It would be odd if this column did not make some comment on progress in the federal election campaign which, mercifully, has now ground its relentless way to the halfway mark. My assessment at this point is as follows. First, the election will be won by the Turnbull government, because it will probably win the House of Reps after losing about half its majority. The reason it will probably win is that the unfolding campaign by the ALP with its class warfare, profligate spending, inevitable tax increases, deficits and the virtual certainty of the refugee business starting up again, is scaring the middle class. That is so because there are sufficient numbers of them who want to get ahead and who rightly see there is no chance of doing so under a Labor government. Moreover, there is something unpersuasive about the whole economic policy of the ALP, which seems to be: ‘Vote for us and we will put the country into insolvency earlier than the Coalition.’ Secondly, the result will be very different in the Senate. The combined effect of the so-called reform of Senate voting and genuine suspicion of what Malcolm Turnbull would do if he could pass whatever laws he wanted, will yield a bigger crop of independents than was expected. Indeed, the changes to Senate voting have put more focus on the importance of the Senate, the role that independents can play and in particular the restraint it can impose on an avaricious government. This focus is more likely than not to produce a new crop of independents. Thirdly, the most interesting feature of the campaign is the distinct lack of enthusiasm among Liberal voters. In that respect, I find this election unique. It is the first time since I turned 15 that I have not been up on the barricades waving a sabre and urging a Liberal victory. It is also the first time that normally reticent Liberal voters have approached me and told me that they will not be voting for the party, for the reason they give in one word: ‘superannuation’. Some have used the colourful term: ‘He shafted me’ and we all know who and what they mean. Others are travelling overseas and won’t bother finding out how or where they can vote; objecting, as I do, to retrospective tax legislation. There is no doubt that the changes are retrospective and, worse, that they show a disposition by the present government to use retrospective legislation to extort money from the productive class whenever they feel like it. There is only one thing more counter-productive than what the Liberal party has done with superannuation and that is to let senior ministers loose to explain it. The cringe-making attempt by the Loyal Deputy and others to explain what they clearly do not understand makes you wonder whether such people are fit to hold public office at all. And putting Senator Arthur Sinodinos, fresh from his recent triumphs, in charge of re-writing the contentious policy, elevates irony to a level not seen in living memory. Put all this together, then, and it’s little wonder that the super policy is such a disaster. Finally, you cannot divorce politics from personalities. It should not be forgotten that deposing Abbott in favour of Turnbull was supposed to have ushered in a new era of success for the Liberal party; the party would become popular and the people would rise like one man and carry the leader on their shoulders as he made his triumphant entry into the new Jerusalem. The result has been exactly the opposite. Can anyone doubt that, if Abbott were the leader now, the Coalition would be miles ahead? With Abbott’s clarity and precision, his ability to crystallise complicated issues, his promotion of widely accepted values and principles and the contrast with the high waffle and reckless promises of Shorten, he would have made mincemeat of his rival. This is particularly so in Victoria, with the trade union takeover of the CFA at the behest of state Labor and the outrageous and insulting treatment the government has dished out to volunteer fire fighters. This is currently the biggest issue in Victoria. It is nominally a state issue, but these days it seems that everything is fair game in a federal election and in any event it raises distinctly federal issues, industrial relations, the role of volunteers, emergency services and, as we are continually reminded, bushfires thanks to climate change. It is true that Turnbull has promised some legislation if the government is returned. But it needs more than that and it needs it now. It is also a ready made issue for forcing Shorten and the labor party to choose, now, between a left wing union and its puppet Premier on the one hand and, on the other, the volunteers who have enormous public support and sympathy, particularly in rural and outer suburban electorates. Volunteering and fire-fighting are Abbott’s fields and there is simply no-one who could present this case better than him. Imagine the effect of a couple of weeks of withering denunciation from Abbott on union power and corresponding support for the volunteers. Alas, it was not to be. But perhaps it is not too late. If Turnbull really took this on as an issue and announced that he would appoint Abbott as Minister for Emergency Services in his new government, it would help unify what is a very dispirited party and give it something to fight for. In raw political terms, and once Abbott got going, it would remind the voters of Shorten’s dubious trade union past, a fertile field that has hardly been touched on. And it would create a powerful reason for voting for the Coalition. Heaven knows, it needs one.
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