When Scott Morrison faced the traveling media during a layover in Dubai on the way home, he looked exhausted. Here is a man who needed a hot bath and a big political reset.
He presumably had the opportunity for the first; he and his advisers will ruminate on the latter for a long time to come. It is not an easy task, especially when it comes to integrity issues.
The question of “character” is important in politics. In recent political history, this was part of the downfall of then-Labor leader Mark Latham, who had seemed a strong prospect heading into the 2004 election.
Morrison has long been seen as a slippery political player. The imbroglio with the French, in which Emmanuel Macron called him a liar and he responded with a leaked text from Macron, has further tarnished Morrison’s personal reputation – even accepting Australians will not be inclined to side with from France.
Labor is banking on these events to play on the negative aspects of Morrison that are already on the minds of some voters. Anthony Albanese said: “The only thing the Prime Minister has accomplished on this trip is to prove that he cannot be trusted”.
To adapt a phrase from Morrison’s climate policy mantra, the question is not “if” or “when” he needs to move forward, but “how”.
As next year’s elections rush to him, Morrison is personally no longer a clear asset to the government, as he was in 2019. It may be that if the Coalition wins another term, it will be. more in spite of himself than because of him. .
The Coalition normally wants “trust” to be part of its pitch to voters. But what to do, when the tag “liar” has been pinned on his leader?
It’s difficult, but not impossible on the story. Immediately before he called the 2004 election, John Howard’s integrity was recently challenged in a hangover over the 2001 “Children Overboard” affair. That didn’t stop him from doing so. of “confidence” the centerpiece when he announced the poll. “Who do you trust to keep interest rates low? ” He asked.
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“Trust” can work on several levels. A voter may view a leader as someone who does not know the truth, while still trusting him or her about the alternative of running the economy or running national security. It is a question of which question of “confidence” weighs most heavily on the electorate.
Economically, this government can expect to have a strong history for its electoral speech. Figures for the September quarter, when they arrive, will show that the economy has shrunk due to the lockdowns, but the quarters that follow are shaping up well.
Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe said this week: “As vaccination rates rise further and restrictions are relaxed, the economy is expected to rebound relatively quickly.” Growth of 3% is forecast for 2021, with 5.5½% and 2.5% over the following two years. Lowe added the obvious uncertainty – “the possibility of another setback on the health front”.
The government can argue that in economic terms it has supported the community throughout the pandemic and therefore can be trusted with economic management.
But he may view the field of “trust” in general as too treacherous, especially since linking “trust” and “politicians” makes the community laugh these days. “Who do you consider to be the most competent to manage the economy? Could avoid the risks of campaigning Morrison on “confidence.”
The Prime Minister would undoubtedly like to make “national security” a pillar of his electoral discourse and he would have thought that the AUKUS trilateral agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom was the ideal platform.
But as important as UKUS is, relying on it in political terms has become more problematic. Not only does this bring Morrison back to brawl with the French, but there are more and more questions about the much-vaunted promise of nuclear-powered submarines.
All we have is an 18-month consultation process for these boats. We don’t know if the design would come from the US or the UK. We know the first submarine wouldn’t appear for nearly two decades.
Given the Coalition’s appalling performance during most of its tenure on submarines, some of the initial shine has worn off from this deal, although it retains public support from Labor.
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More generally, the Labor Party remains close to the government on security issues, denying it a fight.
Ironically, the issue that was to cause problems for Morrison on his trip – the government’s lackluster commitment to climate policy for COP26 – turned out to be the least of his problems.
Australia’s policy did not impress, but it was overshadowed by the more general and significant disappointments at the conference.
So, political strategists are now going to ask, where does that leave the climate issue for the election?
Still powerful, one might guess, but lacking the neatness it had before Glasgow – both because that focal point will have passed and because the conference, which is still going on, is not as groundbreaking as many do. ‘hoped.
Labor would be wise to position its climate policy as a little more ambitious than Morrison’s, but not too much.
On the government side, the Nationals, who reluctantly climbed to a net-zero in 2050, are already feeling the heat in Queensland. They need the government to do everything in its power to announce soon the compromises that have been promised to them.
Morrison’s problems bolster his arguments for waiting until May for the election and launching them following an April budget.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg highlighted a provisional budget on Thursday before the election. When asked on Sky to confirm that there would be a budget before the election, he replied: “Well, the Prime Minister spoke in these terms”.
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It would be the third election in a row that actually started with a budget. It worked for Morrison in 2019; it didn’t go so well for Malcolm Turnbull in 2016, when he lost a lot of seats.
A budget – if it is well received – can usefully frame the campaign. If the economic outlook is optimistic, as it may sound, a pre-election budget can underline that. It can be used to present the new policy in the most positive light (wrinkles may not appear until later).
Another budget would give Frydenberg more importance, which would be a boon if Morrison is found damaged.
An April budget could also be a challenge for Labor, potentially forcing it to take a more reactive stance.
But while the arguments are strong for using a budget as the start of a campaign, there can be risks – one of them being that if there is a sudden change in circumstances, the government cannot delay – the time is up. And as Morrison’s trip so clearly showed, politics is always about the unexpected.