The final week of Campaign 2019

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We’re into the final week of the 2019 election campaign and, if it was a simple contest of ideas, the Labor Party would be confident of achieving a landslide victory. Labor has appeared as a government-in-waiting for most of this campaign, offering a large suite of policy ideas and programs, and the most detailed policy costings from any Opposition since the Coalition’s Fightback! package released during the 1993 election.

Although Scott Morrison is the Prime Minister, and the Liberal–National Party is the actual government, they’ve appeared more like an opposition team bereft of ideas, and struggling in the polls. Morrison has spent a great deal of time appearing in pubs, bars, trucks and, more recently, bingo halls, and has run a largely negative campaign, personally targeting Labor leader, Bill Shorten, and focusing on the relatively insignificant issues of franking credits and negative gearing in the property market.

Labor should be assured of an election victory next week. Betting markets for political events are not an entirely reliable form of predicting election results but, even still, Labor is favoured in 87 of the 151 federal seats. Betting, just like opinion polling, is excellent in accurately assessing the past, but not so effective for predicting future events. It’s a relatively small market, compared to the overall sports market, but while it may not mean much, it still holds some relevance, and the odds are heavily in favour of a Labor election victory.

But elections are not just about the ideas, or the betting markets, or even opinion polls. It’s the cumulative perception of media messages permeating through the wide range of information platforms available to all political parties, and how receptive the electorate is to these media messages.

Aside from the media messaging and massaging, it’s also the glut of other material: it’s the street walks and door knocking that each candidate performs in each seat: the phone calls made by volunteers on behalf of each party; the information sheets distributed to passers-by at train stations and the leaflet drops into the thousands of letterboxes in each electorate.

And, finally, the task of getting a how-to-vote card into each electors hand, or persuading the undecided voter to vote for the candidate, hoping that the last positive message they’ve heard or seen before they walk into the polling booth, will be enough to win over that voter.

Then, there’s the relative merits of each of the candidates in every seat across Australia. And there’s still a great deal that can happen in the final week of any election campaign. Will News Limited play an unwanted role in determining the winning party?

The LNP still in with a chance?

The Liberal–National Party is still technically within reach of winning this election. That’s not to say they will, or have a great chance of achieving this, but based on what the government has delivered to the electorate since the last election in August 2016, it’s surprising the LNP is still considered to hold any remote chance of winning this election.

Although the recent Essential opinion polls show a 52/48 per cent result in favour of the Labor Party in the two-party preferred vote, other opinions polls (Newspoll, Ispos, Galaxy and Roy Morgan) show a narrower 51/49 per cent result in favour of the Labor Party – a vantage point from where it’s remotely possible for the LNP to win the election, albeit, very unlikely.

Labor leader, Bill Shorten, campaigning in Melbourne, with Kristina Keneally.
Labor leader, Bill Shorten, campaigning in Melbourne, with Kristina Keneally.

But the optics of the campaign have changed dramatically over the past few days. Shorten has started campaigning in the Melbourne seats of Flinders and Kooyong – both held by senior Liberal ministers and with large margins, while Morrison has campaigned in the safe regional NSW seat of Farrer – held by former minister, Sussan Ley, by a 20.53 per cent margin.

Farrer has always been held by the LNP since its inception in 1949 – it won’t fall to the Labor Party, but independent local mayor of Albury, Kevin Mack, is now favoured to win the seat. A loss in Farrer for the Liberal Party means it will have to pick another seat elsewhere to balance this result out.

Labor also had the confidence to release extensive costings of the policy platform it has presented to the Australian electorate, and over the next four years, is predicting collective surpluses of $17 billion. A large portion of this will arrive from clawing back the generous franking credits scheme ($14 billion), and reversing promised tax cuts for higher income earners, implemented by the Coalition ($13.6 billion).

Of course, these figures are rubbery: forecasting costs over the next 12 months is difficult, especially for an Opposition that doesn’t have access to the powerful mechanisms of government and Treasury. But estimating the costs over the next four years is close to impossible, as it depends on so many external factors, variables in economic factors, growth and output in different sectors that may be influenced by unreliable climate change factors, and unpredictable consumer confidence and wage growth.

Releasing these figures eight days before the election suggests a growing level of confidence within Labor ranks, and compares favourably with the 2013 election campaign – when the LNP released scant costings two days before the election day – and the 2010 campaign, where costings from the LNP were released three days before the election.

