Federal election could be brought forward if whispers of profiting off our COVID-19 success are to be believed
Federal election could be brought forward if whispers of profiting off our COVID-19 success are to be believed

Will ScoMo ride Covid wave to early election?

The received wisdom is that governments in Queensland, the Northern Territory, the ACT and in New Zealand were all recently returned because of their incumbency during a crisis.

So strong is that belief that whispers of an early federal election - despite the Morrison Government's own 7 per cent unemployment rate and a $1.1 trillion debt - are now open chatter. After all, the Coalition still leads Labor by two points after preferences, and Scott Morrison leads Labor's Anthony Albanese as preferred prime minister by 32.

It's therefore not a question of whether the Coalition can win a federal election today but rather by how much. So when will that election be?

The Prime Minister can call a House of Representatives poll any time, but he won't without also dissolving half the Senate - the usual election formula in Australia. And the earliest allowable date for that is 7 August, 2021 - just eight months from now.

But I'll go one further. I'm sniffing not just an early election but a double dissolution - probably around mid 2021 - that would see all MPs and senators up for election. Of course, before that, the Australian Constitution requires a House bill to be twice rejected by the Senate.

Given industrial relations is shaping up as one of the big issues of 2021 - pathways for casual employees to become permanent and for trade union reform - look out for fireworks in a Senate not controlled by the Coalition. Knocking back any one of these bills can easily become the double dissolution trigger Morrison would hope will deliver him the three extra senators he needs for a majority.

But isn't that a pipe dream? Malcolm Turnbull's own double dissolution in 2016 cost the Coalition three senators and catapulted One Nation and a host of other cross-benchers into parliamentary stardom.

But this time could be different. For one, Morrison is more broadly popular than Turnbull. For another, federal Labor under Albanese is struggling for public opinion traction. Third, and perhaps most critically, support for minor parties, including One Nation, is crashing, leaving the path open for the Coalition.

This scenario is so worrying federal Labor that some MPs have written what the Opposition must do to win the next poll. If Labor continues a leftward policy trajectory and fails to reconnect with (especially blue-collar) suburbs, they warn Albo can kiss the next election goodbye.

Leaving aside the roughly two-thirds of Australian electors who are, to some extent, "rusted on" loyalists, that leaves about five and a half million floating voters in Australia who will swing either to Labor or the Coalition on the strength of a series of personal perceptions.

The first is party leadership - an increasingly powerful variable for voters in a social media world. The question, then, is a simple one: does Albo - selected by Labor as an authentic blue-collar voice - have what it takes to take on the successful "ScoMo" brand?

The answer is perhaps, but only if other variables fall into place. That's why, as insurance, there will be a push to lever the 42 year old Queenslander and Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers into the top job. Chalmers, it's argued, possesses just enough of Kevin Rudd's nerdish intellect with plenty of ScoMo's own common touch to wrest back regional Queensland.

 

 

Then there's policy, especially on coal mining. Of course, there's no way Labor will wholly re-embrace coal. Leaving climate change aside, coal sceptics argue it's bad business to invest in an industry that could decline globally by up to 75 per cent by 2040.

Labor's challenge is to support current coal mining jobs while offering workers generous packages - not unlike the current Jobkeeper arrangements - for workers to retrain for other regional industries, including nickel.

Third, floating voters swing according to how they perceive their place in the local economy and other areas, including the health, education and aged care systems. If Labor can frame a campaign where post-pandemic voters feel worse off than in 2019, the Opposition at least has a chance.

Last, swinging voters are motivated by the quality of other options. If Morrison can again paint Labor as a risk to the future of working Australians, then Labor is doomed. Conversely, if Labor - as it did in 2007 - positions the Coalition as an industrial relations zealot, then the Opposition has a chance.

But underpinning each of these elements is something intangible: a mood for change. When that's lacking - as it is now federally - Oppositions should just prepare for the worst.

PAUL WILLIAMS IS A SENIOR LECTURER AT GRIFFITH UNIVERSITY

Originally published as Will ScoMo ride Covid wave to early election?



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