In the flurry of reports and speculation Thursday morning, Sky’s David Speers read a text from a Labor adviser saying “I’d rather face ScoMo than Dutton”. Yep, as far some people in the Labor Party are concerned, the hard-right former cop, barely holding his seat, which he’s possibly ineligible to hold, with an incredibly odd scandal hanging over his head, and fresh from the most poisonous ministry in Australian politics, is apparently the tougher opponent.

And now Julie Bishop is throwing her hat into the ring, along with treasurer Scott Morrison. Veteran political marketing strategist Toby Ralph told Crikey that Bishop would be the opponent that would worry Labor most. “If both Bishop and Morrison run they will split the vote, so they need to sort it out between themselves before any potential spill,” he said. “Bishop would be a very fresh new look for the party, and would repair the damage faster than anyone. She has far higher popularity than either Morrison or Dutton, but the party room is circumspect about her domestic abilities.” 

If the moderates end up shooting each other in the foot, what will Labor’s plan be if Dutton ends up winning the leadership ballot? 

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Ralph said, if faced with a campaign against Dutton, Labor need only put their feet up and wait.

“Labor don’t need to do anything if Dutton wins, assuming he’s still there after his constitutional issues,” he said. “They might as well take a nice long lunch and think about the colour of curtains in their new ministerial offices.”

“Dutton, who acts like Abbott’s sock puppet, argues he will drag the party to the right. This might win back some of the One Nation and Palmer defectors in Queensland, but will decimate voter support in larger urban areas.”

Former Labor strategist Bruce Hawker said, of the possible candidates, Labor would most likely prefer to face Dutton — but only fractionally.

“The LNP hold five Queensland seats with a margin of less than 2% — including Dutton’s — and the feeling is he’s best placed to help them hold that. But for every seat he saves there, he puts another more southern seat in danger.”

However, his most obvious flaw — his disastrous stewardship of the camps on Manus and Nauru is an area Labor have gone out of their way to avoid. They would be much more likely to focus on the tenure that saw Dutton voted the worst health minister of the past 35 years by the Australian Medical Association.

And what if it’s ScoMo? 

“In net vote terms Scott Morrison is far more palatable than Dutton outside the party room, but that’s where the decision gets made, and they seem to be worried about themselves rather than those they represent,” Ralph said.

Hawker agreed that saying Morrison was a “less abrasive and divisive” candidate, but stated Labor would still have “plenty to work with”. “His real weak spot is he’s the architect of the big business tax cuts which have just failed. And either way, they’ll just be relentlessly hitting the liberals with ‘instability, chaos, infighting’.” 

Ultimately, Ralph thinks the Coalition are too far gone whoever takes over.

“In a country that is actually doing very well, government has failed to establish a coherent narrative, and through this debacle massive damage has been done. It’s pathetic, and a gift to Labor.”

Is there any redemption for the Liberal Party? Email your responses to [email protected].

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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