The Courier-Mail



- LAU­RIE OAKES Lau­rie Oakes is the Nine Net­work po­lit­i­cal editor.

R EPORTS yesterday that News Corp boss Ru­pert Mur­doch had used Twit­ter to call for a snap elec­tion – be­cause the se­nate num­bers made Aus­tralia “al­most un­govern­able”– prompted a de­cid­edly un­en­thu­si­as­tic re­ac­tion from within the Ab­bott Gov­ern­ment.

Mur­doch said an early poll was nec­es­sary if the Gov­ern­ment was un­able to “push on with re­forms”.

As some Coali­tion MPs saw it, in a week when Immigratio­n Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton had ac­cused Fair­fax Media of wag­ing a ji­had to bring the Gov­ern­ment down, here was the boss of News Cor­po­ra­tion invit­ing it to com­mit po­lit­i­cal sui­cide.

Only a fool­hardy gov­ern­ment would rush to an elec­tion when it is six to eight points be­hind in the polls.

Bill Shorten must have been tempted to cry: “Make my day!” But Tony Ab­bott, while supremely con­fi­dent he can out-cam­paign Shorten, will not will­ingly give the La­bor leader that kind of start.And a dou­ble dis­so­lu­tion would hold out lit­tle prospect of pro­duc­ing a se­nate ma­jor­ity for ei­ther ma­jor party any­way.

With only half as many votes needed to win a se­nate seat, the odds-and-sods com­po­nent would very likely in­crease un­less elec­tion laws are changed. Gov­ern­ing could be­come even harder.The Mur­doch tweets, how­ever, pro­vide an in­ter­est­ing per­spec­tive as Ab­bott pre­pares to celebrate on Mon­day the sec­ond an­niver­sary of the elec­tion that brought him to of­fice.

On Septem­ber 7, 2013, as the votes rolled in and La­bor was tossed out, the media mogul was cock-a-hoop.

“Aus­tralians just sick of Gil­lard-Rudd in­com­pe­tence and in­fight­ing wreck­ing a great coun­try”, he tweeted.

Two years on, the elec­torate ob­vi­ously sees Ab­bott as very much in the tra­di­tion of Kevin Rudd and Ju­lia Gil­lard when it comes to blun­ders, bro­ken prom­ises, gaffes, dis­trac­tions and po­lit­i­cal ham-fist­ed­ness.

And vot­ers are pro­vided with a ring­side view of in­fight­ing in the Ab­bott Gov­ern­ment via reg­u­lar and de­tailed Cab­i­net-level leaks. Not much has changed. The Gov­ern­ment has been in the opin­ion-poll dol­drums for nearly two-thirds of its pe­riod in of­fice so far. Ab­bott is un­pop­u­lar, his Trea­surer sim­i­larly on the nose.

The first Bud­get was an “up yours” of shat­tered elec­tion pledges, the sec­ond a pop­ulist plea for for­give­ness.

In Fe­bru­ary, back­benchers used a lead­er­ship spill mo­tion in an at­tempt to shock Ab­bott into lift­ing his game, which he did, but it was not enough to boost sup­port in the elec­torate.

At­ten­tion has been di­verted from the short­com­ings of Shorten and the Op­po­si­tion by the Gov­ern­ment’s self-in­flicted prob­lems.

“But we know what needs to be done,” says a Lib­eral strate­gist. “We need to stop talk­ing about our­selves, stop be­ing dis­tracted and talk about the econ­omy. The ques­tion is – can we do it?”

Year 3 of the Ab­bott Gov­ern­ment be­gins on a slight note of hope for the Coali­tion be­cause the PM and his se­nior col­leagues have, for once, man­aged to stay on mes­sage for a sus­tained pe­riod. Well, for a cou­ple of weeks.

They have ham­mered the theme of the im­por­tance of the Chi­naAus­tralia Free Trade Agree­ment to jobs and the econ­omy. Shorten has been put un­der pres­sure and is show­ing it. Di­vi­sions have opened up on the La­bor side.

The next hur­dle is the Can­ning by-elec­tion in Western Aus­tralia. La­bor needs a swing of nearly 12 per cent to win – an un­likely feat. Op­ti­mism is grow­ing among Lib­er­als that they will hold the seat by a rea­son­able mar­gin.

But it will take more than that to change the mood of de­spair and de­spon­dency in the Coali­tion; more than that to end dis­cus­sion about Ab­bott’s lead­er­ship.

The man him­self is full of con­fi­dence. He be­lieves that, while na­tional se­cu­rity is vi­tal, the econ­omy holds the key to the elec­tion out­come.

He sees the pres­sure ap­plied to Shorten over the free trade deal as a taste of what is to come. He is con­vinced his low-tax mes­sage will gain trac­tion.

And he is un­shak­able in the view that, even with growth slow­ing and other prob­lems emerg­ing, Aus­tralians will trust the Coali­tion over La­bor with eco­nomic man­age­ment.

Ab­bott also has no in­ten­tion of throw­ing Joe Hockey over­board, even if things do not go well in Can­ning. He knows a scape­goat would not help in that sit­u­a­tion any­way.

In his tweets sug­gest­ing that only an elec­tion holds out the pos­si­bil­ity of fix­ing the po­lit­i­cal mess, Mur­doch de­scribed his hoped-for re­sult as a “govt of all the tal­ents ready to work to­gether with clear man­date for re­form, bring­ing in new, young, able peo­ple”.

That dream – with its im­pli­ca­tions of cross-party co­op­er­a­tion and youth­ful ide­al­ism and courage re­plac­ing cyn­i­cal pol­i­tics – is one we can all share. But a dream is all it is.

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