The Courier-Mail

LAURIE OAKES

SNAP ELECTION? TELL ‘IM HE’S DREAMING

- 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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