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Labor's election campaign breaks the golden rule

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Monday, 13 May 2019

Conventional wisdom says that, in the face of an unpopular incumbent government, all an opposition needs to do is keep its nose clean, and the next election will take care of itself.

Instead of doing merely this, Labor could not resist announcing a raft of big-spending policies, the removal of many tax concessions, and an expansion of an already radical climate-change policy.  While this might appeal to the Labor comrades, it also risked scaring many swinging voters (previously disenchanted with the Coalition).

In effect, Labor in large measure has moved the focus of voters away from the problems of the Coalition, and onto the potential risks of a "progressive" government.  Labor's recent dip in the pollstherefore is hardly a surprise, and (though it is still ahead) has given momentum to the Coalition's campaign.  Bill Shorten (despite his lack of personal popularity) for the past couple of years had still been a shoo-in for the PM's job.  He now appears less so.


The change in political sentiment already has some commentators drawing comparisons with John Hewson's "unlosable election".  (This is despite the Morrison Government having a lot more issues than the Keating government ever had.)  Peta Credlin, for example, recently said (about Bill Shorten) that Labor's deluge of spending announcements is "hurting him with the electorate" because it reinforces long-held suspicion that Labor "spends too much".  Labor's plans for a 45 per cent target for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is also drawing increasing scrutiny.

In early April, Alan Koher had summed up the federal Coalition's election prospects.  He said that "everyone knows they’re going to lose, so they might as well start getting ready for 2022".  He was reflecting a widespread view, that a stint in opposition might be the best means of sorting-out the federal Coalition's internal problems and policies, as well as its persistent unpopularity in the polls.  I am not sure that Kohler would now be quite as certain about the election outcome.

The Coalition's issues have been many.

First of all there is the aftermath of instability and disunity following the deposing of Malcolm Turnbull.  A related factor is that the Liberal Party for years has been openly divided along ideological lines, with its parliamentarians bickering among themselves, with energy and detention of asylum seekers being key contentious issues.  Divisions seem greatest in NSW, where there are allegations of shenanigans on the part of the controlling "moderates" in pre-selection processes.

The Liberals and Nationals had also been publicly sniping at each other over coal-fired electricity, and been wishy-washy on key topics (eg reforming the ABC, getting rid of Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, curbing Labor-initiated spending programmes like the NDIS, the NBN and Gonski funding).  The failure of the Coalition to agree on key issues, however, was most clearly evident in how they dithered and failed to agree on the issue of same-sex marriage.

The Nationals lost their natural leader (Joyce) to a sex scandal and his replacement is widely perceived as ineffective.  Also, (especially at state level in NSW) the Nats are regarded by many as having betrayed their base on issues like water buy-backs, greyhound racing, gun control, vegetation legislation, and other regional issues.


On top of all these problems, the federal Coalition's difficulty in governing was made worse by having a hostile Senate, and (more recently) a "knife-edge" House of Representatives.

Malcolm Turnbull greatly increased the traditional divide between his party's "conservative" and "moderate" factions.  He took party policy too far from its base, and made historic divides even bigger.

The Turnbull problem, however, seems to be turning around, (ironically) because of his own (seemingly vindictive) actions.  Turnbull's behaviour since being deposed now seems to be convincing more and more of the electorate that he should never have been made PM in the first place.  He now also appears to have even weakened the position of the "moderate" faction he once led.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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