The senior Labor powerbroker was deadly serious when he told me “the Libs have got ScoMo now and we need Albo”. Behind the observation was the realisation that Scott Morrison’s nickname among colleagues had become a potent brand name.
A campaigning Morrison has successfully morphed into the daggy dad who won’t take your hard earned money from you and who identifies with every day Aussies. As one longtime Liberal apparatchik remarked as he watched the Prime Minister’s campaign launch, “this is so corny it will probably work”.
Albanese already has his “Albo” brand name and is equally as corny when it comes to his favourite footy team and being a “hail fellow well met” sort of bloke. And for Labor, there is nothing like an unexpected election loss to put things in a very different perspective.
“The top end of town” attack works better if the government is led by a “Mr harbourside mansions”. Also, if you give your political opponents an opening like closing a tax loophole widely perceived to apply mostly to retirees, they will use it. Never mind that the dividend imputation rebate crackdown would leave 96%t of voters untouched, “Labor will tax you to death” had a ring to it.
So, in the next three years, we will see a canny and user-friendly Morrison do everything he can to consolidate his “miracle” win. He can only do this if he reads the lessons of his victory correctly. Climate change, for example, did play a big part in the election and having spruiked renewables and never mentioning Adani he would be tempting fate to return to the lump of coal.
Morrison will have to quickly get his bearings on Anthony Albanese. Some conservative commentators are salivating at the prospect of a left winger leading the opposition. Albanese himself says he is now a “more rounded politician” than he was six years ago when he lost the leadership to Shorten. He is also better known through his weekly TV appearances on the Today show and his tireless nationwide campaigning ostensibly pushing his infrastructure portfolio but successfully also pushing himself.
Albanese does not intend to leave aspirational and “religious” voters all to Morrison. He is talking “respect” and “inclusion”. He says “we need an agenda that speaks to the majority of Australians”. And critically, he wants to address the one huge issue that cost Labor particularly in Queensland but also elsewhere in regional Australia. He told the Sunday Telegraph: “We can’t set the debate as: Do you support the environment or jobs? Good environmental policy is about the environment and jobs.”
From a Canberra perspective, it will be interesting to see if Albo follows ScoMo in bureaucracy bashing. The current PM has told public service chiefs he wants them “to bust through bureaucratic congestion” and to do it, he’s cutting another billion dollars from them. It might work outside the ACT but hard to see it delivering results anywhere.