2 July Approaches: Election Was Won, Or Lost, On Thursday

IN A SIGN tight polls mirror internal findings by the major parties showing the ALP could win on 2 July — and in a response that may well backfire — Labor “leader” Bill Shorten has trashed two years of rhetoric about “fairness” by embracing Abbott-era spending cuts he once derided as vicious, unfair and cruel. It is a belated recognition government involves at least an appearance of responsibility, but may well explode in the vacuous Shorten’s face.

I must apologise for my silence this week; not the result of my workload elsewhere (although that remains very solid indeed) but an involuntary consequence of the death of the computer in my home office, the week has been a very interesting experience in trying to keep balls in the air at all, let alone manage the usual juggle. There has been a lot happening, and I will try to cover off on some of this in a series of shorter posts than usual over the next few days.

And lest there be any doubt, there are some relevant issues (like the Victorian ALP’s dictatorial execution of union demands in sacking the board of the Country Fire Authority over an industrial dispute fashioned to extend and entrench the relevant union against the wishes of CFA members) that may prove influential over the balance of the federal election campaign, and others (like the disendorsement and expulsion of a Liberal candidate for an ultra-safe ALP seat in Victoria) that don’t matter two-tenths of diddlysquat in the wider scheme of things: some of the more salient of these issues will form some of the ground we make up.

But there are two schools of thought about the stunning about-face performed by the ALP, its cretinous “leader,” Bill Shorten, and his Treasury spokesman, the Rudd-esque slogan regurgitator Chris Bowen, on Thursday.

On the one hand, the declaration that a Labor government would adopt a swag of stalled savings measures from the notorious 2014 budget might be seen as a tacit admission that sensing an election win is in the offing, the ALP needed to begin to present at least the facade of economic responsibility where management of the haemorrhaging federal budget is concerned.

On the other, it could be seen as a panicked response to sustained Liberal Party attacks on the ALP’s credibility (and specifically, the credibility of its costings promises) and in particular, the admission by Shorten during the week that whilst the budget would return to surplus in 2020-21 — the same timeframe proposed by the Coalition — deficits over the initial three to four years would be larger than those projected by the Coalition.

On both interpretations, Labor is open to the charge of economic vandalism made in this column two years ago, and guilty of needlessly adding tens of billions of dollars to Commonwealth debt through its bloody-minded obstruction tactics in the Senate, to say nothing of the further billions in interest payments that would not have been incurred to service it over that time.

And on both interpretations, the ALP appears to have gambled that the prospect of what hitherto been an appallingly lacklustre campaign from the Coalition throwing up further mistakes and own goals to diminish the re-election prospects of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull outweighs the very real risk that voters will, en masse, now conclude Shorten and his cohorts are the pack of useless and unprincipled shits we have warned about for two years, and lurch back to the Coalition and the familiarity of the devil they already know.

Joe Hockey’s 2014 budget — whilst likely, as Coalition figures at the time insisted, to go at least some way toward fixing the structural budget deficit bequeathed by the ALP had it been legislated — was a colossal political failure of almost unquantifiable magnitude; rather than seek to terminate unsustainable and massive new recurrent spending programs legislated by Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan to booby-trap the budget, Hockey instead took disproportionate aim at almost every component of the Coalition’s core constituency, with families, middle income earners and pensioners among the groups that would have been hardest hit.

Simultaneously, a misdirected and utterly deficient “communications” strategy saw the budget entrenched as politically toxic in the electorate within days, as a vapid, vacuous Labor onslaught about “fairness” went completely unrebutted in any meaningful sense, and this — combined with unreasoning intransigence in the Senate on the part of the ALP, the Communist Party Greens and the insidious, Labor-aiding Palmer United Party — created persistent wide Labor leads across all the major polls that were ultimately central to the premature demise of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister.

Even so, Shorten’s own program for budget “repair” — a slate of tax slugs said to be worth $102bn over a decade (notwithstanding bickering over whether this figure was accurate or not) — was almost exclusively bound to new spending programs the ALP proposed to implement if elected.

Now, with an election win having begun to look increasingly plausible, a secondary “program” of adopting the very cuts that were once pilloried as vicious, cruel and unfair has been wheeled out at the eleventh hour in a bid to make Shorten and Labor appear as responsible economic managers, even if the reality — should they form government after 2 July — is likely to prove very different indeed.

Everyone knows the publicly published polls have been terrible for the government; for this, Turnbull and his team have only themselves to blame, as a Prime Minister whose personal support has predictably drifted into solidly negative territory over the past six months — people didn’t like Turnbull as opposition leader, and it isn’t a surprise that assessment is being revisited — is being further compromised by a campaign that has hitherto failed to lay a glove on the smugly glib Shorten, nor apparently to convince sufficient numbers of voters of the merits of voting Liberal at all.

