MUNGO MacCALLUM. The great marketeer seems determined to double down on the tactics and double up on the volume.

Dec 11, 2018

So that was the parliamentary year that was, finishing in rancour, dysfunction and procrastination, a triumph of politics over policy.

This was not a surprise, but the level of hyperbole and hysteria whipped up by the desperate prime minister and his colleagues finally went off the map.

Are we really to believe that Bill Shorten is in favour of terrorists and paedophiles and that he poses a clear and present danger to the nation? Well, not if we’re halfway sane, but it buoyed the jaded Liberal Party room to the extent they actually sang their enthusiasm for such risible rhetoric.

And it is true that they had a tactical win in the dying minutes of the session. They did it by denying the majority will of the elected members of the Australian parliament (not to mention the long-suffering Australian public but there’s nothing new about that) to allow doctors to rescue desperately ill victims from Nauru and Manus to Australia.

But they managed to ram through encryption legislation which almost no one in either house really understands, but then, a lot of them vote for things they don’t even attempt to understand.

The government’s rushed version was rejected by the Liberals in their own expert committee and which will have to be revisited next year anyway. As, of course, will the asylum seeker policy, not to mention energy, religious discrimination, and more than a few other minor matters before turning to the budget.

But perhaps something will turn up; it’s not likely the crucial crossbenchers will change their minds, but a coupe of them could resign, or possibly drop dead. And if they don’t, there are always other tactics could employ: for instance, Morrison could close down parliament altogether and institute martial law – Peter Dutton would love it and it would be a job for the un-preselected General Jim Molan. What’s not to like about that?

But wishful thinking aside, no amount of mean and sneaky manoeuvring can disguise that the muppets of the government are utterly without any serious agenda as they lurch toward the election. That section of the electorate which has not switched off entirely from the Canberra chaos is simply waiting for it to end, and the sooner the better.

We are constantly assured (well, by Morrison and his media acolytes) that the government has a good story to tell, especially on the economy: record job growth, tax cuts for small business, return to surplus. But few if any are impressed. The majority reaction is one of so what?

Hard working families certainly don’t feel any better, and are more preoccupied with the proven inability of the politicians to do anything about it. And the more involved minority know that wages for those who have jobs are flat while business scoops up the profits, the surplus is shaky at best, and debt has hit record levels – hardly the kind of result that will bring them flocking to the polling booths.

And it will probably get worse; Morrison’s shouted belligerence, his war cry that he will use every tactic, every tool to avoid allowing doctors to bring sick children to the mainland and that if this terrible Shorten-sponsored sabotage were to be endorsed it would end border protection as we know it is the kind of ridiculous overreach that is more likely to turn waverers away from his chances of re-election than lure them back to him.

It is clear from the Wentworth by-election and the Victorian state election that the electoral ground is shifting. Border protection may be a net plus for Morrison – as he points out, he made his name from it – but it is no longer a game breaker. Like the meteorological climate, the psephological climate is changing, and the politics of fear and loathing do not have the heft they had a few years ago.

This will not prevent the coalition from employing them to the max; after all, there is precious little else to campaign on. Just about the only avenue left leads to Kill Bill as its destination, and Morrison has already signalled that it is “him or me” – to which Shorten offered the devastating reply, “No, it’s about the Australian public.”

There is more than a touch of self interest here; given the opposition leader’s long standing personal unpopularity, he does not want to get into a cage fight with a desperate incumbent. But it is also good politics; as even Morrison has acknowledged, the voters are sick of politicians talking about themselves.

They want real policies with real results, obviously, but they also have genuine concerns about asylum seekers, climate change, and simple honesty and common sense when it comes to those and other issues Morrison and his rightist rump refuse to countenance because it might spoil the chances of an all-in brawl.

And this is what Morrison apparently has in mind. Rather than use the nearly ten weeks of parliamentary recess to think about the failure of the past three months, the clear evidence that his initial push to woo back the disillusioned swinging voters is simply not working, the great marketeer seems determined to double down on the tactics and double up on the volume.

And if that is not enough, he has a new way of talking about himself.In a fitting climax to this demented parliament, Morrison followed Labor just five years and three prime minsters later to announce his version of prime ministerial preservation. But he did so at an unscheduled, night time meeting with every indication of panic – his version of stability.

But it will only apply if he is elected prime minister, which appears at this point to be no more than an outside chance. The idea that the longevity of his prime ministership, let alone his government, will send the electorate into raptures of acceptance has not yet produced the ecstatic reaction he may have hoped. So more shouting, more aggro, more of the same.

And that will be the parliamentary year to come – a few days of it, anyway. And then on to the hustings, as if we were not already mired in them. The good news is that it will be finally over, one way or the other, by May. The bad news is that May is still six months away.

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