The campaign launch misses the mark

Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, at the Liberal Party campaign launch.
Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, at the Liberal Party campaign launch.

The Liberal–National Party held its official campaign launch at the Melbourne Convention Centre today and, I must say, it was one of the most lacklustre launches I’ve seen for many years. It’s a sad indictment of how lowly the LNP thinks of the electorate.

As it the norm with campaign launches, there were several warm-up acts – the current member for Corangamite, Sarah Henderson, opened the speeches, followed by a series of attack-Labor advertisements; a folksy delivery by Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, replete with lame jokes and parody; followed by a ‘how-Scott-met-Jenny’ video at the age of 11, and an ‘unromantic’ sop-story about how Morrison proposed to his fiancé on the steps of Sydney’s Martin Place.

Surely, winning an election can’t just be a matter of delivering poor government for six years, removing two prime ministers, then obfuscating all the facts and attempting to vanish this history from the memory of the electorate during a five-week campaign. And then presenting a series of Presidential-style log-cabin stories about the Prime Minister’s family life in the style of an evangelist gathering, or a principal’s address at a high school speech night.

This strategy might just be enough for a government entering an election campaign with a massive majority, but the LNP entered this 2019 campaign as a minority government, needing to gain three seats (net), just to reach the slim one-seat majority it achieved in the 2016 election under Malcolm Turnbull.

Morrison finished the campaign launch with a ‘promise of Australia’ and the ‘Australian vision’, a direct lift out from Bob Hawke’s pre-election speech in 1987. But what is this ‘promise of Australia’? Based on Morrison’s campaign launch, it would be a future of negativity and a fear of the outside world, an unambitious direction for Australia that argues about the merits of franking tax credits and negative gearing benefits for the well-off asset-class, a class with little interest in nurturing the future prospects of the country, and lacking an ability to think past their own vested and personal interests.

Is this the best the LNP can offer?

If it is, the LNP deserves to lose the election this Saturday, and Morrison will end his reign as Prime Minister at 261 days, the sixth shortest reign of any leader. We can accept that ‘deserving’ has no place in politics – if politics was all about ‘deserving’, we wouldn’t have seen the conservative side of politics occupying the federal government benches for 66 per cent of the time since Federation in 1901 – but surely the electorate won’t reward six years of poor government with an election victory, especially if there’s no indication the future will be any different from the past.

The penultimate Newspoll

The Newspoll opinion poll released on the night of May 12 shows no change in the two-party-preferred rating, with Labor at 51 per cent, and the Liberal–National Party at 49 per cent, although there has been an increase in Bill Shorten’s approval, as well as his standing in the preferred-Prime Minister rating.

There have been 45 federal elections in Australia and a party has won government with less than 50 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote on six occasions – 1940, 1954, 1961, 1969, 1990 and 1998. In each of those occasions, the winning party has been the incumbent government, and held large seat margins entering each of those elections.

The LNP entered the 2019 election as a minority government and lacks the financial resources and political capital to adequately sandbags marginal seats around the country or, in the case of Melbourne, protect its heartland seats of Higgins and Flinders.

It needed an impressive and inspirational campaign launch today: if not to resonate with the electorate, at least enthuse party members and aficionados to go out and campaign hard in the final week, in the hope they have some chance of gaining the three seats they need to win the election, or at least minimise the loss of seats.

But the launch lacked passion, lacked gravitas and sent out a message to the electorate the LNP has run out of steam. Both Morrison and Shorten have campaigned well since the election date was announced on April 11, but Morrison lacks the supporting team, the substance and policy background, and will struggle to reach the finishing line in this final week. What else will there be to talk about?

As we’re argued before, it’s still difficult to see a pathway to victory for the LNP and, unless they can manufacture a final week negative-news lob, similar to the way Michael Daley’s campaign was derailed in the recent NSW election, all the signs are pointing to a successful election night for Labor.

Although there have been some reports the LNP is planning to release highly inflammatory attack on Bill Shorten through its de facto publishing arm, The Daily Telegraph, even this might not be enough to push Scott Morrison towards an unlikely victory.

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Eddy Jokovich

Eddy Jokovich is a Sydney-based journalist and producer of many books, magazines and handbooks and has worked as a war correspondent, journalist, lecturer in media studies and production.