By Nick BryantBBC
Analysis – The Australians have just learned that their election will take place on May 21. At a pivotal time for the country, Nick Bryant sees a contest that will be defined, in large part, by what he lacks.
There has long been something biblical about the premiership of Scott Morrison, a Pentecostal Christian who said on the night of his blue victory crush in the 2019 election: ‘I have always believed in miracles’ .
Since then, much of his tenure has read like chapters of the Old Testament. There have been fires, floods and the plague of a global pandemic. Even his defiant stance toward China has a Manichean framework: a struggle of good versus evil between freedom and authoritarianism – the “great polarization”, he calls it.
Recently, he has sought to imprint his denominational policy on Australian law, pushing unsuccessfully for a Religious Discrimination Act offering legal protections to people of faith who have made “statements of belief” – a charter, claimed its opponents, for homophobic and transphobic people. .
It was Liberal Party giant John Howard who called his chances of becoming prime minister “Lazarus with a triple bypass”, after losing the 1987 federal election from the opposition benches and being impeached as leader of the left two years later.
Morrison, who stands at the helm of one of the world’s most fearsome election-winning machines, is not yet Lazarus, whom the Bible says Jesus raised from the dead. Still, there would certainly be a water in the wine feeling to a second Morrison win.
More than a modern-day Lazarus, I feel like Morrison has come to resemble a Midas-like figure from Greek mythology. Yet, rather than gold, many things he touches end up tarnished.
His staged photo ops, a feature of his tenure, are one example. After posing for the cameras cleaning an indoor basketball court during a visit to Brisbane’s flood zone, he received an acid shower of criticism because the availability of the press seemed contrived and choreographed rather than doing part of a meaningful cleanup.
During a visit to a hair salon in Victoria, he washed a client’s hair, which immediately reminded him of his controversial statement during the 2019-20 bushfire season that he “doesn’t hold of pipe”.
A soft focus profile on Channel Nine’s newscast, 60 minutesalso became the thing for mocking memes, when he picked up a ukulele and serenaded his family with the classic Dragon, April sun in Cuba. The interview, which aimed to rehabilitate his battered image, ended up inflicting even more self-harm on himself.
The former marketing executive’s problems aren’t just presentational. His government was hit by the high-profile resignations of Education Minister Alan Tudge and Attorney General Christian Porter. His close friend, Brian Houston, the founding pastor of the Hillsong megachurch, had to resign after an internal investigation found he engaged in inappropriate conduct towards two women.
In parliament, the prime minister struggled to advance his legislative agenda. Even the unveiling of the new budget, a pre-election cash inflow for voters, was overshadowed. On budget night, outgoing Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, in a blunt farewell speech even by Australian standards, called him an “autocrat” and “a bully with no moral compass”.
Watch the SBS taping of Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’ scathing critique of Scott Morrison.
On the eve of the election call, Morrison was also haunted by past controversy, surrounding his selection 15 years ago as the Liberal Party’s candidate for the Cook seat, the scene of the 2005 anti-Muslim Cronulla riots. on, raised concerns about his liberal preselection rival, Michael Towke, questioning whether a Lebanese-born candidate was viable in Cook, particularly after the Cronulla riots. Morrison called the allegations “bitter and malicious insults”.
The embattled prime minister also never fully recovered from the furor surrounding his family vacation to Hawaii amid the bushfires two years ago. This is why the ukulele and its interpretation of April sun in Cuba missed so badly. Many viewers naturally thought of her December sunshine in Hawaii.
Highlighting Australia’s relatively low death rate and robust economy, Morrison will argue that he led the country through Covid. But state premiers, who have frequently usurped the prime minister, are often credited with early success in battling the pandemic. In the second year of Covid, the federal government was criticized for the slow deployment of vaccines – the “promenade”, it was dubbed – and its failure to provide enough rapid antigen tests when Omicron hit. Last year.
But for all the antipathy towards Scott “ScoMo” Morrison, it’s hard to detect a big wave of enthusiasm for Labor leader Anthony “Albo” Albanese. A former tribune of the Labor left, Albanese has moved to the center since winning the leadership in 2019 and is now offering the electorate what he calls “safe change”.
Labor attributed their traumatic defeat in the last election to an unpopular leader, Bill Shorten, and unpopular policies, particularly on tax reform.
So this time, Albanese is running a “small target” campaign, hoping to downplay liberal lines of attack, neutralize the issue of climate change (which in the last election hurt the party in the vital state of the Queensland battlefield) and to trumpet his centrism.
“Revival, not revolution” has become his mantra.
Aware that only three Labor leaders have beaten Liberal prime ministers in the post-war years, Albanese is doing all he can not to scare off voters.
Labor officials would therefore no doubt have been delighted with the headline of the influential tabloid Rupert Murdoch, The Daily Telegraph: “I’M NOT AWAKEN.” In the accompanying interview, Albanese assured voters: “Labour is the party of traditional Australia and the values of traditional Australia.”
Along with his change in political form, Albanese has a sharp new look. So much has been made of his skimpy suits, designer eyewear and dramatic weight loss that the phrase “Hot Albo” has entered the political lexicon.
But Albanese, a former backroom repairman renowned early in his career for his striking style, has yet to persuade a significant portion of the electorate that he is a prime minister-in-waiting. For some voters, it still has a plausibility problem.
The work encountered other difficulties. Recently, the party was engulfed in a bullying scandal, following the death of one of its senators from a suspected heart attack. Before her death, Kimberley Kitching, who was just 52, had complained of bullying by colleagues in the Labor Senate.
There is also the risk of becoming too innocuous – as young voters demanding a more ambitious approach to the climate crisis will vote for the Greens. “Safe change” is not an electrifying rallying cry.
A wildcard in this election is the rise of independent candidates, who pose a threat to the Liberal Party in seats where Labor is generally not viable. A former ABC foreign correspondent, Zoe Daniel, runs against Liberal MP Tim Wilson in Goldstein’s seat. In the blue ribbon seat of Wentworth, which includes Bondi Beach and Sydney’s prosperous eastern suburbs, Allegra Spender, the daughter of well-known fashion designer, the late Carla Zampatti, challenges sitting Liberal MP Dave Sharma. In a hung parliament, the independents could end up holding the balance of power.
Scott Morrison is actually the first Prime Minister since John Howard to serve a full term, which is no small feat given the coup culture of Australian politics. But the Liberal-led coalition defends a one-seat majority. Even though he has won seven of the last nine federal elections, he may struggle to do so again.
The campaign, rather than a contest of ideas, is already more like a contest of political strategies. Global issues loom over Australia, including the climate emergency, the threat from China, cost of living pressures and how to live with Covid, but it looks like it’s becoming a small-bore campaign.
At a time when authoritarianism poses such a threat to the liberal international order, it would be somewhat upsetting if Australia’s 2022 federal election became a catchy advertisement for democracy.