TWO WEEKS from polling day — in what ranks as the most insipid contest in years, if not ever — the unlikely but unmistakable march of the contemptible Bill Shorten toward The Lodge has been stopped in its tracks; what seemed a shock upset a week ago has been turned on its head by inadvisable pronouncements from Shorten on the economy and on asylum seekers. Yet just when the tide runs the Coalition’s way, along comes Malcolm Turnbull.
There are those who will say the result of this year’s election was never in any doubt; that Malcolm Turnbull — principally because he isn’t Tony Abbott — was always destined to gallop off to a thumping election win, carrying the Liberal and National Parties on his back.
Perhaps he will — and perhaps the government will survive its meeting with voters on 2 July almost unscathed — but I still believe this is a see-sawing contest, not because the polls say it is, but rather brutally because both sides appear to be held in such low esteem by the general public that whoever makes the fewest mistakes will win.
Until a week ago, unbelievably, it seemed the prize was there for the moronic Bill Shorten to take.
I apologise to readers for yet another leave of absence; perhaps it is time to say I will aim for two, three, four articles per week (as opposed to the five to seven that were a regular feature before my workload ramped up so drastically a year ago) and to stop apologising for being busy. But this morning, in restarting proceedings, I want to speak very broadly about where I think we are at.
Six days ago, I opined that thanks to his admissions on what a Labor government would do with the federal budget if it was elected next month — namely, to drop the pretence that Labor’s Senate obstruction over the past two years had been in any way responsible, and to admit the party would adopt in government tens of billions of dollars of Abbott government cuts it derided as “cruel” and “unfair” — Shorten had ensured the 2 July election would come to be seen as having been won or lost on that day; I am beginning to think that diagnosis was right on the money, and it looks as if Shorten’s attempt to dump the bad news at a time the country was heading into a long weekend and with three weeks in hand to recover will explode in his smarmy face.
Or does it?
The tone was set on Tuesday by Mark Kenny from The Age, in his article exploring the notion that Labor’s campaign had peaked; Kenny made no mention of Shorten’s budget proclamations, but he didn’t have to, for the only “game changing moment” that has occurred in this campaign to date was the hurried press conference on Thursday last in which Shorten and his Treasury spokesman, Chris Bowen, effectively admitted to millions of intending Labor voters that they had been duping them all along.
And of course, it has been all downhill for Labor from there.
Not content with peddling the ridiculous lie that a re-elected Turnbull government intended to privatise Medicare, this week Labor wheeled out ageing former Prime Minister Bob Hawke to bolster its scare campaign; that the ALP should place such faith in such a grotesquely crass smear is bad enough, but for Hawke to lower his colours to be dragged into it speaks volumes for both the desperation that must be seeping into the Labor bunker, and for the complete lack of credibility Labor’s predictable, formulaic and decade-old prophesies of doom in Australian healthcare under the Coalition have come to assume these days.
Labor rattles the tin of “Liberals to kill hospital beds and nursing jobs” with such monotonous regularity one could set a watch by it: and in any case, it’s a mark of just how pathetic Labor’s offering as a party of national government really is that whether credible or not, it really only ever builds its campaigns on two state issues — Health and Education.
Yes, it talks about other things too, but the mentality that if Labor simply talks about these two subjects it can win anything is so pervasive as to be almost literally tangible.
Meanwhile, Shorten — who has had inordinate trouble keeping his sheep within the fold when it comes to the fraught issue of boat arrivals and would-be economic migrants paying people smugglers to circumvent proper process — also announced this week that the 30,000 arrivals left over from the 50,000 who turned up during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government would, under a Labor government, be granted residency, work and welfare rights: overturning, once again, the successful policies of a Coalition government that stopped unending (and ever-increasing) streams of people chancing their luck to get to these shores by sea, with over 1,200 drowning in the process during the ALP’s last stint in office.
It’s a win for the socialists and compassion-babbling Chardonnay drunks at the Greens and the hard Left, but mainstream Australia will be unimpressed; it took Rudd on his word, in good faith, when he dismantled the Howard government’s Pacific Solution, with solemn assurances that no human tide would suddenly bear down on this country looking for the easy way in.
It won’t be quite so trusting now.
