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The question of boats can still sink Shorten’s poll hopes

Political Columnist

Watching question time on Wednesday, three thoughts came to mind: I really do need to get a life; Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison appear to be far more confident and to have emerged from a period of self-inflicted wounds; and, most seriously, the Labor Party may be on the brink of making a decision at federal conference that could cost the long-term frontrunner the election. There is not much point in commenting on the first observation other than to note I have an addiction to politics modern medicine seems unable to cure.
As for the resurgence of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, they must be on the receiving end of some very positive research. The PM has gone from casting an almost apologetic whimpering style in question time to a confident swagger. Both men constantly refer to the government having “created” a million jobs and having an economic plan. Governments do not create jobs but their policies may help to create the climate where employment can grow. For Bill Shorten, this does represent a real problem because if Labor stands for anything, it stands for more jobs.
The government continues to assert that the economy is strong but this rings pretty hollow with the millions of workers who have not received a pay increase for the best part of five years. Those disgruntled punters don’t watch question time, so you would have to wonder how the Coalition can ever convince them that they have never had it so good. If the budget is being well received then the bounce is likely to be short-lived. Within a week of its delivery, Morrison’s predictions on GDP growth already looked mortally wounded. The quarterly growth figures suggested the government’s growth target is too ¬optimistic, and when the growth figures are wrong, errors will occur right across the document.
The problems with the budget numbers, let alone the politics ¬behind the budget, became even more apparent with the intervention of Pauline Hanson. Very few people knew that One Nation and the government, through the interminable negotiator, government Senate leader Mathias Cormann, had actually ¬exchanged signatures on a written deal to get the government’s business tax cuts through. Now that Hanson has pulled out of the deal (whatever the deal really was) then there is no good to come from ¬pretending the tax cuts are viable. The Treasurer now must step ¬forward and show the nation the new direction the government will take given that there is not a snowflake’s hope in hell that those business tax cuts will pass the Senate.
The real problem for Labor, though, is still boats. On Wednesday in question time, the government’s chief headkicker, Peter Dutton, was asked a Dorothy Dixer on refugees and used the opportunity to ruthless effect. He began with a vicious attack on the Opposition Leader’s character.
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He accused Shorten of double crossing everyone he had ever met professionally and personally. Just as Paul Keating and Peter Costello before him used to do, he knew he would have to withdraw the “personal” part but he also knew that the damage was already done. Clearly the Coalition intends to make Shorten a central issue in the ¬campaign. It will do all it can to blacken his name, and when the election comes, it will ask the question: “Do you really want Bill Shorten to be your prime ¬minister?” Judging by Dutton’s efforts on Wednesday, it will have little trouble in scraping the bottom of the barrel to mount its personal attacks.
Having done the dirty work, Dutton went on with a stinging ¬attack on Labor over refugee ¬policy. He began by quoting Susan Lamb, who is running for the marginal seat in Queensland called Longman. He could have used the maiden speech of Ged Kearney, who was pleading for an end to the indefinite detention of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru.
This presents Labor with a ¬dilemma of critical proportions. Kearney and Lamb are among a large chunk of Labor’s left faction who undoubtedly will have the numbers on the floor of the ¬national conference. If Labor ¬decides at that conference to bring those on Nauru and Manus onshore then I believe it cannot win the next election. You do not have to delve too deeply into Australian society to realise that there is a big majority of our population which is bitterly resentful of bringing those poor souls here. That opposition is strongest in the working-class base of Labor, and those espousing the nobility of a grand humanitarian gesture must come to realise that Australia does not share their vision.
In an ironic twist, Shorten will have to rely on Anthony Albanese at the federal conference. The man whose leadership hopes Shorten spends most of his time trying to stymie is the leader of the left faction that has the conference numbers. If Albo goes flat out in favour of bringing the refugees back on shore, he will definitely succeed. That, of course, would not only cripple Shorten’s immediate future, it also would be enough to ensure no one could lead Labor to victory. Perhaps it is a good thing that the Speaker has announced the by-elections will be held on July 28, thereby guaranteeing that the conference will be postponed.
If the opposition was not having enough of a bad week, in blundered its human services (that is, Centrelink) spokeswoman, Linda Burney. Having been lured into suggesting that Labor would ¬establish a timeline of those on Nauru and Manus Island, she ¬released a document from her ¬office that purported to be a transcript of that interview. The transcript had been blatantly altered to eliminate the timeline sentence along with other less dynamic changes. When the outcry went up, out pops Burney to tell us her staff had misfired. All I can say to that is she must have some pretty stupid staff who thought they could get away with amending the transcript of such a public interview.
God save Shorten from his friends.

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