On the 4th of May, Australia woke to the tragic news that good ol’ Palmer the Hutt will not be recontesting his seat of Fairfax. And nobody cared. Although the House of Representatives won’t notice too much his absence – with Palmer holding the title of attending fewer sittings than any other Federal Member for two consecutive years – they and the public can now say a farewell to the biggest waste of space in Australian parliament in recent memory.
In important news, the election campaign has gotten off to a rather lackluster start, with Turnbull being decisively less inspiring than expected, and Shorten being his usual uninspiring self. There have however been some shining moments. You can make all the puns and draw as many metaphors you like over the #BillBus breaking down this morning on Hastings River Drive in NSW (and indeed, internet punters have), but Shorten’s campaign is yet to go off road (though as labor is yet to release most of its major policy standpoints, this may be a chilling vision of things to come). The Opposition Leader has continued to kick the Coalition over the negative gearing debate, while the Declan Storrer controversy – no matter your opinion on it – highlighted the Coalition’s perhaps misplaced budget priorities. On the budget, it was claimed last week that the government’s flagship jobs program, ‘PaTH’ (Prepare, Trial, Hire) is illegal under the Fair Work Act. Turnbull and Morrison would be wise to get to work fixing this scheme, lest it be branded PaTHetic.
What will no doubt go down as one of the quintessential moments of the 2016 election campaign was Tony Abbott’s lonely figure at Manly wharf, handing out Liberal Party flyers on day one of the election campaign. I felt a pang of sorrow for the man who only several months ago held the nations highest elected office – and then I remembered why he didn’t have the job anymore. Still, there is a certain grudging respect for a person who can go from Prime Minister, remain in Parliament and still do his bit to help out in marginal seats.
The Abbott ghost, however, is not all handing out flyers and being unassuming. Consistent issues from the conservative wing of the Liberal party and Peta Credlin continue to stalk Turnbull. Last week Credlin penned an article in the Tele suggesting that some government lawyers had described the boat turnback policy as illegal. Then Turnbull was forced to cancel the rest of a day of campaigning with Fiona Scott in her marginal electorate of Lindsay in Western Sydney, after they were caught off guard by questions surrounding whom Scott voted for in the Liberal leadership spill last year. With a slim 3% margin, Scott is unlikely to hold onto her seat if the ALP gains the – widely expected – 4% swing. Abbott doesn’t even need to be vocal about his loss of office, it seems. There are still those out there who are willing to agitate in his stead, proving that a 54 – 45 party room victory is too slim to entirely kill leadership woes.
Importantly, when making his speech justifying his coup against former leader Abbott, Turnbull referenced his predecessor’s inability to communicate in an intelligent way with the electorate. In the first week of campaigning, Turnbull has made this same failure. During the largely ignored leaders’ debate on the weekend, he tended to pitch too high, and did not engage with the listeners in the room. And despite his unhidden contempt for Abbott’s constant three word slogans, Turnbull has tended toward his own: “jobs and growth, jobs and growth”. Just keep whispering it to yourself and yelling it at the public until the election is over, Malc.
The leaders debate itself was underwhelming. In a small room to a small crowd that was likely more interested in the meat raffle and probably equaled the national broadcast crowd, Shorten edged out Turnbull on traditionally strong Labor issues, and clearly connected better with the people in the room. Almost all pundits predicted that Turnbull would steamroll Shorten in any head-to-head debate, but Shorten is just so damn greased-up that Turnbull can’t seem to land a hit on the guy.
The Leaders’ campaign soldiers aren’t doing him too many favours either. This morning, Peter Dutton handed the ALP and the country with a free kick by stating that refugees are not only “illiterate and innumerate” but will also “be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that.” I’m sure I speak for all common sense people in Australia when I say, Dutton, mate, shut the fuck up. Julie Bishop, usually one of the more level-headed members of government, attempted to qualify Dutton’s comments by pointing to the cost of resettling refugees. Nice try, J-Bish, but a shoddy economic argument makes a poor cover for blatant xenophobia.
The verdict for the end of the first week or so of campaigning is not good for Turnbull. He has failed to shine as promised and has been unable to land a good hit on the ever-elusive Shorten. Shorten has carried himself well, and despite an improvement in performance and preferred leader polls, he is still perceived as uninspiring and in some circles, a potential criminal. He’s floated like a butterfly; now it’s time to sting like a bee (or an Abbott, for that matter). If Shorten cannot inspire voters, they will default to returning the Coalition and vindicating Turnbull’s September coup.
Crucially, a RoyMorgan poll released yesterday shows Labor with a 52.5% to 47.5% two-party preferred lead over the Coalition. Though not enough to win them the election, it gets them much closer. The primary vote for the Liberals is still ahead of Labor at 36% to 33%. Just yesterday, the Essential Poll has let the nation know that Turbull’s disapproval rating has overtaken his approval rating.
The election is still anyone’s game, and with a hung parliament looking increasingly likely (though still an outside chance) and both major parties ruling out an agreement with the Greens, might Australia face a repeat election later in the year?
Almost definitely not.
The Pelican Election Pendulum (PEP, because we’re full of pep and vigor) as of the 17th of May stands as such:For more exciting election reading, Pelican Politic recommends Antony Green’s election blog!
Words by Brad Griffin