I have been receiving word from reliable sources across Australia about private Liberal Party polling that substantially verifies the results of the public polls — and then some.

Prior to last Thursday, the consensus appears to have been that between 10 and 15 Coalition seats stood to be lost to Labor in just Queensland and NSW alone; when it is remembered that Liberals and Nationals notionally approach polling day with 90* of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, this movement would be sufficient for Turnbull to lose the government’s majority in those two states alone.

At least one extra seat in Tasmania, perhaps two in Victoria, one in SA and up to four in WA — plus the Darwin-based seat of Solomon — rounded out the upper end of potential losses to the ALP Coalition insiders have been bracing for.

Talk of the Liberal Party winning two or three additional seats in Melbourne, on the back of Turnbull’s alleged popularity, evaporated: sandbagging and holding existing territory had become the order of the day.

And more ominously, some research conducted in very safe Liberal electorates showed the Turnbull government’s superannuation changes — replete with the despicable sleight of retrospective taxation — were generating white-hot fury among the party’s most affluent supporters, although the effects of this had not been quantified in terms of a swing against the party in those seats.

These are just some of the things that have made me think a Shorten victory — as distasteful as it would be — was growing likelier.

But all of these things also preceded the bombshell dropped by the ALP on Thursday, in which the families, age pensioners and recipients of some healthcare services that Shorten has spent two years solemnly claiming to represent are all now lined up in the sights of the Labor gun.

At the very minimum, Shorten and Bowen have validated virtually every criticism levelled at them by the government, conservative commentators, and those elements of the press who are independently minded enough to call them out for what they are: wreckers and economic vandals prepared to gamble with the very viability of Australia itself through political tactics designed to slake an obsession with regaining power at literally any price.

In the case of Shorten — already thoroughly discredited as completely untrustworthy as a self-confessed liar, and having done nothing during this term of Parliament to alter that perception among the wider public — Thursday’s backflip will simply feed into the electoral sentiment that he stands for nothing, and nobody, except himself and his delusional view that he is “destined” to be Prime Minister.

But whilst Labor’s breathtaking about-face on the 2014-vintage savings measures will do nothing to engender any credibility for Shorten, the simple truth is that he had little to begin with.

With three weeks to go and an ineffective, mistake-prone opponent, Shorten may well calculate that by getting the yuckiest bit of his own campaign out of the way, there is ample time for Turnbull to slip up, perhaps terminally: the truth be told, and based on the Coalition’s efforts to date, it’s probably a reasonable assessment to make.

And whilst it elicited a lot of noise from Turnbull and his Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, the equally simple truth is that there is no guarantee their economic attack lines will resonate with voters even now: after all, this Coalition government has been almost fatally defective where communications and tactics are concerned since the day it took office, and this flaw is arguably just as pronounced today as it was when Peta Credlin was in charge of overseeing such things during Abbott’s tenure.

In any case, and perversely, the fracas over the CFA in Victoria on Friday has probably already taken much of the wind out of the Coalition’s sails where federal Labor’s budget backflip is concerned: people, and politics, move on. Politics is an eternally fluid business. Events gazump events. The Shorten-Bowen show is already old news.

Either way, in a pedestrian and moribund re-election campaign, Thursday was the first genuine turning point the Coalition has encountered: and with three weeks to go, it may well be — nay, is probably — also the last.

The big question (to put it very bluntly) is whether — after two and a half years of talking complete shit, violating many of the “principles” Labor has historically claimed to stand for, and playing fast and loose with the country’s economic security by virtue of its behaviour in the Senate — Shorten’s latest gambit amounts to one half-arsed move too many.

I think it’s fair to say that this election was won, or lost — depending on your viewpoint — on Thursday afternoon.

If the Coalition’s fortunes rise from here, it will be obvious that Shorten’s stunt has backfired.

But even if they do, the Coalition can afford no further mistakes: for if a rise in support from the government is followed by more gaffes that lead to that support resuming its decline, then Shorten — unbelievably — may yet have set himself up to triumph with his announcement that despite ranting for years about fairness and cruelty, the whole thing was an act from the very beginning.

Should a Labor win come to pass, then God help Australia.

 

*Includes the seat of Fairfax held by Clive Palmer, which will almost certainly be regained by the Liberal Party on 2 July.

