Paul Bongiorno: Not being Scott Morrison gets better by the day for Anthony Albanese


By now few on either side of politics are convinced Scott Morrison will repeat his death-defying victory at this year’s federal election most likely to be held in just 60 days.

All hope of something turning up to reverse their fortunes is evaporating for Coalition MPs and senators.

The latest Newspoll is merely confirmation of the feedback they are getting in their electorates, best summed up by the comment “Morrison’s lost the mob. They have given up listening to him”.

Labor has had an extraordinary run in the poll this year. It has led all four by 10 points or more – landslide territory if repeated at the election.

Of course, borrowing from Italian opera, it’s not over until the fat lady sings, or more pertinently, till the last vote is cast.

But Labor insiders are more confident, albeit nervous that Anthony Albanese won’t be the stumbling block for voters in the same way Bill Shorten was last time.

Mr Albanese has taken a very different path to voters ahead of the election. Photo: Getty

The findings of Newspoll are very encouraging for Labor in this regard: In February 2021 Morrison led Albanese as preferred PM by 35 points. Thirteen months later, that lead has vanished.

In the same period, approval of Morrison’s performance has dramatically eroded as Albanese’s has steadily grown.

Here there has been a 55-point turnaround, with the Prime Minister now 14 points in negative territory, and the Labor leader in the positive by two points.

Albanese believes voters are far more cynical of his opponents “this time around”.

The revamped, lean and hungry “Albo” as he was portrayed in the 60 Minutes profile on Sunday night said voters know what “Scott Morrison is, they’ll be more sceptical”.

Indeed, the producers of Nine’s flagship current affairs show used a telling graphic at the beginning of Karl Stefanovic’s report.

It had a spruced-up Albanese resplendent in a business suit, shirt and tie, wearing his new “serious glasses” and looking prime ministerial while over his shoulder was Scott Morrison in a polo shirt playing the ukulele.

Albanese, like his campaign advisers, believes the photo ops, the hair shampooing, the mopping an already cleaned basketball court are working against Morrison.

The Opposition Leader quipped to Stefanovic that the ukulele playing that featured in the show’s profile of the PM a couple of weeks back, was unforgettably bad: “I’ve seen and heard it. It now cannot be unseen.”

The Albanese camp is thrilled their man’s appearance on the program drew 60,000 more viewers than Morrison and won its timeslot in the five mainland state capitals.

This could suggest voters are curious to know more about Albanese, who self-describes as a straight shooter “what you see is what you get”, whereas he doesn’t quibble with the description of Morrison as “a liar” because he has “said things to me that are simply untrue”.

Not being Scott Morrison is a huge leg up for Labor on the cusp of the election campaign.

Governments do tend to lose elections rather than oppositions win them and the signs are this is happening.

Mr Morrison has been criticised for his response to the floods in NSW and Qld. Photo: AAP

Scott Morrison’s response to the flood catastrophe is being likened to his equally tin-eared blame shifting over the Black Summer bushfires.

How the Prime Minister thinks hiding behind bureaucratic process can protect him from flood victims’ angry sense of abandonment is a mystery.

Former treasurer Wayne Swan will not have a bar of it.

He recalls how quickly then prime minister Julia Gillard responded to the 2011 Brisbane floods, earning the gratitude of the Queensland premier for Canberra taking the initiative.

And that was before Morrison’s much-touted new emergency measures were brought in on the promise to cut red tape.

The budget at the end of the month is the government’s last best chance for a reversal of its fortunes.

The tactic of bringing forward a big-spending budget and then quickly going to the election worked like a treat last time, but the task is now much more daunting.

On Morrison’s watch government gross debt hit a record $866 billion last week, undermining his attacks on Labor and throwing into bold relief the contradiction of talking small government and free markets while at the same time proudly touting massive interventions with the promise of more to come.

Albanese is unsaddled by this ideological straitjacket, he says Morrison “adheres to a rigid ideological view that if governments just get out of the way, market forces can meet all the challenges”.

Voters have had three years to see what the Prime Minister means and they are clearly unimpressed. They see him shirking the job they have entrusted to him.

Albanese is promising a different style of leadership, he says “government can make it easier for business and communities to respond to crisis”.

A real choice is galvanising for voters.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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