If the government fails to get its ABCC legislation through the senate in a few weeks’ time and Malcolm Turnbull calls a double dissolution election, what are the likely concerns that will dominate the airwaves during the campaign?
There are a number of problems the government would prefer to avoid. So much of what they have done, or tried to do, has exposed their ideological bent towards their financial backers, the corporate sector and the wealthier individuals in the community.
They will want it to be about Trade Union corruption, but as the Panama Papers have cast such a dark shadow over tax minimisation schemes, one gets the feeling that corporate corruption could counter the minimal findings of the trade union Royal Commission.
One suspects also, that the government will not want to talk about the state of the economy. They made too many wild promises about their economic credentials before the last election and have shown, despite the rhetoric, they didn’t know what they were talking about.
The economy has not responded to their efforts. Unemployment is higher, debt (so called) is higher and deficit spending is higher. The so called “transition” often quoted by Scott Morrison is actually code for “we’re not sure what to do.”
So, if as expected, the ABCC union issue doesn’t cut through, has Malcolm Turnbull inadvertently exposed his government to a much needed examination of what, and who they really stand for? If so, how are they likely to manage the scrutiny?
In the absence of any positives to crow about, one can expect they will try to concentrate on the negative aspects of the Opposition. They might make it about Bill Shorten becoming Prime Minister. The Coalition think that would be a winner.
Liberal party supporters would like it to be about asylum seekers. They think that is the one area Labor cannot trump. They would also like it to be about foreign policy, thinking Julie Bishop is a hit at the U.N. But that would be straining credibility.
That is why this election will almost certainly be waged on perceptions. What the people think is the case, rather than the reality. Most elections are fought on perceptions because uncommitted voters take much of what they are told as being true without further consideration. Yet truth is so easy to manipulate.
Perceptions can be created in a fifteen second doorstop comment. It is so much easier for the Coalition to say Labor will take us deeper into debt without having to demonstrate how that would happen.
Even if Labor were to present fully costed policies on all their initiatives, the dissenting cry of “a great big black hole” would be heard across the nation, regardless of its accuracy.
So what is at stake? To win, Labor needs a net gain of 21 seats. But if the Coalition lose 16 seats, they lose their majority. A hung parliament is therefore a strong possibility.
Labor can reasonably count on 36% of the primary vote. The Coalition could expect to receive around 40%. The Greens will score at least 12% and the remaining 12% will be made up of independents and informal.
If policies are lost in translation and it comes down to personalities, the Coalition with Malcolm Turnbull would likely fare better, if only be a slim margin. Malcolm has clearly lost some of his shine, while Shorten has shown improvement.
If policies triumph over muck-raking, lies and dirty tricks, Labor could get over the line or form a loose coalition with independents in a hung parliament.
The last hung parliament served the nation well. Negotiations with the independents kept the various pieces of legislation tight and in the common interest.
Agreements were reached and things got done. By comparison, the last 30 months have been a dogs’ breakfast. Little wonder bills struggled to get the senate’s blessing.
Blatant favouring of one sector over another has been the hallmark of the present government. Ever keen to protect the corporate sector and the more affluent, they have shown a contempt for the low and middle income sector.
Labor would like to fight an election on the NBN. The realisation that what was to have been a state of the art project, and is now a second rate service, has struck a nerve with the voters.
Labor would also be comfortable having health and education at the forefront of peoples’ minds. The government’s cuts to public hospitals while appearing soft on multinational tax will hurt them.
Turnbull’s attempt to walk away from funding public schools in favour of private schools was stupid. Both issues should be on Labor’s short list.
Then there is Tony Abbott, who will want to be centre stage doing what he does best. Not only could he win it for Labor, but he could destroy his own legacy in the process. Abbott’s promise to Turnbull following the leadership coup that there would be no sniping has been seen for the lie that it was.
The one thing in Labor’s favour is that the voters are clearly as much dissatisfied with this government as they were with the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd debacle. Both are on the nose, but for different reasons.
Both have lost voter respect. Dissatisfaction with Labor stemmed largely from their internal bickering, the very kind in which the government is now embroiled. The Coalition are suffering from an absence of honesty.
There is every chance, however, Labor could have the government on the defensive for the majority of the campaign if it concentrates on education, health and tax revenues. On these three issues, the government is vulnerable. It will all depend on how they manage perceptions.
The big disappointment is that neither party can claim the intellectual high ground, let alone the moral. So, as usual, the winner will be the least disliked.
The next few weeks will be a political watcher’s rollercoaster.
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