 

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3 thoughts on “2 July Approaches: Election Was Won, Or Lost, On Thursday

  1. The Weekend Australian is suggesting in NSW that Labor and Liberal are both claiming that the Government is increasingly likely to hold Banks, Reid and Lindsay. It also claims Barton is no ALP certainty, though Robertson, MacArthur and Eden Monaro look like they are gone. On top of that they are claiming Greenway and Parramatta are within reach. I am assuming Page isn’t mentioned as it is a National Party seat and I assume Patterson is firmly in the Labor camp. Then we have the matter of Windsor in New England (I think Cowper won’t fall to Oakeshott).

    In Queensland they are claiming Griffith is under threat (mind you I know the LNP focus is on Moreton rather than Griffith), while Petrie is lineball. It states Herbert and Capricornia are gone while Flynn looks ok. Meanwhile it suggests Longman is under threat (I believe Dickson could also be in the conversation but it was not mentioned). No comment made about Bonner, Leichardt, Forde, Dawson or Brisbane.

    In Victoria they are claiming Corangmite is looking increasingly ok, but Dunkley is in trouble while Chisholm and Bruce could fall back to us. I won’t bother with South Australia as the Xenophon thing makes it impossible to read.

    The article is also claiming that WA is looking increasingly like a hold, while in Tassie one seat will go and in the NT Solomon is in the ALP seats.

    Fall to Labor – Barton, Robertson, Patterson, MacArthur, Eden Monaro, Capricornia, Herbert, Longman, Solomon, Lyons

    No mention – Bonner, Leichardt, Forde, Dawson, Brisbane, Page.

    Could go to the LNP – Parramatta, Greenway, Bruce, Chisholm, Griffith.

    South Australia – who the hell knows how these three way contests will go. I would want a three seat buffer at least.

    I’m personally of the belief that Dawson and Forde will be in trouble despite not being mentioned. I am going to take the Weekend Australian as solid on its information, but it is really hard to believe Petrie is still in play (but they are not the only media outlet claiming this). It is also funny that Shorten is spending lots of time in Barton and some time in Griffith, which sort of leads credence to the Weekend Australian’s claims.

    The big if are those seats that may fall to the LNP, plus Fairfax which will certainly go to the LNP.

    A few weeks left though, but the early pre poll voting may well decide several seats. I will make my own call during the last week of the campaign as lots can happen until then.

    • Hi Robbie, look — it isn’t necessarily a piece I completely disagree with; everyone knows there is some kind of swing on (and Black and I concur on this): the variance occurs in where that swing manifests itself. He thinks it will be in safe liberal and labor seats; I think it could knock out enough marginals. Until what happened on Thursday washes through the system in the next few days, we won’t really know if it has made a difference. Both his thesis and the position I have taken in recent weeks could be turned on their respective heads depending on what the mass reaction is to Labor’s spending cut about-face.

      That said, one of the problems with this election is that it’s one of the patchier campaigns we have seen play out for some time, and I think state factors are probably a stronger influence than usual. Thus, the always-unpopular spectre of council amalgamations will exacerbate any anti-Coalition movement in NSW (irrespective of how the rest of the campaign is playing out) whilst unpopular state governments in Victoria, NSW and WA may also affect which seats change hands.

      The Coalition is running a very poor campaign, and I do think people are wising up to the emptiness of what has now become the standard labor approach: say literally anything to win votes on a populist pitch, and worry about the consequences later. I do think, in that vein, Shorten might have tripped himself up by having to go firm on details of more spending cuts — having pilloried Abbott as hard as he did over breaking promises, Shorten is now effectively doing the same thing before any election win has even been accomplished.

      You do have to remember that John Black is a Labor man — and take some of the issues he identifies, such as the wholesale disappearance of jobs — with a grain of salt. There has been to the best of my knowledge no qualitative research conducted to show a link between the disappearance of jobs in legacy industries, and to the extent this phenomenon exists at all, it probably benefits Labor (as opposed to the GST changes that made every tradesperson a small business, and correspondingly advantaged the Liberals under Howard).

      I think none of us will really know how this shakes out until the votes are counted. This contest remains finely poised, and as much as I am opposed personally to Malcolm Turnbull as a Prime Ministerial candidate, it goes without saying that he is infinitely preferable than Shorten.

      But the bookies probably aren’t the counter-index to the polls Black is suggesting, and especially with almost half the seats (in WA and NSW) being fought out on new boundaries this time around: there are a lot of excellent points made in John Black’s article but I guess it will only be in hindsight that we know which of us (or anyone else) was nearer the mark in how 2 July will play out.

      Sorry to equivocate, but this is the toughest election to pick that I think we’ve seen since (probably) 1990…

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