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Byron Shire
March 4, 2021

Thus Spake Mungo: Nothing changed but everything changes

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Well, what was all that about?

After nearly three months of unremitting angst, barely restrained hysteria and several shitloads of money, we are precisely back to where we started.

Every single one of those turfed from the House of Representatives over the dual citizenship imbroglio is now back in the parliament or in the case of David Feeney, replaced by a colleague from the same party.

So no changes to the parliament, and most importantly no real effect on the government, either way. And, as necessary corollaries, no early election and no leadership spills. Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten can forget their immediate concerns for the moment, at least, and go back to what they do best – abusing each other.

In the Prime Minister’s case, this has become something of a vocation, if not an obsession: as the climax of the campaigns approached, his screams of lair, liar, pants on fire became progressively shriller and less coherent. And, it appears, less convincing.

The catastrophic collapse of the LNP vote in Longman at the hands of both Labor and One Nation cannot and will not be ignored. But to attempt to fix it – and the other five marginals in the Sunshine State – will require not just a bit more tweaking of the message but a major revamp of just about everything.

Which is why, despite all indications to the contrary, Super Saturday was not merely status quo Saturday, as the estimable Peter Hartcher rechristened it. Turnbull’s Kill Bill approach has now demonstrably failed, most crucially in his most vulnerable state, Queensland.

The catastrophic collapse of the LNP vote in Longman at the hands of both Labor and One Nation cannot and will not be ignored. But to attempt to fix it – and the other five marginals in the Sunshine State – will require not just a bit more tweaking of the message but a major revamp of just about everything.

Turnbull’s campaign style emerges on three distinct levels. We have already mentioned the negative bit and its lack of traction: whether the voters actually believed that Bill Shorten lied about health policy (or anything else for that matter), a majority were clearly less concerned about the precise figures than the fact that they wanted more.

Turnbull could inveigh until he was hoarse (and in fact did) about how his government had been wonderfully generous to the hospitals in the area, but the punters knew that the previous Abbott government had cut them and they weren’t prepared to forgive and forget just yet.

And when Turnbull ranted on about Shorten’s connections with the unions, especially the dreaded CFMMEU, it was even more of a turn off; why didn’t he want to talk about their issues instead of his own? It all fed into the narrative of the Mr Harbourside Mansion, the ex-banker multi-millionaire who is hopelessly out of touch with the ordinary, hard-working Australians he governs.

Then there is the hands-on Turnbull, the man in the fluoro vest or the hard hat or both, who invades carefully selected small businesses and interrogates the complaisant owners about how much they love his government for showering them with largesse. Quite apart from the fact that such occasions are clearly staged and inherently improbable, for most workers they miss the point: it’s all very well for the boss to be doing well, but how about a wage rise, or perhaps even moving from casual to permanent shifts?

And the long-running push for corporate tax cuts was always unpopular but has now become poison: Shorten’s Longman line about money for hospitals and not for banks has almost certainly despatched it for good. It will be a difficult backflip for Turnbull to negotiate and will be seen as a betrayal by some of his colleagues, including the indefatigable Matthias Corman. But it has now become a matter of survival.

And finally there Turnbull’s big picture campaign, the one he relied on to replace Abbott with such bravado, but which now, like everything else, has become problematical. We don’t hear much these days about innovation and agility, it’s more about just keeping going, and hanging on for the very long haul.

The now moribund company tax plan was part of the caution and incrementalism: it was to be legislated as soon as possible but would not take effect for many years, assuming it was not repealed in the meantime. The personal income tax plan is destined for the same delay and uncertainty.

These big policies were enshrined under the slogan Jobs and Growth, which Turnbull boasts as his great success story; but really only half of it is true. There have been a lot of jobs created, although the boom is now stalled – in that sense there has indeed been some growth, within the jobs market. But the wider economy is still pretty flaccid: the Reserve Bank inflation measure is still a long way from becoming sufficiently positive to push up interest rates.

And of course the biggest worry, as the bank has confirmed, is the continued stagnation of wages. Turnbull’s solution is classic trickle down – pass the corporate tax cuts and all will be well. If there was a hope that this was going to sway the masses, last Saturday should have dispelled the illusion. Turnbull is hardly a natural retail politician but, if he is to reconnect with the voters who had such high hopes for him all those years ago, he would be wise to spend more time with the employees and less with their bosses – there are, after all, a lot more of the former than the latter.

