attack that Turnbull and his colleagues can establish, develop and shoot home with lethal force if the opportunities that have now begun to appear are seized and properly exploited over the remainder of this campaign.
Some of the weak points in the Labor edifice have sprung sharply into focus over the past week.
It hasn’t been enough to get Turnbull out of the woods — yet — and if the ALP re-establishes an iron grip over its own campaign, giving people easy answers and bags of non-existent money whilst saying what they think they want to hear, the ray of light shining on the government heading into week four may yet prove to have been a false dawn.
And it might be trite to say so, but every one of these attack themes have been advocated both in this column and elsewhere in the conservative press for almost three years as the key to securing a second term in office for the Coalition, and have been largely ignored: it might be a case of “better late than never,” but if the Coalition finally gets its communications and strategy people doing what they are paid to do, then the past week may yet be seen in hindsight as the point at which Shorten’s “leadership” of the ALP imploded, and the ALP’s electoral prospects with it.
For the first time in quite some time, Turnbull starts the week with a golden opportunity to turn the tide of public opinion back in his government’s favour, and to begin a process that culminates in slaying the Labor dragon in 33 days’ time.
The big question, of course, is whether or not he can. Time will tell. It always does.