Monday, May 9, 2022, 11:32 am
With polls bad for Scott Morrison, just a fortnight until the elections, he must do something, and analysts, to be fair, should check anything that contradicts the idea that he’s gone.
Any more miracles?
An indicator of Morrison’s durability, apart from his “miracle” win against the polls in 2019, is the stubbornness of his support base. Despite the bad gaffes, bad acting, lies and colossal failures to, well, actually govern; despite the government trailing in two-party preferred polling for months, or years on end; it has rarely dipped to worse than the low 40s – never a wipeout.
In the election campaigning, where the main chance for parties is to shore-up their habitual supporters, the Liberal Party campaign has stayed close to the play-book. They’re telling these supporters, people who have not budged, who don’t like Labor to begin with, that Labor can’t run the economy. It is a message for ‘haves’ with a ‘stake in the country’, prone to dislike unions, prone to think employees should take what they are given, not fond of a working-class party. After long years of cheap credit there are plenty considering themselves holders of a ‘stake in the country’, and to blazes with climate change, honest government, Medicare, blacks in the constitution, education for snotty-nosed workers’ brats, and stuff like that.
Morrison is champion at the economic appeal to this constituency as he appears to really believe it. He has revived the simplistic ‘neo liberal’ line from the 1970s, that the “government has taken your money, and will give it back to you, as a tax cut”; correspondingly wants cash-strapped “small government”, hence no capacity, or will, to handle a crisis, like the bushfires, or the floods; puts business first, as when pressing for early opening during the Pandemic.
What kind of a chance for this PM?
So it gives him a chance, although, maybe only the same chance as the late Liberal Prime Minister, William McMahon, facing defeat by Gough Whitlam (picture, with the singer Little Patti) in 1972. After 23 years of conservative government he part-succeeded with stern warnings to the wavering faithful about trusting in the unknown. Whitlam won eight seats, (the actual number that Labor need to win a majority this time), to give a 66-59 majority; it blunted the expected great victory; the new government did not have much to fall back on dealing with the world recession that shortly arrived. Morrison this week is using the word, talking about the “unknown”. Still all of that is sand-bagging; the government is already only two seats away from losing its majority, so must ‘do something’.
Apart from beginning a war, too late for that, it can treat the public to a blast of attack messages such as we have never seen. In this it will be bolstered by its own media, the Newscorp press, the 2GB radio network and Sky News – useful messaging for those listening to Scott Morrison. Short of rehabilitation at this late stage, the shouty man with the slippery tongue, and, some say, wholly obnoxious grin, at least is being systematically defended. Some lines repeated by the faithful this week: Scott’s had a hard time; he did well considering what went on; he’s a bit of a devil; he talks too much but we kind of like him; he’s a real stayer – never gives up!
Inept ‘Great Debate’
Some of the said attack ads had a run during the inept Channel Nine ‘Great Debate’ on Sunday night, 8 May. There was a moderator, called Sarah Abo, who had no answer to the party leaders, Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison, shouting at each other. Morrison was the noisiest, being in the habit of shouting down, as in parliament, trying on a bit of the old bullying, especially when assisted by one or other of the show’s three interrupter-panelists – Albanese copping it at times from both them and Morrison at once. There were shades of the 2020 Trump debates; talking-machine performance from the incumbent candidate getting anxious.
An attempted straw-poll of some 50 000 viewers, one of the great technical stuff-ups, took some time to give the debate to Morrison, then on late counting said Albanese won it 51-49, before it was then declared a “dead heat”. The poll also said Albanese would be a “better Prime Minister”, 49-45. Somebody might tell Sarah Abo of the TV show Sixty-Minutes, regretfully: true that the talent were unruly, and she was let down by the trivialising antics of the advertising department, and by the IT boys in back-to-front caps fumbling the polls, but maybe she’s not cut out for this political thuggery kind of stuff; might be better back on confrontations with cheating motor mechanics. At one point, various watchers averred, Morrison got away with giving her the hand, body-talk, as in “I’m talking girl”.
As for the Liberal attack ads, in the middle of the ‘Great Debate’, of such momentous importance, it was said, they had a commercial break. And along with the Oreo cookies and delivery service ads, there was a Liberal ad, even if a relatively soft and studious one about Labor and budget deficits. Then, breaking between the end of the debate and a review by the panel, we had another run of ads, including, again, three of those negative-caste ones for the Liberal party. In the ad business they used to call it loading; in politics, does selling a political audience to one party like that, look bent?
The message of all this is that media wars get fraught in the closing stages of a federal election campaign, where the stakes are high.
How about a debate on ‘our’ ABC?
For whatever reason Morrison has refused to be in a debate on the ABC, refusing also, as of last weekend, to talk on The Insiders or 7:30 Report. Speculation has resulted that he is thinking of the 2018 policy decision of the national Council of the Liberal Party, to sell the ABC, a move he might justify if still in office, as forced by the current major deficit. For now Albanese has agreed to a debate. The ABC is after all the national broadcaster, with a respectable track record in current affairs broadcasting, and a rule-book that requires fair handling. They have the vehicles and personnel ready to do it well, and could be counted on not to muck it up on the scale seen on the commercial television last Sunday night.
For perspective in this report, so far about Scott Morrison, the Monday Newspoll has again told much the same story as it has for most of the government’s term of office. The journalist William Bowe, publisher of the Poll Bludger, works hard bludging information published about all the polls, posting on 9 May:
“The Australian reports the weekly campaign Newspoll has Labor’s two-party lead increasing from 53-47 to 54-46, their primary vote up a point to 39% with the Coalition down one to 35% and the three minor parties steady, the Greens at 11%, One Nation at 5% and the United Australia Party at 4%. Scott Morrison’s personal ratings are deteriorated, his approval down three to 41% and disapproval up four to 55%, while Anthony Albanese is up a point to 41% and down two to 47%. Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister has narrowed from 45-39 to 44-42.”
Much media attention is being given to the current wave of well-funded independent candidates, mostly women in blue-ribbon Liberal seats in the capital cities. The chief financial benefactor is the Climate 200 group headed by the financier Simon Holmes a Court. This media holiday may be because of, or the cause of reports that some have commenced getting strong figures in private polling, such that they might win.
In the short term, them winning would almost guarantee failure of the coalition government to get enough seats to stay on. In the longer term it might generate a show-down in the Liberal Party between the ‘neo-liberal’ shock troops of its ascendent right wing, and so-called moderates who, like the independents, would want more action on climate change and against corrupt practices in government. Labor might worry about one aspect of the independent movement: Liberal voters turned off by Scott Morrison and his regime, but still hesitant to vote for the ALP, will be provided with somewhere to go.
This article is published also in Independent Australia – “democracy, the environment, Australian identity”.