It’s a paradox. The Morrison government, in deep trouble, has put together a budget blatantly designed to buy votes.
But Labour, which is censorship in its rhetoric, must embrace the central measures of the budget.
Anthony Albanese summed up the situation neatly in his response to Thursday night’s budget.
“This government might as well have had money on your ballot,” he said. And right after that, “We’ll deliver those payments too, because we know the pressure Australians are under.”
It would never change. Scott Morrison previously told parliament that Labor had “raised the white flag on the budget”. Not exactly. Labor wisely avoided the fight in the first place.
Albanian — whose speech was inevitably something of an anti-climax after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksyy’s speech to parliament — chose to make his policy announcement on an issue that affects many Australian families: aged care.
His $2.5 billion four-year plan promises more nurses and carers for facilities and better food for residents. There would be stricter regulations and more responsibility on the part of providers.
Albanian reiterated that a Labor government would urge the Fair Work Commission to give workers in this sector a pay rise. But again, he offered no opinion on how substantial that should be. The cost to the government of such an increase is in addition to the $2.5 billion.
Morrison’s government has fallen back on aged care despite promises and additional funding. Many of the shortcomings can be traced back to the core problem of the workforce, with low wages making it difficult to attract and retain enough people, let alone qualified staff. The government has refused to intervene to support a pay rise.
Albanian will strike a chord with his policy. It is a crucial area, where much more needs to be done. It also fits into the opposition leader’s ‘small target’ strategy (as well as Labour’s traditional strengths on things like health). This was a safe policy. No reasonable person could object to taking the proposed measures.
It would all be a good reform, but in keeping with Albania’s broad policy approach – “renewal, not revolution” – it was remarkable that he chose not to take the opportunity to come up with a big new idea.
But why would he take such a risk? From 2019, Labor has seared the danger of adopting too daring policies. Albanian wants the government to stew in its own juice as much as possible.
Morrison needs this week’s budget to change the mindset of gruff voters, though that’s a big question.
Voters are routinely an ungrateful bunch. Labor has always complained that it was not being rewarded for avoiding a recession during the global financial crisis. It was only criticized for the mistakes in some of its responses.
The people know that they will get the gas budget relief and government benefits, whichever way they vote, with any benefit they feel before Election Day.
There is probably a lot of cynicism from voters. They will recognize what is there for them, but they may just think “that’s the least the government can do for me”. What the coalition, if any, gets in the polls may be transitory (as are the cost of living measures).
Given the duality of the core measures, the billions of dollars in emergency aid may have been politically neutralized.
There is the more elusive issue of voters’ vote, the electoral sphere.
Again, the favorable budget will not necessarily change the sentiment of swinging voters.
We used to complain that we had a prime minister’s rotisserie because parties kept rolling the leaders. This was, of course, partly because the public was quite quick to turn against leaders, as reflected in the opinion polls to which the parties responded.
Despite previous media speculation, Scott Morrison’s leadership has not been threatened from within. But there is a strong sense, including within the government, that it has reached its sell-by date among many voters.
After the “miracle” win of 2019, its credibility has gradually eroded over the run. The leader so hailed as a strong campaigner borders on a caricature, seen as not being there when he should be, unreachable and arrogant. He seems particularly unwelcome on the “leafed” seats where liberals fight teal candidates.
Albanian on Thursday night had some continuous lines about the government. “They’re asking you to trust that they will somehow get better in their fourth term in office. Can you imagine how arrogant and dismissive they will be as they enter a second, long decade in office, after all that waste, mess and scandal?
The significance of the attack by Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells of the NSW this week on Morrison’s character was that it reinforced what others, including the Coalition, have said, publicly and privately, about how he has lied and hurt people. treated.
In a way, Fierravanti-Wells, who has long held a grudge against Morrison, was just another voice, and pollsters will tell you that people have already made their assessment of Morrison. But her furious speech publicly reopened the question of what kind of man he is, with cross-benchers Jacqui Lambie and Pauline Hanson stepping in to have their say, and John Howard coming to defend Morrison’s defense, suggesting he’s “powerful” instead. of bullying.
Of all the hits against Morrison, the 2019-20 bushfires were arguably the most damaging as they reshaped his image. He was missing in action (the Hawaiian holiday) and then offered some sort of opt-out excuse (he wasn’t the one holding the snake).
Leaders start with a stock of political capital, which they spend gradually. Invested in a way believed to benefit their shareholders, the voters, it can grow (one example is Mark McGowan’s stunning reelection result). But mistakes and misdeeds can erode the capital to the point of bankruptcy, which in political terms is the loss of an election or leadership.
We’ll know in May if Morrison goes bankrupt politically, but there’s little doubt that he’s come dangerously close.