Flat White

ScoMo in SloMo slide toward fatal collision at next election

27 January 2022

9:00 AM

27 January 2022

9:00 AM

The next federal election will be held no later than May 21, 2022. It looks like a re-run of 2007 with an overlay of 2019.

In 2007 John Howard enjoyed boom economic times, had been in power for 11 years, and was up against a fresh-faced opposition leader in Kevin Rudd who played a small target game and promised to be as fiscally conservative as Howard. Howard wasn’t promising much, and his opponent was promising even less.

Yet there was enthusiasm for Rudd, and the polls were stuck on a substantial winning Labor majority for at least 12 months before the election.

In 2022 Scott Morrison is enjoying boom times, a surprise after Covid. The Liberal National Party Coalition has been in power for just over eight years, but with considerable instability. He is up against an old stager in Anthony Albanese who is promising very little that the government isn’t. Newspoll has been showing a winning Labor margin since June 2021. By May, I expect that to be almost 12 months of polls showing the same.

Labor should win for a large number of reasons.

If Howard – who was a formidable politician – can lose on a strong economy, so can Morrison, despite popular wisdom about it being ‘the economy stupid’.

In 2007 there was a sense that after 11 years Labor deserved a go. The same dynamic applies to a government of eight years duration, which is a long time in Australian politics (only the Menzies/Holt/Gorton/McMahon, Hawke/Keating, Howard and Fraser governments lasted longer).

There was that same feeling in 2019, but Morrison had a ‘miracle’ win because everyone expected Bill Shorten to win but didn’t trust him… Shorten promised a big policy program and then climate change policies flipped the seat of Warringah one way, but probably five others the other.

Bill Shorten isn’t running this year, and Anthony Albanese is using the small target strategy of Kevin Rudd. Labor’s up already.

And Morrison has neutered his advantage on climate change by adopting Net Zero.

He also puts some of his wins in doubt by failing to stand up for conservative values. He says he supports freedom of choice and opposes vaccine mandates, but despite having opportunities to legislate for one and against the other, he goes to ground.

He says he supports balanced budgets but runs the largest deficits outside wartime ever.

Voters respect strength, but Morrison runs a national cabinet where voters see the states calling the shots.

Many regional and outer-urban voters are seeing politics as a game where you either have private school boys and girls implementing Labor policies, or state school boys and girls doing the same.

But they don’t want Labor policies and are looking for alternatives. That’s why Campbell Newman is highly likely to be elected to the Senate. It’s possible that in the house of Reps they may even vote Labor to tell the Libs to sort their act out.

Net Zero cuts another way in the cities. Morrison might be playing to city voters, thinking the conservatives will have nowhere to go. This won’t work. Why vote for a Liberal government to implement Labor policies when you know Labor will implement them much better?

Then there is the risk posed by independents and minor parties.

Craig Kelly was effectively forced out of the Liberal Party for his views on climate change and Covid – views which have significant support from the facts as well as the Liberal base. Now a United Australia Party member, he might win the seat – or he might cause it to be lost by the Liberal Party to someone else.

Independents often do well in safe Liberal seats – look at Rebekha Sharkie in Mayo.

Then there are the ‘Deep Green Fake Liberal Independents’ running in six inner-city Melbourne and Sydney seats. Even if they fail to take any seats, it will see Morrison trying to defend his heartland – seats like Wentworth in New South Wales and Kooyong in Victoria.

Wentworth, formerly the seat of Malcolm Turnbull, illustrates the problem. It was won by an independent when Turnbull resigned and was only won back against that independent, Kerryn Phelps, with a margin of 1.31 per cent. Yet a notional distribution of the same votes shows the margin would have been 9.85 per cent against the Labor candidate.

It also boosts the small possibility of a hung parliament enhanced by the damage done in other seats by the Greens to Labor (and possibly the Liberals too, with the seat of Ryan in Brisbane vulnerable).

Then there are resignations, like that of Christian Porter, leaving the West Australian marginal seat of Pearce (5.2 per cent) to be contested by a new member (albeit a local councillor) against the sitting mayor of the area.

In the case of Pearce, this will add to problems in Western Australia where the Liberal Party self-eviscerated in the last state election winning only two seats with a 14 per cent swing against them across the state. They are in no shape for a federal campaign.

And then there is just the brutal electoral logic that the last redistribution robbed Morrison of two seats, so he is now technically a minority government and needs to win seats to hold on to outright power. No one has been able to point me to which seats those might be.

So ladies and gentlemen, time to head on over to www.alp.org.au to see what the future holds.

Graham Young is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress and founder and editor of On Line Opinion.

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