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Paul Bongiorno

Paul Bongiorno: Albanese is heading in the right direction – the same can’t be said of Dutton

10 News First – Disclaimer

Anthony Albanese was coy when he fronted up for a radio interview on the day the latest Newspoll had his government with a 10-point, two-party preferred lead over the Opposition.

Of course it was true, the Prime Minister said, you would always prefer to have positive results than negative ones: “But, it is also true that doesn’t count for much two-and-a-half years out from an election,” he noted.

Opinion polls this far out are certainly not predictive of the result, but they are the best indication we have of how well a government and opposition are travelling.

The average Labor lead of all the published opinion polls since the May election has never dropped below 10 per cent.

Scott Morrison was found the least popular major party leader since the survey began.

The Prime Minister’s standing is at a record 62 per cent in the poll and he has a 35 per cent lead as preferred prime minister, after Mr Dutton plunged in the latest poll taken at the end of a week when the Coalition voted against a censure of former prime minister Scott Morrison.

‘More to do’

Mr Albanese summed up his position at the end of six successful months of his new government by recalling a slogan former New South Wales premier Morris Iemma used to win the 2005 state election: “More to do but heading in the right direction.”

Most immediately, that “more to do” is to unveil the government’s response to crippling energy prices.

Mr Albanese was intending to unveil it by the end of the week after a meeting with the premiers and chief ministers until another bout of COVID caused a postponement.

There will most likely be a price cap on gas, not only to provide relief to households but to stop businesses from going broke.

But with coal playing the dominant part in supplying electricity, getting the states to agree to a cap on it is hotly contested – whatever happens, experts are warning there is no quick fix to a crisis driven in large measure by the impact on world energy prices of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton is placing great store on Mr Albanese and Labor failing to deliver promised cost-of-living relief to have the Coalition back in power after one term.

At every question time in parliament since the election the Coalition has hammered the “broken promise” of Labor for not cutting power bills by $275 – never mind that there was a 2025 deadline.

There’s no doubt voters do tend to blame governments for most of their misfortunes, but it is by no means a given election loser.

Paul Keating won the 1993 election despite the “recession we had to have” in the previous term.

In the Victorian election, Liberal leader Matthew Guy [right] was perceived as a worse option.
And even in the recent Victorian election after the longest pandemic lockdowns in the world, the Andrews government was returned for a third four-year term.

In both cases, the alternative was perceived to be no better and possibly even a worse option.

In the May poll, the Morrison government was widely perceived to be heading in the wrong direction.

The latest Australian Electoral Study in its analysis of that election found Mr Morrison to be the least popular major party leader since the study began in 1987.

While both major parties saw their primary votes collapse to historic lows, Anthony Albanese’s popularity and the emergence of so-called “teal” independents running in hitherto safe Liberal seats proved viable alternatives.

The preferential voting system did the rest to deliver a majority Labor government.

Any hopes Mr Dutton has of Labor doing him the favour of falling into debilitating internecine fighting as befell the Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard regimes at this stage looks very remote.

Mr Dutton has no obvious rival nor has Mr Albanese – sure, there is plenty of ambition on the government front bench, but no one is overtly or covertly working against the Prime Minister.

Why would they when their discipline and cohesion has delivered a top-up to the government’s credibility tank?

It’s more than enough to give it a buffer as they face the challenges not only of cost of living, but also delivering a successful referendum enshrining a constitutional voice for First Nations people next year.

Alternative has little to offer

Mr Dutton, by contrast, apart from being confident of only being in the wilderness for one term, in his weekend interview offered no new ideas or policies to attract back centre-of-the-road voters.

The sole Liberal to reject Mr Morrison in the censure motion, Bridget Archer said before the vote it was a chance for the Liberals to “move forward” and learn the lessons of the last election.

Liberal backbencher Bridget Archer was the only Coalition MP to back the censure motion.

She said it “was a clear opportunity for a line to be drawn and to move in the right direction”.

It was an opportunity her colleagues did not grasp, instead thumbing their noses at acceptable standards of accountability and refusing to condemn Mr Morrison’s betrayal of their trust, and contempt of the parliament.

Worse than that, a conga line of Liberals and Nationals lined up after the vote in full view of the rest of the parliament to shake hands with Mr Morrison.

To his credit, Mr Dutton didn’t join them and a few other Liberals walked out in disgust at the spectacle.

There is surely a long way to go before things look up for them all.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with more than 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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