Shorten loses ground
At a time when the Opposition Leader should be riding a wave of popular support, none of the old hands can recreate him to make him more likeable with voters
On Wednesday morning, when she would normally be turning up for work, Liberal staffer De Yi Wu emailed her boss, Home Affairs assistant minister Alex Hawke, and told him she was resigning, effective immediately. Simultaneously, Liberal advisers Liam Kiss, who is Bill Heffernan’s nephew, and Matthew Kong sent similar resignation letters to their bosses, state MPs Natasha Maclaren-Jones and Mark Taylor, who are both in Hawke’s centreright faction, which he leads federally with Treasurer Scott Morrison. The staff members, though junior in the office pecking order, held a crucial role in personally managing relationships with electorate branch delegates, and their resignations were part of a coup to sweep support from Hawke within his own district and shift it to the moderate faction. The defection was led by a former Hawke adviser Vincent So, who never recovered from being forced to drop two of his groomsmen, Alex Dore and Sam Diamant, and his MC Natarsha Terreiro, from his wedding — apparently because of a directive from Hawke. So is understood to have told his groomsmen — for whom he had already bought suits —— they were disinvited from his wedding as a result of growing too powerful within the centre-right faction. Hawke, who says he has never asked anyone to alter their wedding plans, could now potentially face a challenge in his own seat of Mitchell in Sydney’s Hills District if the hardright and moderates do a deal to carve up the soft right. Hawke and Morrison’s federal factional grouping is already greatly diminished, with only about six MPs in their voting block. It’s the latest messy factional play unsettling the Turnbull government at a time when they need stability ahead of the federal election. In other parts of NSW, Liberal conservative MP Craig Kelly is set to be knocked off in his seat of Hughes by powerful moderates leader, Liberal Party NSW vice-president Kent Johns.
Johns has not submitted his nomination form yet but has firmly decided to run after wavering on the decision for the past fortnight. His formal nomination is imminent.
Unlike Ann Sudmalis and Jane Prentice, Kelly will not have the benefit of prime ministerial support to try to save his skin. Quite the contrary.
And while Turnbull has publicly expressed support for Sudmalis, moderate factional bosses are expected to examine polling to see who has a better chance of winning the seat — her or Alby Schultz’s son Grant Schultz, before shutting down his preselection bid.
Turnbull could, of course, intervene more forcefully to prevent the humiliation to the Liberal Party of losing a second woman from Parliament. Prentice’s loss will elevate efforts to protect other women, such as Sudmalis.
In the Senate, Jim Molan, who has built up a following with conservative voters, may have another fight on his hands from Holly Hughes. There is the argument, prosecuted by some federal Liberal sources, that preselection contests are not a distraction from the government’s agenda because they rarely cut through to mums and dads. This is true to a certain extent. Let’s face it, the fate and careers of politicians are hardly high on the priority list of punters.
However, it creates internal division and disunity. It reignites old and long-held factional wounds.
It paints the Liberals as a shambolic party when the government is trying to pull together and apply pressure on Bill Shorten.
And yet the Turnbull government is enjoying a growing resurgence. As leader, Turnbull is at his most secure since the 2016 election.
The government now has momentum. Not only that, but for the first time in years, the Coalition has an economic narrative to tell.
The by-elections in early July are equally dangerous for both Shorten and Turnbull.
Decisive swings against the government in the Queensland seat of Longman could be fatal for Turnbull. It would show nervous backbenchers there’s no chance of holding on to their seat with Turnbull as leader, and support for a Queenslander, like Peter Dutton, could grow.
However, Shorten has the most to lose, and Susan Lamb can no longer rely on One Nation preferences.
Shorten or his senior advisers have frequent — some say daily — conversations with Bob Hawke’s former righthand man Peter Barron, who was also an adviser to Neville Wran and is Sam Dastyari’s father-in-law.
Meanwhile, Chris Bowen speaks at least weekly to Paul Keating.
The clever political plays and the old Labor wisdom emanates in many of Labor’s successful strategies over the past two years.
However, none of the old hands can recreate Shorten to make him more likeable with voters.
Shorten’s main rivals, Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen, each have a strong factional support base, while Shorten’s support has weakened.
Chatter in the Labor Party says Shorten should be further in front now if Labor is going to win at the next election.
The MPs are all aware of polling that cites Shorten as their key vulnerability; the reason soft-voters are hesitant about throwing their support behind Labor.
In a further blow to his position, Shorten has lost credibility and political ground on account of his deceptive conduct over the dual citizens in his ranks.
There are also complaints internally about Shorten’s arrogance.
It’s said he already speaks to business and industry stakeholders about what he’ll do when he is prime minister.
At a time when Shorten should be riding a wave of popular support (as Kevin Rudd did in the 11 months from when he seized the leadership before the 2007 election), he is on the back foot.
He is also said to be rattled about the dive in his preferred prime minister ratings in both of this week’s major polls.
A year out from polling day, Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership is at its strongest point since the 2016 election, while Shorten’s is at its shakiest.
The Turnbull government is enjoying a growing resurgence. Turnbull is at his most secure since the 2016 election