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Was this the year we stopped taking politics seriously? Here's a sober assessment


No sooner had our federal politicians escaped their messy last sitting in Canberra than the campaigning for next year’s election was cranked up a gear or two. Dennis Atkins gives a race guide assessment.

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Parliament has embarrassed itself to a standstill, politics in Australia has plumbed never imagined depths of degradation and dishonour and what passes for accountability and integrity wouldn’t get a gig on Funniest Home Videos.

Whatever else you might say about it, politically, 2021 made a complete fool of itself. As the ABC’s Annabel Crabb said at the end of last week, “Go home, 46th Parliament. You’re drunk”.

Labor is trying to play the part of the sober one as Christmas approaches, announcing its marquee climate change target plan – out-bidding the risk averse Morrison Government and winning previously denied plaudits from business groups and grudging acknowledgment from conservationists.

They followed up with a vision-for-the future plan on TAFE – free study and priorities aimed at skills shortages.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese, who said at the start of this three year term he’d wait until the “last quarter” of play to “kick into the wind”, is hoping this will be enough to get people listening and not paint a target on his slimmed down back.

Albanese was full tilt positive on Sunday, standing in front of a banner shouting “A Better Future” when he made his pitch on dealing with the fallout of the climate crisis. It was solid stuff, tapping into the need for meaningful policy on an issue of increasing importance in the community and presenting a contrast to the tawdry aftermath of Parliament’s 2021 denouement.

In a taste of the great contest unfolding, at the very time Albanese was strutting his climate stuff, that rev-head muscle car guy (pause here for appalled guffaws) Morrison was whizzing around Bathurst’s Mt Panorama at 230kph looking excitedly terrified.

As much as this might be a visual metaphor for the prime minister’s political fortunes, it showed he was as sharp as ever in the “picture of the day” contest.

Any campaign strategist knows getting the best pictures is vital in the political game. It gives your guy a head start in winning the evening news and having the overflow of good positives on breakfast shows the day after .

The other interesting aspect of the weekend approach by the Coalition and Labor teams was the way the positive and negative messages were divided between messengers.

For Labor, Albanese was kept to the positive lane, sticking to his story about what Labor was doing, although he did insert some compare and contrast points which highlighted the focus group driven negatives of Morrison.

Albanese’s one hit on the prime minister was a claim he couldn’t “trust himself” – something followed by a pledge not to indulge in stunts (set up for first broken promise?).

The real negative hit on Morrison was left to his deputy Richard Marles. Marles certainly threw red meat into the animal enclosure – linking the prime minister to the phrases lies, lying and liar 18 times. “He even lies about lying,” concluded the Labor deputy.

Morrison, out of town and out of his touring car, hit back at Labor on everything and anything, claiming Labor’s talk at the weekend and all the way to the election was just noise because you couldn’t trust them.

“You’ll hear a lot from Labor, there’ll be a lot of noise, but the only way you really understand what a Labor government will do is what they did last time they were in government,” said Morrison.

All of this is campaigning by the book. Testing the ground underneath and looking at the way your opponents are taking chances on things.

However, through all this we are told by the government, directly or by way of very informed briefings, the incumbent’s playbook would be a rerun of 2019.

They want a big economic statement – either a Budget in late March or something earlier if circumstances make that more attractive – as a launching pad for a 24/7 assault on Labor, it’s policies (real and imagined) and leader.

Things won’t be pretty and no lie will be too big to be told. The great unknown is whether the voting public will pay attention to a prime minister regarded as having passed the “three strikes” mark by a solid majority.

After the way the last 12 months of politics has played out, the public might be inclined to want to vote everyone off the island.

In such circumstances two things are most likely. In the head-to-head battle the government will be marked down more harshly and independents in seats everywhere might finally have their day.

This swing to independents – and local community based minor parties – was evident in the New South Wales local government contests at the weekend.

The non-aligned Our Local Community party emerged as a force in the Sydney suburbs at the expense of both Labor and Liberal. This included Fairfield, usually regarded as rusted on ALP territory.

Elsewhere, independents made their presence felt in places like Lake Macquarie, Newcastle, Shoalhaven and the Northern Beaches.
If these trends are seen at the federal polls it could spell more trouble for the Coalition.

The 47th Parliament might look very different – and that’s not just because it’s probably going to be sober.


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