From Sideshow Alley, Shorten’s trusty mate in Melbourne, union hand puppet and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, has treated the country to a spectacular demonstration of the ALP’s political judgement and strategic nous, choosing the middle of a federal election campaign to create the unwanted distraction of capitulating to a union Labor owed its 2014 state election win to — the hard-Left United Firefighters’ Union — by sacking the independent board of the (largely volunteer-comprised) Country Fire Authority in order to ram through a deeply reviled “enterprise” bargaining “agreement” that is, in all but name, a takeover of the CFA by the UFU and a blunt message to the volunteers to either submit to their new union masters or to fuck off.
In a gift that really doesn’t keep on giving for Shorten — or at least, not in a way that is of any use to anyone but the Liberal Party — the details of the so-called EBA have become public over the past few days, including details of stamp duty refunds on houses purchased by firefighters posted to other locations within Victoria (savings of up to $40,000 that the rest of the population doesn’t get) as well as thousands of dollars in extra pay-offs and perks, all at taxpayers’ expense, that can amount to nothing more on a reasonable assessment than a payment for services rendered.
It isn’t a case of the “benefits” of being a union member: rather, an illustration of how public finances are abused by unions, with the ALP deeply complicit in the rort, to gain control over sinecures that can be taken over for no other reason than they simply can’t resist once a government — a Labor government — adds its muscle to the endeavour.
Next time you see people at a polling booth masquerading as firefighters and ambulance drivers, you can get a fair idea of just how lucrative the abuse of their public positions for political gain really stands to be for their unions.
But it has added weight to the growing public acceptance of the line that Labor governs solely for the benefit of the unions; with less than 15% of the working population now choosing to belong to one union or another (and with the proportion likely to be down to single figures now, when public sector employees are excluded), this anachronistic approach to public office simply doesn’t fit with the contemporary outlook of the vast majority of people who live in modern Australia — an uncomfortable reality for a Labor Party that has grown increasingly beholden to violent and lawless outfits like the CFMEU.
Everywhere you look, Labor’s luck — and the cohesion of the past two-and-a-bit years that was founded on a series of “smart” answers, deceptive half-truths, and outright lies — is suddenly beginning to falter.
It was reflected in Shorten’s performance on the ABC’s ghastly #QandA programme on Monday night; the rent-a-crowd brought in by the ABC predictably clapped and cheered, in a characteristically partisan production that showcased the alleged merits of the Left’s latest hero in all his ugly glory.
But Shorten’s virtuoso performance was, in fact, terrible; his vocal delivery alternated between a dead flat drone and a ghoulish, wavering screech that sounded like a bizarre mixture of excessive excitement and a death rattle. His points were shallow, his attack lines predictable, and much of what he had to say was downright dishonest: like his repeated characterisation of negative gearing as “a subsidy” as he persists with a policy ostensibly designed to win support by kicking hell out of “rich” people, but which instead will hurt hundreds of thousands of mum-and-dad investors badly before it even gets to anyone who might be described as “rich” at all — and probably causing a recession along the way for good measure.
He didn’t do himself any favours, and those who can be bothered revisiting this excruciating piece of television can access the video file here.
Of course, there are other things Shorten and the ALP have been up to; after 18 months of opinion poll leads prior to the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull to the Prime Ministership, and the re-establishment of a winning position over the past few months, Labor suddenly can’t take a trick.
And the polls, whilst not lurching toward the government en masse, are picking up shards of it: Essential saw Labor move back into the lead last week with a 51-49 margin over the government, and Ipsos, for the Fairfax press, found the ALP maintaining the same buffer over the Coalition.
Yet two ReachTel polls showed 51-49 leads for the Coalition — the first in some time — whilst a Newspoll analysis of marginal seats published in The Australian today shows the Coalition would hold onto almost all of the disputed electorates it is defending in a fortnight’s time.
I don’t agree with analyses that show the Coalition nearing 52% of the vote on an aggregation of polling results — experience and gut instinct still suggest it’s nearer to 50-50, and that the government may not as yet have clawed its way back in front. But that is certainly the direction reputable measurements of electoral sentiment are now heading in, and if Turnbull isn’t in a genuinely winning position yet, it can only be a matter of time given the apparent determination of the ALP to surrender whatever credibility — and the winning position — it might have held.
But then, Malcolm reverts to being Malcolm.
