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Morrison Government MPs getting to know they attack this woman at their peril

Opinion

Federal LNP MPs and candidates aren’t attacking the Palaszczuk Government as much as they used to. Could it be because of the latest polling which has Scott Morrison and his team slipping almost five per cent from where they were in 2019, writes Dennis Atkins.

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It’s always best in the murky corridors and corners of politics to watch what people do rather than listen to what they say.

There’s no surprise the most common single word response to the mention of Scott Morrison’s name is “bullshitter”.

If anyone was doing focus groups about the performance of the Palaszczuk Labor Government now, the words used frequently to sum up its performance and competence would be “hopeless” (at the harsh end) and “get your act together” (when people are being generous).

These obvious observations to one side, a really interesting change of behaviour in recent weeks has been the switch to silence for federal LNP politicians in Queensland.

Frequent critics from Defence Minister Peter Dutton down to the most unknown backbencher have been almost mute. The exception is Gold Coast minister Karen Andrews who is playing to a vocal and cranky constituency containing a significant, rule disregarding proportion wanting the New South Wales border reopened.

There’s a simple explanation for why everyone is looking the other way. These politicians, including Dutton, are worried about holding their seats when the federal election rolls around – which everyone expects will be in early March next year but could jump up and surprise us by occurring soon after the Melbourne Cup in November.

One way for a federal Coalition MP to lose public support in Queensland is to attack Annastacia Palaszczuk.

While her government operates as its own worst enemy (providing a regular parade of things to complain and groan about), the premier has kept her standing with an overwhelming majority of voters.

Queenslanders go about their daily lives, swim at the beach, play golf or whatever, go to restaurants and attend family events from birthdays to weddings and funerals. Even the live music industry has been given some long overdue relief.

Palaszczuk remains the person most credited with overseeing these happy circumstances (her health chief Jeanette Young receives cloying attention wherever she goes) and that affection and regard has grown since October’s state election.

This is not good for MPs with their stars attached to a prime minister who is in the latest waning stage of his leadership (his political moon has had more phases than the Beatles have had No 1 hits but it’s heading to a disappearing new moon right now with no redemption on the rise).

As we noted in these columns in April, the federal election was looming as a “no change” affair but that looks like shifting towards the danger zone for Morrison and the Coalition.

Former New South Wales Labor wheeler dealer Graham Richardson has lucked on a few phrases which have become political earworms.

“The mob will always find you out,” is one of them and it remains as true now as when “Richo” first opined with it 35 years ago (long before the mob found him out, by the way).

It feels like the mob – the disrespectful descriptor political pros use for voters – have worked out Morrison and a closing majority are ready to get even.

There’s a lot of nonsense written about what political research is saying at the moment. Yes, it does say people (especially those in New South Wales and Victoria, particularly in the capitals) are sick of lockdowns, want their lives back and are over being told what to do.

This is, however, one side of the coin. Throughout this pandemic (we are edging towards the second year of what could play out for half a decade) there’s been a trade off in the public mind between health and the economy.

People regard personal health and safety as paramount but they also see a need to protect jobs, business and the general economy. The most common equation is if you look after the health of the community, economic wellbeing will follow and this has remained the case since March, 2020.

It had more salience last year but people still put a premium on health and wellbeing. Ask anyone in a far flung town or region and they’ll shake their heads at the idea of “opening up”.

This bedrock opinion has been shaken by the events of this year, particularly the arrival of the Delta variant of the virus which is seen as scarier with worse health consequences.

In places like Queensland, where there has been very successful virus management and low case numbers, this has prompted fear of what most regard as the inevitable – the arrival of Delta and its uncertain trajectory.

Morrison’s position in the political equation of “where now for the pandemic” is a mostly downside risk for the Coalition.

Voters do not necessarily believe what he says, they think he peddles simplistic solutions and he is about politics before solutions for the country’s problems.

One national pollster who has myriad corporate clients summed it up this way: “They no longer give Morrison the benefit of the doubt and think he’s on the make all the time.

“They regard his motivations as self interest and see him as a marketing guy who only ever wants to sell you something.

“For an increasing number of Australians, he’s worn out his welcome.”

Morrison’s ability to spin a new position on vaccines every week – sometimes two in seven days – has added to his sad and sorry place in people’s minds.

The general sentiment is he should have acted more quickly on getting vaccines and everything he’s done since has been a mix of ducking responsibility and blaming someone else – usually the states (who sit 20 to 30 points ahead of him in positive approval for handling the pandemic).

Morrison faces a tough political terrain without any easy or clear path to victory. Four weeks ago he remained a narrow favourite to win again. Now the odds suggest he’ll lose and his price is blowing in the wind.

No wonder Queensland LNP members and candidates are playing duck and cover.

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