Opinion || Pressures mount on Morrison government

Ominous figures: Recent polls indicate that the Coalition could lose as many as 24 seats at the next federal election.
Ominous figures: Recent polls indicate that the Coalition could lose as many as 24 seats at the next federal election.

Last year was a “shocker” for the Liberal and National parties and their Coalition Government – a series of by-election losses, including the previously safe Liberal seat of Wentworth; a beating in the Victorian State election; changes in the leadership of both parties, and therefore in our PM and Deputy PM, with uninspiring replacements; a number of scandals especially in the National Party (Joyce and Broad); and a series of unsavoury pre-selection debacles.

All this has been compounded by a distinct lack of leadership, direction and policy focus, especially by Morrison who has simply attempted to win favour with whatever group, or on whatever issue, he is dealing with, “shooting from the hip” with various policy “promises”, while being unable, or unwilling to “explain” why Turnbull needed to be replaced.

Not surprisingly, the most recent polls suggest that the now Morrison/McCormack Government could lose as many as 24 seats at the next election scheduled for May, with Shorten having something of dream run to the Prime Ministership.

Also, not surprisingly, the “cracks” are staring to show in the Government, especially as marginal seat holders start to focus on what seems their inevitable demise.

For example, this week Dutton again revealed his incapacity of be a leader by generating front page stories attempting to defend his role in the insurgency against Turnbull, by suggesting that it was “all Turnbull’s own fault”.

The “cracks” are staring to show in the Government, especially as marginal seat holders start to focus on what seems their inevitable demise.

The fact was that it was all driven by his “ego” fed by Abbott’s “revenge”.

While it was claimed by the insurgents that Dutton was a “great campaigner” essential to retaining/winning Queensland, he performed appallingly in the Longman by-election, in his neighbouring seat.

He is mostly despised, nationally, for his handling of asylum seeker issues, and he operates under a cloud that he is actually ineligible to be a Member of Parliament under S44 of our Constitution.

There has also been considerable press about a substantial movement in Warringah against the re-election of Abbott – indeed, there are at least half a dozen groups now formed for this purpose, and the search is on for a high profile candidate.

Dissatisfaction with Abbott has been growing for some time. He abstained in the Parliamentary vote on same sex marriage, even though some 75% of his electorate voted “Yes” in the postal survey. He led the insurgency that has effectively destroyed the LNP Government. He barely won his pre-selection (by a mere 4 votes) against an “empty chair”, when almost half of the delegates didn’t vote. He is now “toxic” on most levels.

Also, there is a considerable anger against those who drove the insurgency against Turnbull, and those who displayed conspicuous disloyalty, that could see them also challenged at the next election.

Given the growing loss of confidence in both major parties, and the self-absorbed nature of many of our politicians, that has left major policy issues/challenges to drift, and building on the recent success of Phelps in Wentworth, don’t be surprised if the next election is defined by a number of high-profile candidates challenging in many seats against both the LNP and Labor.

Of course, the “career politicians” dismiss this, as McCormack did recently, claiming that “minor and independent candidates, and those who represent a single protest issue, have come and gone over time, and apart from making promises that they can’t deliver on, they do little other than dilute the voice and influence of regional Australians in federal politics”.

This view is now “out of touch” with electoral realities. Moreover, the National Party claims to be in tune with their electorates, but clearly don’t understand them, when against their strong expectations, 15 of the 16 National seats voted “Yes” in the recent SSM postal survey.

So, on the contrary, if these independents were to hold the balance of power in both Houses, and “collaborate” to the extent that in parliamentary votes they would collectively support “good government” and “genuine reform”, thereby eschewing political games and stunts, they could work to deliver much more focused and effective government than we’ve seen for the last decade or so. 

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.