Flat White

We don’t want Shorten to succeed, but Liberals to act like Liberals

13 May 2019

1:13 PM

13 May 2019

1:13 PM

The week in politics, the week to come:

The final week of this meandering election campaign is upon us.

The election campaign launches are done. Now it’s a sprint to the line, with Monday’s Newspoll still showing Billy-boy Shorten with his nose just in front nationally.

Indeed, if there was winner of last week, before the Liberals launched on Sunday, it was Shorten. He wrung voter sympathy like a sponge. His emotional response to the Daily Tele’s “attacks” on his mother after his incomplete panegyric to her on the ABC’s One-Hour Hate, aka Q&A, gave him a humanity that blurred his trust deficit, his union and factional hackery and the simple truth he’s boring (my brother, an ardent Labor activist and True Believer, says Shorten’s one of the most boring, insincere and shallow people he’s ever met).

But it got the media talking positively about Billy the man, improved his Newspoll leadership rating and allowed him to bash, Greens-style, the so-called Murdoch press. And a soft-focus profile of second wife Chloe didn’t hurt either, although some inconvenient truths going to loyalty and trust were glossed over (“The pair has never spoken publicly about when their friendship turned romantic” was how the Good Weekend delicately put it).

The Liberal launch on Sunday was hokey as, amateurish compared to Labor’s glitz a week before. But Scott Morrison and family’s folksy, affectionate, daggy Mother’s Day presentation (fancy having a mum whose name’s the same as John Wayne’s real one!), coupled with Josh Frydenberg’s Carlton tragic shtick and a killer promise to support first home buyers that was so good Labor matched it within the hour, suggest that the Liberal no-frills launch and “this reckless spending must not start” message might just work.

What mattered most was Morrison’s filling out his backstory and showing he is no desiccated coconut of a politician. He and his wife’s struggles to conceive resonated with many thousands of voters, particularly on a day celebrating motherhood. Opening up about them was brave. And his finally injecting some poetry about Liberal values and defending “Australia’s promise” into his excellent but prosaic campaign messaging was badly needed.

Although Labor won last week, after Sunday and ScoMo playing his thin political hand very skilfully, it’s game on. Newspoll shows there still everything to play for. Seventeen per cent of voters are still undecided, which is about as many who have already voted pre-poll. Better still for them, the Coalition’s on track to hold some threatened seats and snatch back at least four others, Lindsay and Herbert from Labor, and Indi and – please God – Wentworth from independents.

The electorate finally is waking up to this election being the starkest choice between the major parties since 1972, with Billy-boy emulating Whitlam rather than the great Labor economic reformers Hawke and Keating. Thanks to Labor mythmaking, we all believe in 1972 Whitlam trounced hapless “Tiberius with a telephone”, Billy McMahon. Yet Labor only scraped in, with seats changing hands in both directions. 2019 looks like a repeat.

Such a close result is a disaster for Shorten. How can he claim a mandate for his massive tax-and-spend agenda if he almost loses? To vindicate himself he must win big: the tightening polls say he won’t.

What’s become clear since the Budget is Labor’s consistent poll lead over the last three years has never been an endorsement of Labor and Shorten but rather a rejection of first, Malcolm Turnbull and then, the August Liberal leadership fiasco. As memories have faded, and Turnbull the miserable ghost proves he’s not the man they thought he was and Morrison’s not half bad, that poll-sustaining anger also has faded. And Billy-boy simply hasn’t sealed the deal with just days to go.

So to Saturday.

Victoria, Labor’s strongest state, holds the key. The Libs will lose seats there, but not necessarily the ones like Corangamite being written off. They can, for instance, hold rat Julia Banks’s seat of Chisholm where they have a good energetic community candidate yet lose the neighbouring but safer seat of Deakin whose MP, Michael Sukkar, has been up to his elbows in factional and leadership games. Blue ribbon but Green and GetUp-infested seats Higgins, Flinders and Kooyong are tight but should be held barring any last-minute surprises.

If the government campaigns strongly this week, picks up a good share of the undecided vote, stems its net losses in Victoria, and holds and wins key seats in NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, it can yet win the kewpie doll.

At worst for the Coalition is a narrow government loss either outright or in a hung parliament. That’s what daggy yet savvy Scott Morrison has almost single-handedly achieved and flawed yet complacent front-runner Bill Shorten is so desperate to avoid.

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