Prime Minister Scott Morrison must be wondering what he did right. This week’s first Newspoll of the year has Bill Shorten and Labor going backwards, the Coalition back to virtually level pegging, the two-party gap narrowing from 55:45 to a more competitive 53:47, and Mr Morrison maintaining a strong lead over Mr Shorten as preferred Prime Minister.
Don’t be fooled: this is still a dire Coalition result. Replicated uniformly, the Newspoll swing still would cost the Coalition a dozen seats and government. But the wider two-party gap would lose almost double that. Yet after a horrendous period where nothing went right for the government, where just in the last week Mr Morrison confused James Cook’s achievements with Matthew Flinders’ (and Flinders himself turned up under Euston Station as if to mock him), and three Cabinet ministers unexpectedly announced their retirements, the Coalition’s support dragged itself out of the cellar. Why?
Put simply, Labor is officially the government-in-waiting and the Coalition its de facto Opposition. For many months voters have been convinced, along with the bookies and the ABC-Fairfax (what was) love media, that the Coalition is toast and Mr Shorten and his cronies soon will be in power. Indeed, a complacent Labor has been setting the political agenda for far too long. It’s Labor policies that are getting most talked about. Mr Shorten’s shadow spokesmen are frequently misdescribed as actual ministers. And Labor fellow travellers, like the fanboys and girls of GetUp!, egregious Sally McManus of the ACTU, that family man of the CFMEU, John Setka, and trendy lefty premier Daniel Andrews of Victoria are now seen as not only key allies of a Shorten government, but as key influencers. So it’s no surprise that, as the moment of truth nears, voters are taking a hard second look at the Labor alternative and not always liking what they see.
Mr Shorten and shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen are upset that their signature tax policies, especially their ruthless raid on battlers’ retirement incomes through trashing dividend imputation and gutting the housing market through abolishing negative gearing, are finally getting a thorough working over beyond this magazine and the Australian. In 1983 Bob Hawke joked that you couldn’t hide your savings from Labor under the bed ‘because that’s where the Commies are’. In 2019 public companies are starting to pay dividends early to avoid the double taxation that Mr Bowen’s imputation wheeze would mean to millions of mum and dad small shareholders. Labor’s economic and Green-appeasing policies are no joking matter, and the voting public is starting to wake up to them. As Mr Bowen so arrogantly yet soundly advised retirees, if you don’t like his super policies, don’t vote for Labor. Words he may well regret.
The message for Mr Morrison is clear. Do what Malcolm Turnbull utterly failed to do in 2016: turn the blowtorch on Mr Shorten, his dubious allies and his populist class war politics. The pickings are rich, and there is still time provided the Liberal party can stop making itself the issue. But simply highlighting the dangers of Labor is not enough. The Coalition must produce a positive alternative based on its key strengths, economic management and national security. Pork-barrelling away the expected surplus to buy votes, as the government will be sorely tempted to do, must not be an option.
The unexpected Newspoll result hints Mr Morrison can still win. His inspired choice of Warren Mundine to contest Gilmore shows he’s prepared to be bold to do so. Better still, how about some boldly conservative policies to shake the electorate to their senses? In light of last weekend’s two day billion dollar power bill for South Australia and Victoria, it’s time to announce we will pull out of Paris.
Steggall tries to get up Abbott
Former Olympian Zali Steggall is going where Jane Caro feared to tread and standing as an independent to knock off Tony Abbott in Warringah. She is to be the face of a massive effort by the Left and chattering classes to unseat Mr Abbott, presumably bankrolled by the likes of GetUp! (and perhaps sources close to another ex-PM?).
The luvvie enthusiasm for Ms Steggall says more about Abbott-haters than Mr Abbott. It’s this irrational Left obsession with him that highlights why Mr Abbott’s skills and ideas are critical to winning back conservative voters. Indeed, as Mr Trump has shown, the more hysterical the Left becomes, the more you know you are on the right track. Mr Morrison should make better use of Mr Abbott’s talents.