MUNGO MacCALLUM. ScoMo is happy to keep the campaign as mean and ugly as possible.

Apr 16, 2019

The final jobs for the boys and girls have been squared away, the pointless tit for tat over taxpayer advertising and who is closer to the Chinese have been shelved, and Melissa Price has obediently signed off on Adani, as ordered by the Queensland Nats.  

Even the hysterical nonsense attacking electric cars has abated in the face of facts even Josh Frydenberg as forced to acknowledge. ScoMo has finally stopped playing funny buggers and called the election.

Or, if you want to be cynical about it, he has kicked off five weeks of playing funny buggers, slogans, scares and improbable promises in the hope of hanging on to power. And as he tells it, it is all about me and all about him – a brutal personal contest between Scott Morrison, the reliable a deliverer stronger economy, and Bill Shorten, the untrustworthy wrecker of a weaker one.

But of course it isn’t as simple as that; as more than 50 Newspolls attest, there will be a lot of marketing to do before our beleaguered leader can even catch sight of the finishing line. When the last Newspoll provided a boost, optimistic Liberals said that the summit could now be glimpsed, that they were near enough if good enough, that they were back in the race. But the poll still left the coalition a bad loser and other polling suggests that it is even worse than that.

And while the polls may be variable and volatile, there is one set of figures that has not changed and will not until May 18: the current state of the parties. So bear with me while we crunch a few numbers.

In the just pro-rogued 150 seat House of Representatives the coalition held 74 seats to Labor’s 69, with the remaining 7 crossbenchers. But in the election to come there has been a redistribution: two coalition seats – Dunkley and Corangamite both in Victoria, have become notionally Labor and the new seat of Bean in the ACT is also expected to go Labor’s way. So in the new 151 seat house, the starting point is Coalition 72, Labor 72.

The Libs hope to pick up two of the independents, the retiring Cathy McGowan in Indi and Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth, which would bring them back to 74. And they hope to win seats from Labor in New South Wales in particular, and possibly in Queensland. Realistically, they might hope for two, would push them over the line for majority government. But let’s be generous and throw in another three wild cards: Coalition 79, Labor 67, crossbench 5.

On that basis Labor needs nine seats for victory, and on current indications should get there comfortably.. But it will not be what Morrison might call a canter; while Shorten is clearly favourite, he cannot make too many mistakes in the actual campaign – the awful example of Michael Daley in New South Wales will be constantly in his mind.

And Morrison has at least two things going for him. The most obvious is the Murdoch media, which have given up any pretence of being news organisations and will be devoted full time to pushing out anti-Labor propaganda. And the second in the punters’ long standing lack of enthusiasm for Shorten, which is why Morrison is going to make his key message a negative one about the opposition leader.

The right wing media can’t wait, predicting a brutal and divisive personal campaign – just what it had urged for months. Morrison immediately released Treasury modelling on Labor’s proposals to claim that Labor’s “tax hike” would be $387 billion, which Josh Frydenberg claimed would be a decrease in income of $5400 a year for every Australian.

Actually very few Australians will lose anything like that, and most won’t lose at all – Labor’s closing of the rorts and loopholes is targeted almost exclusively at the rich, who (a) can afford it and (b) vote Liberal. And in any case, what was Treasury doing costing Labor’s policies in the first place?

The Treasury boss. Phil Gaetjens, responded indignantly that Treasury had not costed Labor’s proposals and never would, which made it sound as if he was calling his Prime Minister a liar. But not really; Morrison had not asked for Labor’s proposals, but for purely hypothetical proposals which just happened to coincide with his version of what Shorten had been saying, and of course Gaetjens obediently complied. This is known as the doctrine of plausible deniability.

The $387 billion over ten years, admittedly, but it still sounded a lot. The problem was that most of it — $230 billion — was for Morrison’s own pie-in-the-sky tax cuts a couple of elections away. The rest, $157 billion, was largely about eliminating the concessions awarded to the rich in the Howard-Costello years. And it was noteworthy that even then it was considerably less than the hype about Labor’s $200 billion new taxes – apparently $43 billion had mysteriously disappeared. No matter; the battle had been joined, the onslaught had begun.

Morrison’s attack was simple to the point almost of inanity: it’s the economy, me strong, him weak, me good, him unspeakable. Shorten’s reply was somewhat more complicated, mainly because he had a lot more to say. His agenda is comprehensive – perhaps a little too comprehensive for the heat of a campaign which will be dominated by sloganeering.

And he is defiantly trying to keep to the high ground, determinedly positive and sticking to policy rather than personal insult. Somewhat more prime ministerial than Morrison, certainly, but a difficult stance to maintain for a full five weeks — inevitably he will have to reply to what he insists are Morrison’s lies as the brawling heats up.

And given the coalition’s desperation, it undoubtedly will. Peter Dutton showed what was to come by putting the boot into Ali France, his disabled Labor opponent, claiming she was trying to capitalise on her amputee status. Presumably she cut her leg off just to win a couple of votes.

Initially Morrison said Dutton was taken out of context, which is pollie-speak for admitting it was clear, explicit and appalling,, but he didn’t want to talk about it,. However, after public outrage, he wrung a grudging apology out of the unrepentant Dutton.

But ScoMo is happy to keep the campaign as mean and ugly as possible.. Let’s face it, it’s a bit late to change now.


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