The Coalition provides a masterclass on how to lose an election
It’s not always the best strategy that wins election, but it certainly does help to get the best pack of political cards together, keep them close to your chest, and go all out to win the campaign. Sometimes, unorthodox tactics can work. Sometimes, clever manoeuvres can confuse opponents and deliver success. Making noise through the media can also work, as well as tactics such as recalling parliament for three whole weeks, and stand-over threats to the Senate to pass unpalatable legislation, or else be faced with a double-dissolution election. And it also helps to be ahead in the polls.
But what to do if none of these plans are coming off, and the result of all of these bizarre tactics results in your party falling behind in the polls? And only six months after installing a popular leader that was expected to trounce the Opposition at the forthcoming election? I’ve been watching politics for a long time, and it’s difficult to imagine a more incoherent, unstable, and disunified government heading into an election campaign, where messaging is sporadic, low-order issues are being magnified to remain low-order issues, and higher-order issues are being ignored or dismissed.
It’s also difficult to remember when a first-term government seeking re-election had so little to offer the electorate, either when reflecting on any past achievements, or seeking a platform for future plans and policies for consideration by the electorate.
Although I disagree with a reinstallation of the Australian Building and Construction Commission in the proposed format, behind the confected outrage put forward by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and senior Coalition figures, it’s possible to see what the strategy is – rabbit on to the community about union corruption and building corruption reducing 20 per cent of national productivity (this erroneous claim was made by Independent Economics – so independent that they’re also independent from fact – and was widely discredited, and the report eventually removed from the ABCC’s website) – then make unreasonable demands of the Senate to pass unconscionable legislation and, there you have it: a trigger to hold a double-dissolution election, a compliant Governor–General, and the electorate primed to swallow the misinformation during an election campaign.
However misguided the strategy is (only 18 per cent of people support the reintroduction of the ABCC and even fewer understand what it actually is), we can still see what the strategy is. But the plans to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal? Well, that’s something that’s arrived from a deep hole in the ground, and will be provided in future MBA and political science courses as examples for how not to produce a successful political campaign – not up there with Germany’s venture into Stalingrad during World War II, but certainly hovering nearby.
First of all, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was created as a result of very strong evidence that there is a causal link between driver renumeration and truck accidents on major transport routes around Australia. While transport road safety is an important issue for the community, and steps to reduce trucking accidents should be taken, the RSR Tribunal is a low-order issue for many in the electorate, and to make it an election platform issue is a serious mistake, and difficult to understand the rationale behind the Coalition’s tactics.
A subsequent rally in Canberra, promoted by an astroturfed lobby group supported by the Institute of Public Affairs, had all the hallmarks of an ad hoc disorganised campaign. Having the Prime Minister of the day attending such a rally (and I’m being generous calling it a rally – there were only around 50 people in attendance) was a mistake.
— Van Badham (@vanbadham) April 17,
Squint a little, and the ‘mums and dads driver owner’ rally look similar to the ‘axe the tax’ rallies organised by then Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott in 2012. But no need to squint to realise Sophie Mirabella appeared at both rallies. Sophie Mirabella!
Why the Liberal strategy team decided that the Prime Minister of the day should appear with a tossed-out former member of parliament seeking to regain the seat of Indi, alongside the bizarre sight of Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash, screeching in overdrive, is hard to fathom. Prime Ministers are meant to be above this riff-raff: better to leave this sort of action to a Treasurer, or other parliamentary underling.
And, politics being the way it, now the issue has blown away, with the public even less aware about what the RSR Tribunal is, and the Prime Minister was seen to lose control over an issue the electorate doesn’t really care about.
Alongside this, the Senate refused to pass the Coalition’s ABCC Legislation, giving Malcolm Turnbull his ‘trigger’ to call a double-dissolution election. But the big problem for Turnbull was the Senate only took one day to block the ABCC Legislation – Parliament was no longer needed for the allocated three weeks, and the Prime Minister was left with a political vacuum which, of course, needed to be filled.
What followed is instructive for how unsuited and unprepared Malcolm Turnbull is for the Prime Ministership. After weeks of hectoring the Senate to ‘make a quick decision’ on these bills, when the decision arrived – quickly as the Prime Minister had demanded – he was left with nothing to talk about. Nothing!
Cue to the negative gearing photo opportunity with the Mignacca family in Penshurst. There are different levels of disasters in politics, but this one gets a high score of around 8. As it turns out, this negatively geared family was bemoaning Labor’s idea of restrictions to negative gearing policies on housing, in that it would restrict their potential to buy a house (incidentally, their third negatively geared house) for their one-year old toddler. Their one-year-old toddler!
