Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Labor Shortening
... but the PM’s economic pitch might just work

Here’s a sentence I didn’t think I would start the year writing: There’s a chance Scott Morrison might win the election. It is all-too tempting to write off the prime minister, skip ahead to the budget, then the election, and, on all evidence, a crushing defeat for the Coalition. But Morrison’s central pitch today – the nth iteration of the Coalition’s “jobs and growth” mantra, accompanied by a scare campaign about the supposed risk Labor presents to the economy – just might work.

Scare campaign or otherwise, it is fair to question whether $200 billion in new Labor taxes could be a wet blanket on Australia’s economy, at a time of global economic jitters and falling property markets. Heavily indebted middle-Australians may feel nervous enough to heed the government’s warnings and back the devil they know.

Morrison’s pitch is laid out in a workmanlike Brisbane speech – on air as I write – in which the Coalition pledges to create another 1.25 million jobs in five years, and wipe out Australia’s net debt in 10. An argumentative Morrison appeared on the ABC’s AM this morning backing the case he had already made in the morning papers.

The polls were probably always going to tighten as the election approached, but today’s Newspoll was encouraging for the government, with the Coalition narrowing the gap to 53–47, in line with the first Essential poll of the year. Labor is still in front, but columnists sympathetic to the Coalition in The Australian are saying that “all is not lost yet” [$] and that the Coalition has “a chance of winning” [$]. As a rule of thumb, a 52–48 gap can be bridged during the course of a campaign, and three months out from the start, with a good-news budget to come, the government is close to competitive. Today’s Newspoll goes against the run of commentary – and the odds, given Sportsbet has Labor shortening on $1.14, against the Coalition on $4.20.

The Newspoll is surprising, because the government had an ordinary summer break. Certainly there is a lot stacked against them. Among them is the memoir Malcolm Turnbull is working on. As Pamela Williams told Fran Kelly last week after the release of her cover essay for February’s issue of The Monthly, Turnbull is understood to be saving his best stuff for the book.

But one thing is clear: both Morrison and Shorten are playing for keeps. It is inconceivable that either will get another shot at the top job. Morrison, if he loses, would be unlikely to see out a term as Opposition leader, and may not want the job at all. Most likely, he wins or he’s out. Ditto for Shorten, who is now in the uncomfortable position of being the near-unbackable favourite – PM in waiting, as the ABC’s 7.30 chief political correspondent, Laura Tingle, described him last night. He has adopted what we might call a large-target strategy, having taken commendably tough policy decisions on dividend imputation reform and the wind-back of negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions for property investors.

It’s a penalty shoot-out: all the pressure’s on Shorten; Morrison only has to come up with a save.

Spend and save

“Of late, the government has been busily taking decisions that add to spending and cut taxes, thereby worsening the bottom line rather than repairing it … [T]he government’s focus has shifted to shoring up its electoral standing rather than shoring up the nation’s finances.” deloitte access economics partner chris richardson

Not the R-word

“There will be a recession in Australia if Labor wins. Mark my words, you can mark it down today.” defence minister christopher pyne on sky news yesterday

The Number

The number of BuzzFeed Australia journalists losing their jobs today, more than a quarter of the staff. READ ON

The Policy
Food shocks mount

Climate change and political instability are causing more “food shocks” – an unexpected loss of food production – according to a new study published in Nature magazine by marine scientist Richard Cottrell. university of tasmania

The list
The Devil and Scott Morrison

“It is difficult to accept that affable ScoMo believes in Satan (or even a south Sydney suburban version of him) and is in receipt of daily guidance from the Holy Spirit on how to confront the Devil’s wiles.” the monthly

Navigating Australian history

“Our prime minister presumably knows that James Cook and Arthur Phillip were not the same person … And he probably also knows that Cook did not actually circumnavigate Australia. But what the hell, he could have if he’d wanted to – and this close to Australia Day, why waste a marketing opportunity?” The Monthly

Outstanding fines and Indigenous imprisonment

“While outstanding fines contribute to Indigenous over-imprisonment in every jurisdiction, Western Australia’s Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act establishes a pipeline directly from unpaid fines to a prison cell.” the saturday paper

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

Chalmers fires up

A scrapper from Brisbane’s backblocks won’t be lectured on aspiration

PM’s humble pie

The government’s economic reform agenda is threadbare

Labor frays on tax

The Opposition risks becoming a rabble

Medivac “floodgates”? Hardly

Peter Dutton’s fearmongering is despicable

From the front page

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Vanishing voices

The cultural damage of homogenising language

Chalmers fires up

A scrapper from Brisbane’s backblocks won’t be lectured on aspiration


At home in the Antarctic

The screenwriters living with the crew of Mawson station

Image of the University of Sydney


The Australian’s crusade on free speech in universities