Monday, July 30, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Shorten sweet
Longman was a huge win for the Labor leader


On Friday it was not clear whether Labor could rise above Bill Shorten’s unpopularity and win the next general election on the strength of its gutsy policy platform – one that eschews high-end personal and company tax cuts in favour of more spending on health and education. Three days later, after holding four of four seats it was forced to recontest at the Super Saturday by-elections, particularly Longman, it is not clear that Labor will win, but it is clear that it can.

Encouraged by the worst in our media, Australian politics is always threatening to become base – to sink to the lowest common denominator of hip-pocket nerve appeal, and to whip out the race card. Ever since 2001, when John Howard manipulated anti-refugee sentiment to win an unprincipled victory over a spineless Labor Party led by Kim Beazley, the siren song of such base politics has been there for the Coalition.

After its defeat on Super Saturday, the Coalition clearly has 2001 top of mind, which means the next election could get very ugly. It was that year’s Ryan by-election that frontbencher Christopher Pyne recalled on the ABC’s Insiders yesterday, as a demonstration that a government can recover from a by-election loss, and go on to win a general election. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton – fearing defeat in his own seat of Dickson, one of a string of now vulnerable Queensland marginals – is already race-baiting on “African gangs” and touting cuts to permanent migration, egged on by Tony Abbott and Pauline Hanson.

Where else, but immigration and national security, is the Coalition going to win votes? Big business tax cuts are a vote-loser, and the National Energy Guarantee is too complicated for retail politics (plus, people will believe electricity price cuts when they happen, not when they’re promised). Polls have been tightening to the point where Labor leads the Coalition by just 51–49, as a third successive Newspoll has confirmed today [$]. I had thought this tightening reflected the government’s “achievement” in getting its personal income tax cut plan through parliament, returning the budget to surplus earlier than expected, and generally appearing as competent economic managers. As The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy described it on Saturday, the government was “putting one foot in front of the other”. As Sean Kelly wrote in The Saturday Paper earlier this month, the sense that issues like energy and tax were “being calmly discussed, slowly herded towards resolution, and even occasionally legislated – is good for a government”.

After Super Saturday, the semblance of competence seems unlikely to get the government over the line next year, and if the recriminations lead to infighting over the coming weeks, the Coalition’s numbers will surely collapse. The first signs are there already, with former Queensland premier Campbell Newman calling [$] for Turnbull to “fall on his sword” – apparently oblivious to the manifest failings of the LNP’s dud candidate in Longman, Trevor Ruthenberg, a former backbencher in Newman’s own one-term state government. What’s more, it is hard to see how Abbott can take comfort out of Ruthenberg’s defeat, given Abbott’s endorsement of the candidate last week as just “the kind of no-nonsense community minded person” the parliament needed.

On the Brisbane fringe, Longman is a million miles from the wealthier Sydney–Canberra–Melbourne axis where progressive economics might be thought to resonate better. What’s so encouraging about the Longman by-election result is that in an electorate doing it tough, with One Nation surging, Labor’s pitch for a fairer society with slightly higher taxes paying for better schools and hospitals has been rewarded with a swing towards it. Perhaps mainstream suburban voters – and not just the political class, and not just in the inner city – really are over trickle-down economics, and the rationalist consensus of the last few decades really has broken down. The PM can rail all he likes against Shorten, calling him anti-business and “the most dangerous left-wing leader in generations.” Coming from Turnbull, especially, it’s not working.

since this morning

The Queensland coroner has found that the death of Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei was preventable and the result of “compounding errors” in health care provided under Australia’s offshore immigration detention system.

The NSW government has declared that 99 per cent of the state is now in drought, and has announced an additional $500 million in emergency drought relief.


According to the AFR’s Phillip Coorey, Malcolm Turnbull faces pressure [$] to dump his company tax cuts after a poor showing on Super Saturday stoked concerns in his party that he will struggle to win seats in Queensland at the federal election. Finance minister Mathias Cormann declared the by-elections a referendum on the policy.

In Fairfax Media, Sean Kelly writes that in the wake of the Super Saturday by-elections “the faint hope of some Shorten critics that the Opposition Leader might quietly stand down has now been obliterated”.

The Australian reports [$] secret LNP polling predicts that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton will retain his marginal Queensland seat of Dickson, despite a slump in Coalition support in the neighbouring Longman by-election, and a GetUp! campaign against him.

In an exclusive, The Guardian reports that Josh Frydenberg has flagged a two-stage process with state and territory ministers to approve the National Energy Guarantee: at the intergovernmental meeting in August they will be asked to agree to the mechanism, while a later meeting will consider emissions reduction targets.

The prime minister has attacked [$] the ABC over a report last week that suggested that the US could strike Iran next month, raising further questions about editorial oversight at the public broadcaster.

Fairfax Media reports that military police are investigating links between up to 50 active defence force personnel and outlaw bikie clubs across Australia.

by Joanna Di Mattia
The persistence of curiosity in documentary profiles
‘RBG’, ‘Whitney’, ‘The Gospel According to André’ and ‘McQueen’ ask: “Who are you?”

by Benjamin Law
Lee Lin’s double life
Lee Lin Chin’s rise from SBS newsreader to queen of satire

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?

The Monthly Today logo

In-depth analysis of the moments that define the day from Paddy Manning.
Free to your inbox every afternoon.


The Monthly Today

Shooters v. Nats

The party of the bush is neither listening nor thinking


The Coalition’s win in NSW was hardly emphatic

A stadium’s last stand

Arrogance. Vandalism. Victory. It’s the NSW disease

Ardern confirms gun law reforms

With the world watching, NZ’s PM shows how it’s done

From the front page

Shooters v. Nats

The party of the bush is neither listening nor thinking

The hyperbole machine

Social media and streaming services are changing what and how we watch

‘Zebra and Other Stories’ by Debra Adelaide

Difficult-to-grasp characters populate this new collection

The right reverts to form after Christchurch

Insisting that both sides are to blame does nothing to arrest far-right extremism