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

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Opinion - SHARRI MARK­SON

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

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