Two weeks before Christmas is usually the time when Australians put down their tools, put on the out-of-office reply, and start winding down for the year.
Not so when there’s an election to win, with Labor and the Coalition government still squeezing out the last drops of campaigning before the summer break, as Australia’s faux-election campaign continues ahead of the poll due by mid-2022.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have their eyes on marginal seats across the country with a pre-Christmas travel blitz this week, while Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is already teasing tax cuts and talking up the economic recovery ahead of Thursday’s budget update in Canberra.
Albanese’s marginal hitlist
“There’s no way that we can win the election without doing better in Queensland,” Labor’s shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers admitted bluntly on Monday.
Following an election landslide in 2019, where the Coalition won 23 of the state’s 30 seats, Mr Albanese has been a repeat Sunshine State visitor in recent months, swinging across some of the government’s most at-risk seats and shoring up his own.
On Monday, once the state’s quarantine barriers dropped, he wasted no time returning to Queensland, where Labor needs to pick up a few seats to offset potential losses elsewhere.
After hopping on the earliest flight from Sydney, first on Mr Albanese’s Queensland agenda was a photo op with Anika Wells, Labor’s MP for Lilley, the state’s most marginal seat on a wafer-thin 0.6 per cent margin.
Next: A dash to Longman, the Coalition’s most marginal Qld seat held by 3.3 per cent by Terry Young.
Mr Albanese boasted it was his “third visit in the last six months” to the seat, in Brisbane’s north.
The ALP lost Longman at the 2019 election, and the seat has changed hands at five of the past six polls.
“I very much look forward to spending a lot of time in Queensland,” Mr Albanese said.
“We don’t write any seat off. And we want to talk to every voter.”
Mr Morrison was in Canberra on Monday, meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in. However, the PM is expected to take advantage of the border reopening and visit Queensland this week, too.
Both leaders are road-testing election pitches and slogans before the official campaign begins early next year.
They’ve been visiting most of the same marginal seats, both popping up in Corangamite (Vic), Lindsay (NSW), Reid (NSW), Higgins (Vic) and the Hunter (NSW).
Mr Chalmers, Labor’s most senior figure in Queensland, claimed the Coalition “take the place for granted” and described Mr Albanese as “an honorary Queenslander”.
“The good thing about Anthony is he doesn’t just show up when there’s an election on, like the other guy,” he claimed.
The electoral maths
According to ABC election analyst Antony Green, 24 seats of the 151-seat lower house have margins of under 4 per cent.
Of those, 16 are held by Labor, and eight by the Coalition.
Eight of the 24 are in NSW, five in Queensland, four in Victoria, three in Western Australia, two in Tasmania and one each in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Mr Albanese visited at least four of them in the past week alone; Lilley and Longman in Queensland on Monday, a campaign rally in Reid last weekend, and getting a booster shot from Dobell MP Emma McBride.
He also swung through Sydney’s Lindsay (5 per cent margin) last week, as well as visiting Greenway (NSW), Banks (NSW), Higgins (Vic), Chisholm (Vic), Corangamite (Vic), Hunter (NSW) and Robertson (NSW) in the past two months.
Mr Morrison, too, has focused his attention on NSW and Victorian marginals. He spent time visiting Wentworth, Corangamite, Reid and Eden-Monaro (NSW) in the past fortnight, plus less marginal Banks (6.3).
In recent months, Mr Morrison also campaigned in Higgins (Vic), Chisholm (Vic), Boothby (SA), Lindsay (NSW), Paterson (NSW) and Shortland (NSW).
Mr Albanese will visit several more marginal seats in other crucial states including Tasmania over coming days, before returning to Queensland at the end of the week; not for campaigning, strictly, but “some much-needed R&R”, he told 4BC Radio.
Mr Albanese told journalists two weeks ago he’d take a few days’ holiday before returning to Sydney for Christmas.
But the federal government will look to get in the last substantial word of the political year this Thursday, when Mr Frydenberg releases the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO).
The government is already stoking speculation it could yet again extend the low and middle income tax offset (LMITO).
It was meant to be temporary relief, but has been carried on well past its original end date.
In his media blitz on Monday, the Treasurer smiled that he was “not going to add to that speculation”, but also didn’t rule out yet again giving tax cut sweeteners on the eve of an election.
Mr Frydenberg also extended a COVID-era business loans program.
Many noted the business loans program is now scheduled to end in May, just when the election is tipped for.
The Treasurer, too, was buoyed by Queensland’s reopening, calling it a “great Christmas present” for tourism operators.
“Stay calm and carry on is the clear message to state premiers. Follow the plan. Don’t get spooked,” he said on Sky News, when asked how border openings fit into the economic recovery.
Mr Frydenberg is expected to reveal a better-than-expected economic picture on Thursday.
Deloitte Access Economics projects MYEFO’s budget deficit to be potentially $100 billion smaller than feared.
The projections are based on employment and economic activity bouncing back much faster than expected, following gruelling lockdowns across Sydney and Melbourne in mid-2021.
But Mr Chalmers turned it back around, claiming the economy “was bleeding two or three billion dollars a week” during lockdowns that he blamed on the federal government failing to secure adequate vaccine supply.
“It’s got to be the right kind of recovery,” he claimed.
“It’s not a recovery if ordinary working people are falling behind because their costs of living are skyrocketing and their real wages are going backwards.”