By Joe Montero
Scott Morrison declared on the weekend; this year’s federal election will take place on 21 May. When doing so, he pitched himself as the helmsman keeping the Australian ship on course through stormy seas. His government has delivered one of the strongest economies in the world and delivered jobs, he added.
The Prime Minister’s claims are simply not true. But who said an election campaign must be about the truth? Election campaigns in Australia’s political system are about branding and knocking down the opposition. They are no different from an advertising campaign for a brand of laundry detergent or a certain hamburger.
On the back of the branding, Morrison insisted that this is not the time for change, and that Labor is incapable of steering the ship and surviving the storm. The fallout, he warns, will be harm to the economy and the loss of jobs.
Expect stunts and diversions. Expect the use of fear, to manipulate economic insecurity, to build the illusion of an external threat form the Chinese and Russians, and fan national chauvinism and racism, to position Scott Morrison as Australia’s only capable protector.
Fear will be used to mask failures in managing the economy, on climate policy, on responding to situations of heightened need for help, whether it be the pandemic or a climate related disaster, and on foreign policy.
No one really believes that the Coalition has been particularly good at managing the economy. This is perhaps Scott Morrisons single greatest weakness. Diversion from the economic reality and the widespread perception that Labor offers little, are his best hopes for survival.
Labor has taken a risky minimalist approach and opted for trying to win on the back of Scott Morrison’s unpopularity. The strategy’s main downside is, that it diverts from the fact that the problem is not just one man. Behind the face of the Prime Minister is network of powerful interests benefiting from the Coalition’s policies and practices.
The Morrison government has some other monumental hurdles to get over. One of them is the fallout from fire and flood along the Eastern Coast and the failure to move and help those in crisis. This has merged with widespread anger over how the government has dealt with the reality of climate warming. Australia is not happy with the way the pandemic, and especially the vaccines rollout, has been handled. Living standards are slipping for many as the wages share shrinks and those relying on social security entitlements fall further behind, and there is concern over the replacement of secure jobs with insecure ones.
Scott Morrison has developed an entrenched reputation as a liar and bully. Most damaging has been his mishandling of the anti-women culture in the parliament.
Then comes the forced intervention into the preselection process in NSW. This and the succession of Liberal Members of parliament to speaking out against their leader, make it look very much like a section of the party would prefer to lose the election, if this provides the means to replace the leader and re-shape the party. Internal division could prove to be enough to send the Prime Minister looking for a new job.
The Joker in the pack will be the media. In Australia this mostly means the dominant Rupert Murdoch empire. For decades it’s been almost impossible to win an election without his patronage. Labor’s strategy has in part been to be careful not to get Murdoch offside. It hasn’t worked. Murdoch is now moving towards Scott Morrison’s side and expect a lot of mudslinging. But the master can be fickle and has been known dump his favoured political tool when no longer seen useful. This could develop into one of those times. The moment this happens is the moment Scott Morrison has lost.
If Rupert Murdoch’s patronage continues, he may save Scott Morrison
Murdoch may still not have the last word. Australia faces new circumstances and predicting of the outcome of an election is less certain than usual.
Whichever fairy tales the politicians try to present as reality, most voters know that the economic position of the nation is weak and that a bigger crisis threatens. They know that the big end of town is looked after and that they are forgotten. The rise in the distrust of political leadership and institutions has seen the political bases of the parties shrink, and it will have an impact on this election. More than ever, the victor will be the least hated at the time.
A minority government is a real possibility. In this case, contenders will be forced to find coalitions and strike deals with small parties and independents. Although this has the makings of less stable government, the positive side is that it will pressure for better performance from the political leadership. More important still, is that it will signal that Australia is changing and wants better than what we have been getting.
Where this leads, is important, and this is ultimately going to be in the hands of the people.
If Australia wants to travel in a different direction, the electorate must eventually find ways to transform itself from passive bystanders into active participants in the political process and build its localised organisations to pressure for the changes we must have.
One idea gaining some currency is the concept of community assemblies providing ordinary people with the means to better articulate what they want and the possibility of reviewing the performance of their local members of parliament.
An active population would work towards a broad consensus on key measures put to any government and bring in the reality of people power.
But this is for the future. On 21 May we take the first step. Australia’s best immediate interests are served by the fall of the Morrison government. This will bring a breathing space and create the best conditions for taking the next step.