Our leader was happy enough to agree that the by-elections were at least partly a test of leadership; of course he meant Shorten’s rather than his own, and he has no intention of resigning after Saturday’s voters rejected him in four states, so the referendum between the two has been declared invalid.

But it cannot be denied that Turnbull and his chosen candidates are, at the very least, diminished. Big Trev has shrunk, Middle-sized Brett has dwindled and Little Countess Georgina has been reduced to the commonality. Shorten calls the result a signpost to a Labor win in a general election, which is a fair call, but it is only a signpost, not an irresistible surge.

The point is that after all the sturm und drang, nothing much has actually changed, and in Turnbull’s case it has to, and quickly. Millions of words will be spent analysing the outcome, but for the moment, there is just one undeniable truth: Shorten won and Turnbull lost. That is the harsh reality the coalition will have to confront as it prepares for yet another poll – this one being the only one that counts.


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9 COMMENTS

  1. Whoever picks the Liberal party candidates? The three young women who retained their seats after “Super Saturday” were streets ahead of their rivals, no doubt due to hard work as local members. Of course they won, their party was almost immaterial (sorry Bill!). Two grey old men and a born to rule woman were never in with a chance.

  2. What I would like to know is why there was no inquisition of the Macquarie Bank during the Banking Royal Commission. Was this political interference? (I know they seem to have a bit of a smelly reputation: I would have loved to see some of the skeletons shaken from that closet!)
    As far as the Super Saturday: Ho-Hum!. I wish we had a Government to be proud of, but I think even if we change, we are in for more of the same…..

    Vive la Revolution!

    regards, Doug

  3. Good story Mungo. Why on earth doesn’t the ALP make more noise about the figures starting to come in from the USA in the year since Trump brought in his own massive tax cuts for the big end of town.

    Across the U.S., real wages have increased by a miserable 1.4% in the last 18 months, despite the massive tax cuts that that Turnbull and Cormann are trying to emulate here. Only about 3% of America’s workers have received a raise or a bonus as a result of the tax cuts…crumbs from the greedy bosses tables.

    And that fact that the lion’s share – $US800 billion – of the tax cuts went straight into dividends and share buybacks, exactly as predicted by many non—partisan economists, goes largely unreported.

    Surely these three facts prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that “trickle down” economics is a sleight of hand, designed to make the rich richer at the expense of the workers. If voters were made more aware of these actual outcomes, any attempts to do the same here would be greeted with the derision and contempt they so richly deserve.

  4. The LNP has never been able to do anything more than “flog a dead horse”. Re-cycled candidates, economic policies from the 1930’s (with John Maynard Keynes), social policies from the beginning of the industrial revolution and climate change policies designed to placate the flat-earthers in their party. Well done last Saturday! Keep up the good work.

    • Keynes was more known for supply economics, like the fifteen hundred Rudd gave us all to spend in restaurants, and the New Deal. He was right about one thing tho, we should have shut down Germany completely. Everonyone wants to opt out, what are we opting into? The saudis have no tax apart from the occasional tithe for charities, you steal you lose a hand, and everything under the soil belings to … who? Or should that be whom. Yes, let ius undermine our own existence to save the planet, one treee at a tiime.

  5. Mungo I believe the MSM has taken a serious hit with their contrived predictable and repetitive KILL BILL narrative, they have been left with egg on their faces. The whole of Australia can now see the media is no more than an insatiable PR machine of the LNIPA. Trust in the media has taken yet another massive hit and there was already not much there to hit prior. With the installation of the Liberal party’s Peter Costello as head of the Channel nine takeover of Fairfax, just emphasises how bad the media has become since the laws were overturned by the LNIPA.

  6. Great article as most of the time and I agree also with all the comments.
    I like to add the fact that in the U.S.A. despite record company profits,
    company tax receipts steadily declined over the last four years without
    any reductions in the rate.
    Hansli

    • .. the beginning of the end you were about to say … if wages don’t grow by natural connection to growth in business revenue, how do they grow? Only by union demand as we have seen before or by government largesse. So it is basics. Back to basics. De we want overlords or other overlords. You guys keep going on about the paucity of trickle down economics, 101 etcetra, the opposite is some form of command economy. And in this case it involves thousands upon tens of thousands wind mills. It’s about time someone wrote some sense on the wall.

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