Monday, April 29, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Is Morrison’s ‘threadbare’ campaign working?
The government is not even trying on policy


Today’s tightening in the Newspoll [$], and a run of commentary suggesting that Prime Minister Scott Morrison is out-campaigning Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, invites speculation about what would happen if the Coalition defied the bookies and won the election on May 18. Imagine the mandate the government would claim: to flatten the income tax system, do nothing about climate change and continue to wage culture wars by, for example, privatising or breaking up the ABC, as the Liberal Party council voted in favour of last year. Scandals from watergate to Helloworld would go uninvestigated, and its weak proposed National Integrity Commission would not help. What would be the lessons for Labor?

Shorten’s critics on the left accuse him of being too centrist, perhaps hoping that a new Labor leader would be braver – on climate, on raising Newstart, on a range of issues. A worrying alternative, however, is that the lesson of any defeat for Labor in 2019 would be to abandon policy bravery in Opposition altogether, so there would be no more closing of tax loopholes and concessions favoured by the rich, for fear of another dishonest scare campaign.

Shorten has bitten the bullet on shoring up Australia’s tax revenues and tilting politics back towards the fair go, so that Labor can properly fund a substantial policy platform. Morrison has campaigned on a few slogans and a platform that has been charitably described as “threadbare”. Does anyone care?

Higher pre-poll voting suggests that voters no longer listen to or believe what politicians say this close to an election; if they are exceedingly cynical about what the parties have been serving up during election campaigns for almost two decades – and all too often ignoring once elected – well, who could blame them? John Howard’s dark victory, Kevin Rudd’s great moral challenge, Julia Gillard’s “no carbon tax”, Tony Abbott’s bald-faced “no cuts” lies, Malcolm Turnbull’s nobbled waffle: it has been a litany of uninspiration. Shorten’s challenge in tonight’s first election debate will be to call out the prime minister for a lack of substance, in front of an electorate that no longer expects substance. To paraphrase Barnaby Joyce, we voters wouldn’t know political substance if it stood up in our cornflakes.

Take child care: Labor has announced [$] a $4 billion plan that would ease one of the most crippling costs for parents, and which would directly benefit almost 900,000 families, of which 372,000 families earning up to $69,000 will get a 100 per cent subsidy “making child care free, or almost free”. Families earning between $69,000 and $174,000 will receive a subsidy rate between 100 per cent and 60 per cent.

The response of Education Minister Dan Tehan was to dismiss the plan as “a fast track to a socialist, if not communist, economy. It is unheard of. When they say it is going to be free, taxpayers are paying for this.” Tehan’s fob-off is now trending on Twitter, and so another positive policy announcement sinks in a culture war swirl, and the political debate gets ever-more cynical and simplistic. Will voters snap out of it? As my former colleague Sean Kelly writes in The Sydney Morning Herald today, “The surprising thing about this very boring election is that it really is important.”

Because this is one of those elections where there is a real difference between the two major parties, yet the PM has a small-target strategy, and the Coalition could claim a reverse mandate – to do none of those substantial policy things the Opposition has put forward. Nothing on climate, nothing on tax loopholes, nothing on penalty rates, nothing on public school funding … nothing, nothing, nothing.


“You really have to wonder about the various positions of Julia Banks, who was until not that long ago urging people to vote Liberal and is now suggesting she will preference Labor. That is up to her to explain and to justify, but I think it shows a gross inconsistency on her behalf.”

Liberal Party campaign spokesperson Simon Birmingham on reports that former Liberal MP Julia Banks will recommend that voters preference Labor in the Victorian electorate of Flinders, currently held by Greg Hunt.


“Take the ABC’s obsession with ‘Watergate’, for example, a conspiracy concocted on Twitter about alleged irregularities in the allocation of water licences. Quite what the irregularities were, who was alleging impropriety, or indeed whether any of it mattered a jot has never been explained.”

Executive director of the Menzies Research Centre Nick Cater assesses the ABC’s coverage of the federal election.

The Number

The number of Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party candidates who are potentially ineligible to sit in parliament under section 44 of the Constitution.

The Policy

“A Shorten Labor Government will put more money back in working parents’ pockets for 887,000 Australian families. Every single family earning up to $174,000 will get cheaper child care with Labor.”

The list

“Peter Dutton nervously endures a series of root canals performed by a team of world-class African-Australian dentists.” Oslo Davis takes a look at what the future might hold for our politicians.  


“What has inevitably been re-christened as ‘watergate’ is hardly a barbecue stopper ... The scandal – which it clearly is – may not in itself change votes, but it adds to the list of sloppy, devious and suspect handouts that has bedevilled the government. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation grant, contracts for security on Manus Island, and more recently the hasty signing-off of a uranium mine the day before the election was called are just a few that would never pass the pub test.” 


“Along with Adam Bandt, six of the Greens’ nine senators are up for re-election. There’s a lot to lose, and senior Greens figures aren’t bullish about their prospects. A senior Greens source defined success to me as: ‘Retain, retain. Keep our senators and retain Adam.’”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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