Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison were determinedly hitting the hustings last week as they tried to persuade the sceptical that their Enterprise Tax Plan was not only viable, but is actually a good idea.
And the signs are that at least some of the public seems to be listening: not convinced, but prepared to accept that the budget is not seriously unfair, and may even be good for the country – although not necessarily for them personally.
But the swinging voters could swing back at any moment, so it is vital that the government grab them by the privates and keep their undivided attention. But, as always, it isn’t going to happen. Various distractions have already intervened, and there is no real sign that they are going to stop.
Except for one, of course: the already completed consummation of the union of a royal ranga from a dysfunctional family who appears to have grown a beard to disguise the fact that he has lost his chin in an unfortunate breeding accident and a divorcee from another dysfunctional family of septics named something like Merkin Muggle. We can put that behind us until the inevitable compromising photos appear in the tabloids.
However, there are plenty of problems at home too: the intractable live sheep trade, which David Littleproud had hosed down for the moment, but we can be certain further atrocities will appear unless the business is closed down permanently – which it won’t be.
Then there is the ongoing saga of the dual citizens, which Turnbull is trying to twist into a problem of Bill Shorten’s honesty. Morrison in particular is trying to twist the campaign over the upcoming by-elections into a rope to hang Shorten; although it appears that he has mercifully dropped the “Unbelieva-Bill” the line still is that because Shorten got the dual citizen bit wrong (as, of course, did Turnbull: “and the High Court will so hold.”) then he can’t be trusted about the budget either.
The problem there is that Shorten and the indefatigable Chris Bowen and their team is that this time they are taking a belt and braces approach to their costings through both public and private sources and it will be very hard to discredit them except through sheer abuse – which, it appears, is the government’s preferred approach.
But once again, the coalition’s troops have other things to concern them, and the one that made the headlines was the Liberal Party’s attempted purge against sheilas in parliament.
That was not quite the way they tried to portray it: good heavens no, it was a healthy outbreak of grassroots democracy, the very model espoused by Tony Abbott in New South Wales when he was trying to stack a few branches to smash the moderate wing of the movement. Preselections should be made from the bottom of the pyramid, not the top – unless, of course, there is crisis in which a favoured candidate had to be shoe-horned into office, in which case all bets are off.
And anyway, it wasn’t really about getting rid of women: why, over in Mayo the heir and successor of the Downer dynasty, the Princess Georgina, has just been preselected unopposed. And who could be a more worthy candidate? As a graduate from the Loony Libertarian Training College, other known as the Institute of Public Affairs, she promises to be as smug, spoilt and silly as her father: her call for a $5 an hour minimum wage was a very promising start.
But if it wasn’t really about getting rid of women, no-one remembered to tell the Queensland front bencher Jane Prentice, dumped from her safe seat of Ryan for a belligerent and impatient male protégé When her supporters both inside and outside the Liberal Party protested, Turnbull and Morrison doubled down to waffle about the need for the rank and file to have their say.
But seconds later, when it emerged that the humble New South Wales backbencher Ann Sudmalis may be challenged in her seat of Gilmore, the two great protectors of the common people were falling over each other to declare that she must be preserved at all costs. Were they defending a woman? Well, no, they were defending an ultra-marginal seat, which was far more important. This became clear when two more Liberals, Jane Hume and Lucy Guchici were also said to be in trouble, but was studiously ignored: after all, they were senators, so the numbers were not in doubt.
The issue of female representation, both in the parliament and the wider community, is a fraught one, and one that provokes division and controversy. There are many who say it should not matter —it should be all about merit and gender is irrelevant.
But there are others that say that as half the population is female, we should aim to give women half the seats. Apart from a simple matter of equity, they argue that women have a different perspective from men on many issues, especially political ones.
My own feeling is that some do, some don’t; most of the most successful women politicians – Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher to name but three – can be quite as aggressive, uncompromising and domineering as any of their testosterone-charged counterparts. Within Turnbull’s ministry it is easier see that Michaelia Cash and Kelly O’Dwyer as disciples of Peter Dutton than Jacinta Ardern. Julie Bishop, despite her death stare, sometimes evinces traces of humanity, but perhaps that’s why she is frequently rolled in cabinet even in her own portfolio – her foreign aid allocation is regularly and ruthlessly slashed every budget.
Liberal women in parliament are certainly a very small minority – a smaller one, indeed, than they were 30 years ago. The by-election super Saturday could have been used in an attempt to improve the numbers, but apart from Downer (who, if she wins, will be replacing a woman anyway) the Turnbull team have preselected two blokes to run against the two Labor women who have been flicked by the High Court in Braddon and Longman. And of course the Libs will not be running candidates at all in the two Western Australian seats.
It should not be a major issue, but at a time when there are plenty of others and a tricky budget to sell, it is one more internal tiff our Prime Minister could do without. He already has a problem, with female voters, which is likely to become worse in the heat of what is shaping up as a particularly brutal and edifying election campaign.
Perhaps he should spend more time talking to his wife Lucy – if not, in a few months he may have rather more time talking to her than he intends..