Turnbull and his Treasurer, Scott Morrison, proceeded with the mother-of-all-scare-campaigns and one was definitely left with the impression that Labor’s policy, if implemented, will cause earthquakes, famine, the Bubonic plague, the first born of every parent offered to ancient Gods for blood sacrifice, and the collapse of the pillars of society. If only their response was a bit more, shall we say, nuanced, there’s a better chance that the electorate would take these propositions a little bit more seriously.
What these flusterings masked was the fact that the top ten electorates that negatively gear around Australia are all Liberal-held electorates, with Turnbull’s own seat, Wentworth, topping the list – the average claim on negative gearing through the tax system is over $19,000 in the seat of Wentworth.
So, who should we believe, the politician or the expert? I’d go with the expert.
The Grattan Institute responded by saying that there were many flaws in the argument presented by the Coalition, and that far from being the ‘mums and dads’ investors that benefit, it is mainly higher-income earners that use negative gearing to reduce their tax burden. This seems like a no-win argument that’s being presented by Turnbull, so why does he persist?
Turnbull outdid himself on the ABC 7.30 Report: the level of dexterity was low, and as far political disasters are concerned, this is probably as bad as it gets. This interview with Leigh Sales was possibly the worst political performance by a sitting Prime Minister. There’s bluster, there’s bluff, there’s mansplaining, there’s condescension, and a performance that showed that Turnbull was totally unprepared and unbriefed.
When asked by Leigh Sales, what evidence he had to support his claim that 30 per cent of investors would flee from the market, he said that it was ‘a matter of common sense’. Any other Prime Minister would have had figures at hand (even if they were factually incorrect) but Turnbull just stated his ‘common sense’ argument, echoing the same logic used by Pauline Hanson and the famous ‘Lambassador’, Sam Kekovich. This is not good company to be associated with in politics, unless your affiliations are closer to Reclaim Australia or the United Patriotic Front.
So, where to for the Coalition? The Budget is next Tuesday, but expectations about what it will achieve are so low, that the Coalition can hardly be expected to receive a boost from it – bracket creep (where salary increases through inflation push wage earners into a higher tax scale) seems to be where the Coalition wants to limit itself to, and that’s not exactly the type of issue the commentariat or the public is likely to get excited about. And, Malcolm Turnbull has painted himself so far into a corner, that’s it difficult to see how the Budget would rescue Turnbull from his underwhelming performances.
The issues that could potentially be positives for Turnbull – climate change, Republicanism, same-sex marriage, education funding, health, technology, the economy – have all been removed from Turnbull… by Turnbull. He’s junked the issues that the electorate perceives to be the strengths of Malcolm Turnbull. He appears unprepared and, as we’ve mentioned before, has nothing in his political history to suggest that anything will improve. Even the ‘Ideas Boom’ has blown up in his face – check out the website: it’s littered with digital motherhood statements and thought bubbles. And ideas such as the 30-minute cities and the very-fast-train between Sydney and Melbourne just continue with the thought bubble processes – these are 50-year plans that need co-ordination and detailed planning with the States and Territories, and not just foisted upon the electorate weeks before an election campaign.
The latest Essential Poll shows LNP 48%/ALP 52%. This is at an election-losing level for the Coalition, and eight weeks before the supposed election on 2 July, it’s not looking good for Malcolm Turnbull. Governments can recover from this position during an election campaign but, if the campaign looks anything like the past two months, the Coalition is in for a shocking time in the lead up to election.
|Date||Firm||Primary vote||TPP vote|
|20–24 Apr 2016||Essential||40%||39%||10%||12%||48%||52%|
|14–17 Apr 2016||Newspoll||41%||36%||11%||12%||49%||51%|
|13–17 Apr 2016||Essential||42%||36%||11%||11%||50%||50%|
|9–10, 16-17 Apr 2016||Morgan||40.5%||32%||14%||13.5%||50%||50%|
|14–16 Apr 2016||Ipsos||42%||33%||14%||11%||50%||50%|
|14 Apr 2016||ReachTEL||43.5%||35.8%||9.8%||10.9%||50%||50%|
|6–10 Apr 2016||Essential||42%||35%||11%||12%||50%||50%|
Too close to call!
I’ve always maintained that incumbency usually adds a great benefit to a government, but the Coalition has been behaving too poorly to take great advantage of this. It has also telegraphed it’s intention to hold the election on 2 July, so that’s one less issue for Labor to worry about.
The margin of 19 seats is a great barrier to a Labor victory. Having said that, current polling suggests a narrow Labor victory. Seats in Queensland will be critical and if a swing against the Government of around 4 per cent occurs achieved in NSW, it will be very close election. Now that Malcolm Turnbull is quickly becoming as ineffective as Tony Abbott, the experience of the LNP losing the Queensland election in 2015 is becoming instructive, as is the loss of the election in Victoria in 2014 (as well as the 10 per cent swing to Labor during the 2015 NSW election).
Nick Economou from Monash University, believes the Coalition will be returned with a much reduced majority. I think it will be much closer than that.