Election truly a good one for Labor to lose

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“With the country on fire and the rivers drying up Australians are watching with growing amazement that Scott Morrison’s belief in ‘miracles’ extends to a blind denial of science and the evidence all around him,” writes “Gadfly” columnist ROBERT MACKLIN.

Journalists love it when one of their predictions – among all those they got totally wrong – actually comes up trumps. So I take particular pleasure in what was really a throwaway “Gadfly” line: “For Labor, this was probably a good one to lose:.

Robert Macklin.

I was referring, of course, to the May Federal election when the Morrison government was returned with a small majority and Bill Shorten was rejected by the electorate as prime minister material. 

Shorten aside, the real problem, it seemed, was not just that they would have inherited a slowing economy but if a Labor government did the right thing and sacrificed the Budget surplus by boosting the economy with a Newstart increase and big investments in health, aged care, the NDIS and infrastructure, they would be dubbed irresponsible spendthrifts by the conservatives. 

And the Liberals would punch home their favourite furphy that they were always the better economic managers.

Instead, the Morrison government is obsessed by the surplus and it’s now dawning on the populace that they ain’t necessarily so. Even Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe is running out of patience with them.

The same goes for climate change. Labor would have set strong carbon reduction targets and a conservative Opposition would once again have cried wolf. Whereas now with the country on fire and the rivers drying up Australians are watching with growing amazement that Morrison’s belief in “miracles” extends to a blind denial of science and the evidence all around him. 

It’s the same with Aboriginal recognition. The do-nothing approach of the Coalition, even with an Indigenous Minister in Ken Wyatt, cannot stand. As ever more attractive, articulate young Aboriginal people speak out in the public forums, that old notion that if you ignore them they’ll go away doesn’t play anymore. They’ve had enough of the condescending pronouncements from on high.

At the same time there’s a growing recognition in the political centre that we have to get serious about closing the gap. If we don’t, the recent case of a $290 billion claim for the destruction of culture together with economic and emotional damages visited upon the WA Noongar people is just the first of a big legal campaign for justice. And by rights it should eventually extend to the British colonial power who began and condoned the cultural genocide. 

The same with foreign affairs where Morrison is increasingly compared to America’s Donald Trump. Just imagine the tangle of a Labor government trying to walk the tightrope between traditional fealty to the US Alliance and wacky presidential tweets. Bill Shorten, who had called Trump “barking mad” would have had to hide in The Lodge basement. 

So, wherever you turn, it seems the Morrison victory was good for Labor. But that’s just a journalistic score card. The profession of politics is not about scoring points. Nor is it about the seemingly happy chance of avoiding the tough decisions and watching your opponents stumble across the political landscape. Anyone on today’s Opposition frontbench would swap places with their government counterparts in a heartbeat. They know that only there can you make a difference for the better.

The real question is whether they’ll be like the generals who fight the last war with a reprise of May 2019, or create a whole new catalogue of mistakes for 2022.


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Robert Macklin
Journalist and author. Contact robert@robertmacklin.com

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