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Canberra
Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Can Scott Morrison hold back the tide?

If Scott Morrison had any doubts about how hard winning the next election is, the Victorian election would have swamped them. The big question now facing him is: can he hold back not merely the tide but what looks like a tsunami heading his way?

Of course it was a state election fought on state policies, though there were interlocking issues. The returned Labor premier, Daniel Andrews, highlighted the need for more investment – spending – on schools and hospitals, roads and rail. Labor billboards linked Scott Morrison to cuts to health and education since the 2013 federal election.

Andrews’ renewable energy target is 25% by 2020 and 40% by 2025. It is based on acceptance of the science and the need to get serious about addressing climate change, made worse by human produced carbon emissions. And not to be missed on the Thursday before polling day, state Labor endorsed Bill Shorten’s national energy policy.

Then on Monday came the Newspoll that showed the Morrison government trailing Bill Shorten’s Labor party by 10 points. It was the second poll in a row to do so and, according to polling analyst Andrew Catsaras, shows the Coalition is in real trouble. Its primary vote has fallen for the third consecutive time to an historically low 34%.

Most Victorian Liberals have no doubt the ructions in Canberra and the dumping of Malcolm Turnbull hit the party hard. Former Liberal premier Dennis Napthine says the brand damage is substantial and the party at the state and federal level needs to better connect with voters, especially in its hitherto heartland seats.

Of course it is not only the Liberal party that has suffered a loss of trust and confidence. Our institutions have taken a battering. Churches, state agencies and banks are reeling from Royal Commissions exposing corruption and criminality.

Thirty-four former judges have written to the Prime Minister urging that he set up a national integrity commission to begin restoring confidence in our parliament and our governance.

On Monday, facing the new arithmetic of now being in a minority on the floor of the House of Representatives, the government voted with the crossbench and Labor to accept a senate motion calling for the establishment of a high powered anti-corruption body.

But the government looks like cynically leaving it at that. Stung by the Attorney-General’s criticism of her private members’ bill, Independent Cathy McGowan called on the government to work with the parliament to make it work better.

Her crossbench colleague Andrew Wilke urged Morrison to swallow his pride to “improve your standing in the community” and ditch his reluctance to do anything anytime soon. “What have you got to hide?” he asked.

More to the point, with polls showing 80% support for a national anti-corruption body, it would be one indication the Prime Minister is prepared to at least take to the high ground before the electoral wave hits.

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