It may sound strange to say it but both the newly elected Prime Minister and Opposition Leader are picking up the pieces of the last parliamentary term to give themselves a better chance of winning the next election.
Scott Morrison inherited what was a poisoned chalice last August when he came through the middle to replace Malcolm Turnbull. At that stage, the government was a disunited shambles and nobody gave it a chance of being returned. Morrison’s “miracle” win means he is now the legitimate, elected Prime Minister of Australia and the undisputed leader of the Liberal Party and the Coalition Government. The election has seen him emerge in a much stronger position than Malcolm Turnbull did in 2016 when he lost ground to Bill Shorten; ground that is still to be made up.
And that is what I mean by Morrison having to pick up the pieces. His two-seat majority is a scant improvement on Turnbull’s one-seat result. The Prime Minister is well aware of this reality and told his party room last week, this term he would target 10 non-government seats to achieve a more solid majority next time.
Helping his cause is the office of Prime Minister itself. The TV images of Morrison this week playing the statesman’s role in the Pacific and then rubbing shoulders with allies at the 75th anniversary of D Day in the United Kingdom consolidate his status. The contrast in Britain of the newly installed Australian conservative Prime Minister meeting his besieged counterpart Theresa May could almost be a dramatisation of where he has come from. He will be hoping that his new authority keeps the disparate elements in the Liberal Party together in a way May’s lack of authority in her party have seen her spiral out of control and soon out of office.
Just as dedicated to picking up the pieces after Labor’s devastating election loss is Anthony Albanese. Though history is largely against him winning the next election, he is determined to create a new precedent. To do so he will need events to go his way – both leaders do. But as we saw in the election, events that should have seen the coalition lose government didn’t deliver that result. The reasons are many but Labor did not capitalise on the government’s weaknesses and made itself a target with an agenda and a leader that the electorate was unwilling or unable to trust.
Albanese will be counting on his shadow ministers to have learned from their past missed opportunities. Key to that will be holding the government and its ministers much more unsparingly to account. Here, two of his team have big roles to play: former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally shadowing Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Jim Chalmers shadowing Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Both are impressive performers. They will need to be. They are in policy areas traditionally seen as Liberal strengths but there are weaknesses to be politically exploited.