Staff in Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s office keep reminding each other that they won’t win next year’s election by fighting the last one.
If it’s true for Labor, it applies even more for a struggling Liberal leader Scott Morrison.
But the early signs are the Prime Minister thinks he’s up against Bill Shorten and the same tactics and arguments will work again.
On Monday campaigning in Wentworth, a seat that for years was the bluest of blue-ribbon Liberal seats, Mr Morrison posed the same choice for voters as he did against the last Labor leader.
At face value it is a statement of the bleeding obvious.
He said elections are about choices between two alternatives “and that’s the choice Australians have to make”.
It’s a choice between Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison.
Of course it is, but in Mr Morrison’s mind the thought of Mr Albanese chairing key cabinet committees overseeing the nation’s prosperity and security is as scary for Australians as it is for him, or at least it should be when he reminds them.
Mr Morrison rightly picked last time enough voters, particularly in Queensland and Western Australia, had grave reservations about Mr Shorten and his agenda and were reassured by the hastily confected “daggy dad” from suburbia who had replaced Malcolm Turnbull.
One of the Liberals’ most experienced campaign strategists believes the past three years have dramatically changed the equation.
Mr Morrison is no longer largely unknown and free to define himself in staged picture opportunities that are contradicted by the reality of his performance as Prime Minister.
Labor is certainly bracing for a high-octane scare campaign, with a key insider saying there is no doubt the Liberals’ dirt unit would be scouring for material to feed into negative ads and stories for the media.
The former Liberal government adviser says that the only way Mr Morrison can win this time is if the party’s federal director Andrew Hirst comes up with two or three really bleak and nasty ads targeting Mr Albanese and blankets radio, TV and social media with them.
Drawing on the evidence of the past two sitting weeks of Parliament the Labor leader said the government was “divided among themselves” and “simply spent” with a “Prime Minister whose tank is on empty”.
He said Australia has a “Prime Minister who has no regard for what he said yesterday, so you should have no regard for what he says today”.
Mr Albanese promised to restore a “sense of responsibility, decency and integrity” to our politics.
And as if on cue Mr Morrison on Monday demonstrated that his take on these virtues is vastly different from what is normally understood.
He accused ICAC of “a pile-on” and ignored reporters reminding him that Ms Berejiklian was being investigated for turning a blind eye to corruption and for breaching her own ministerial standards.
Undeterred, Mr Morrison said he suspected the people of Warringah would welcome Ms Berejiklian running for the seat currently held by the independent Zali Steggall because there’s “no suggestion of criminal conduct”.
Ms Steggall says this is a misreading of what the people of Warringah want regarding integrity in government, and she says the Prime Minister’s attack on the important work of ICAC is “quite extraordinary and wrong”.
The independent MP told ABC TV that calls from the PM and other senior Liberals for Ms Berejiklian to run while the ICAC investigation is incomplete reflects badly on the standards of behaviour they apply to themselves.
Analysis of Newspoll over the past 12 months suggests the voting public more generally is taking a much dimmer view of the Prime Minister than they did three years ago and it is reflected in yet another 53-47 per cent lead for Labor.
Mr Morrison’s net approval has fallen 40 points since February into negative territory, and for the first time since the “not holding a hose” episode of Black Summer he trails Anthony Albanese.
One Labor insider says there is serious thought being given to Labor’s booth workers on polling day to all wear Hawaiian shirts.
There is no doubt seared into the national consciousness is Hawaii as being symptomatic of Mr Morrison hiding from responsibility on all sorts of issues like vaccines and quarantine and blame-shifting to the states and anyone else when “the going gets tough” as Mr Albanese said on Sunday.
Analysis in The Australian pointed out that Mr Morrison and the Liberals were in a similar grim place at the beginning of the 2019 election year and he was able to claw back support, but the comparison ends there.
The Prime Minister this time has so much more to live down, making it so much harder to make any “Kill Bill” strategy work again.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics