Scott Morrison on Day 17 of the 2022 federal election campaign (Image: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
Scott Morrison on Day 17 of the 2022 federal election campaign (Image: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Scott Morrison and the Coalition’s grand plans have been thwarted again by their own side. They hoped today would all be about a “carbon tax” — really, a Coalition policy from the Abbott era — to reopen Labor’s decade-old wounds. Enter Nationals, stage left.

After Colin Boyce, the Liberal National Party candidate for the Queensland electorate Flynn, began to walk away from the government’s net zero by 2050 commitment, Senator Matt Canavan took it a step — no, a leap, further: “The net zero thing is all sort of dead anyway,” he said. 

This is likely not the debate that the government wants. After all, climate change was the top issue mentioned by voters in the ABC’s Vote Compass survey, and Morrison had spent a lot, both literally and figuratively, dragging the government to some sort of target. Never mind that net zero by 2050 is way too little too late even if it was a commitment, which it’s not, but it is something that the government could point to as its answer to doing something about climate change. Now, that’s been publicly ripped up (conveniently after the Nationals cashed in their spoils from negotiations for “signing up” to the target). 

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This is just the latest example of the government failing to get any clear air to make its case for reelection. The lead-in to the election was engulfed by the very public infighting of the NSW Liberals that culminated in the selection of a transphobic candidate whose offensive tweets have dominated headlines for weeks. While Morrison has attempted to turn lemons into lemonade by pivoting to “trans women in sport”, polling suggests that the issue is hurting more than it’s helping. The government picked a culture war that they’re losing. 

Meanwhile, the Coalition’s inner-city MPs are facing serious threats from the teal independent insurgents on one side, while also being campaigned against by traditional supporters the Australian Christian Lobby. A broken promise from the prime minister about a federal ICAC didn’t help either. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party’s own vice-president, Teena McQueen, didn’t seem too upset by the notion when she said publicly, “With a couple of lefties gone we can get back to our core philosophy.”  

Then there’s been the Solomon Islands-China pact. My colleague Bernard Keane summed it up: “Scott Morrison’s failure in the Solomon Islands, opening the way for a major strategic advance by China on our doorstep, has been, note for note, a perfect replay of his failures in so many other areas.” The agreement between the two nations has neutralised a national security campaign advantage as it bruised the Coalition’s self-proclaimed credentials of being “tough on China”. It’s much harder to say you’re the person for the job when this happened under your watch.

Plus, important figures on inflation, interest rates, wage grow and jobs all coming out in the lead-up to the election will all impact the Coalition’s fallback argument as the “better economic managers”. Ultimately, its fate is out of its hands as the first three numbers are tipped to undermine rather than bolster its case. That’s not ideal. 

All of these stories have been taking up oxygen during the campaign. Maybe some could counterintuitively play well — national security and economic issues are the government’s home turf — but really, things are not going well for the government. 

So why isn’t there a general consensus that the Coalition’s campaign is going quite poorly? The press gallery has covered all these stories so it’s neither an obvious bias nor have they missed a story. Yet, the narrative around the election hasn’t coalesced around the reality that the wheels are falling off the Coalition’s wagon. 

Perhaps it’s fears of becoming the Peter van Onselen of 2022 and declaring the Coalition a loser prematurely. The often repeated wisdom is that Morrison is a good campaigner who won the unwinnable election. He at least appears to relish the artifice of the election campaign. Morrison also has somewhat of an incumbency advantage when it comes to driving news cycles. And now Anthony Albanese has COVID-19.

Polls were somewhat off during the past election. Who knows if they’ll get it right this time (even after they got the South Australian election right)? There’s still undecided voters who can swing the election. Plus, most public polling is nationwide and the election will be won and lost, as they say, in the marginals. Last time, Labor managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — who are we to say it couldn’t do it again? 

These are all reasons to doubt what we see. But here’s what we know: major pollsters generally show Albanese and Labor still out far ahead right now. Newspoll’s latest two-party-preferred results have Labor’s margin beyond even the polling miss of 2019 and sees them forming a government in their own right. Even after polls tightened a bit after the first week of the campaign, there’s still plenty of cushion. Things can always change (do NOT screenshot this article and send it to me if the government wins), but it seems exceedingly unlikely.

The way coverage should be framed is around the growing pressure on Morrison and the Coalition. It’s a little more than three weeks until polling day, even less until early voting, and the government is far behind. Every day that Morrison and the government doesn’t gain ground is a loss. What they’ve been throwing at the wall doesn’t appear to be sticking. And that’s due, in part, to their inability to run a campaign that makes a case to reelect them without stepping on their own toes or running into bad luck. 

They’re not out for the count, but it’s clear that the Coalition’s reelection campaign is going disastrously. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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