Already saying virtually nothing about the disgusting lawless mess that is the union movement these days — the supposed pretext for holding a double dissolution in the first place — and ignoring key issues like negative gearing, genuine tax reform (as opposed to a revenue-yielding patchwork fix) or industrial reform, Turnbull continues to show he has a tin ear when it comes to issues that resonate with the voters he depends on for re-election: the Coalition’s bedrock and those swinging voters inclined to vote with it.
Just days after 102 gay people were murdered or maimed by a Muslim gunman in a vile atrocity in Orlando, Florida, Malcolm saw fit to stage a highly publicised dinner with key Muslims to celebrate the end of their month of fasting: and whilst tolerance and inclusion are well and good, the fact remains that both major parties are guilty of thumbing their noses at genuine voter concerns about Islamic violence — at home and abroad — and their resentment at simply being told they must accept that people like Turnbull know what is good for them.
To add insult to injury, an anti-gay cleric was invited to this gala extravaganza at Kirribilli House: a man whose views on homosexual people, Jews, adulterers and even Christmas border on barbaric.
Turnbull must have known the dinner would have received wide media coverage, and he must have known the attendees — hardly any of whom engender any public support or affection beyond the political Left and the Islamic community — would be closely scrutinised.
Yet when called out over the attendance of Sheik Shady Al-Suleiman — who thinks adulterers should be stoned to death and that God should “destroy the enemies of Islam” — the best Turnbull could do was to blame his staff.
Andrew Bolt, without a syllable of the extremism he is too often (and baselessly) accused of, nails his blistering critique of Turnbull in today’s metropolitan Murdoch publications.
And just as Shorten isn’t doing himself or his party any favours, the same could be said of Malcolm: a telling example is that even after the vicious onslaught against Labor’s economic management “credentials” by Finance minister Matthias Cormann, which arguably wrong-footed Shorten into his humiliating about-face on the budget last week, the subject has been allowed to drop; with the state of the national finances a very real (and increasingly urgent) consideration, the absence of any coherent attempt to prosecute this case once and for all that has marked the span of this government has simply resumed.
But more generally — in the most lacklustre, uninspiring and insipid election campaign in living memory, if not ever — there have been plenty of instances of Malcolm dropping the ball instead of putting it through the hoop for a slam-dunk.
His voice may be harder, more articulate and easier to listen to than the nasal blather of Shorten, but all too often Turnbull’s messages are just as empty and just as full of misdirected slogans as his opponent’s have always been.
The only real difference is that Malcolm is far more honest than little Billy Bullshit: which isn’t saying much, for when it comes to matters of real substance, Turnbull hasn’t actually been saying much at all.
What he has been saying and doing, however, has proven sufficient to get Shorten off the hook: and it may yet prove so once more.
We started this campaign suggesting it was Bill Shorten’s election to lose, and last Thursday, he may well have lost it.
But election campaigns by their nature remain fluid until the last vote is cast: and with the propensity to pander to left-wing fancies and parade “credentials” that will only enrage his own support base, Turnbull may yet hand Shorten the means with which to extract a victory from the jaws of defeat.
This Monday night, Turnbull gets his turn at a solo performance on #QandA: I will be in Brisbane, and a house guest, so I regrettably won’t get to watch it, at least not until I find time a day or two later to catch the archived version online.
But you’d have to say that virtually anything could happen.
The conventional wisdom (and I do agree with it, for these things are inherently changeable) suggests that Labor is cooked, and that Shorten will lose. The only question seems to be by how much; and if it comes to pass, I will have no sympathy for the lying bastard — and neither, for the record, should anyone else. If Shorten’s career ends in a fortnight’s time, the national polity will be greatly enriched by his departure.
In any contest between Shorten and Turnbull, it’s a lay-down misere in Turnbull’s favour; I might not have any truck with the moderate faction of my own party, and I don’t care for the socialist trifles it appears determined to at least flirt with on Turnbull’s watch. But I have no appetite for a stint in opposition to “disinfect” the party (as some on the conservative wing are desperate to engineer) and I do not resile from my position that any government led by Bill Shorten would, in terms of the national interest, be utterly cataclysmic.
But for all that, Malcolm is not home and dry yet: there is still a fortnight to go.
If he ends up somehow losing the election from here, the only person Malcolm will be able to blame is himself.
A deceptively steep hurdle awaits on Monday night. It will be interesting to see whether Malcolm is able to clear it.