News Election 2019 Morrison hits the panic button

Morrison hits the panic button

Paul Bongiorno: Prime Minister Scott Morrison hits the panic button
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The Liberals are in this election with a chance.

They always were, but there are sure signs that chance is slipping from their grasp.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison knows it. That’s why he has signed off on a dangerous preference deal with barely credible Clive Palmer and not cavilled at the Nationals formally preference swapping with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

So dire is the internal polling in Queensland the Liberal National Party’s primary vote is hovering in the low 30s. Its fate will depend in no small way on its deals with the devil delivering.

Older coalition heads fear it could backfire in Brisbane.

Labor campaigners report good feedback in targeted seats like Peter Dutton’s seat of Dickson, but one source says “It’s all over the place. We could pick up six more seats or none.”

They are hoping Sunday’s campaign launch in Brisbane, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk repeating the war cry to “vote them out” resonates with her fellow banana benders.

The national opinion polls, despite some confusing and contradictory results on performance and approval of the leaders, suggest there is no further real movement to the coalition since the tightening at the beginning of the campaign.

In response to Labor’s weekend razzamatazz, Mr Morrison has become even more shrill in his warnings for voters to steer clear of Labor.

He has resorted to the conservatives’ default position that “Labor can’t manage money”.

Apparently Labor raising $387 billion by not cutting high-end taxes to pay for better cancer cover, seniors dental care, child care and other promises is somehow not managing money well. 

The PM is banking next year’s forecast budget surplus as evidence the Liberals are better at it, despite the fact they failed to deliver one surplus in their six years at the helm after promising they would produce one every year.

Mr Shorten has come up with a potent response to the Liberal attacks. He says “Every time you hear the Liberals say, ‘Australia can’t afford it’ what they really mean is ‘You don’t deserve it’.”

So far whatever Mr Morrison has thrown at Mr Shorten hasn’t derailed the Labor juggernaut. He will have another go on Wednesday.

Labor says the Prime Minister only agreed to a third debate in the past 24 hours despite it writing six days ago to him for a joust at the National Press Club.

Mr Morrison says he’s happy to have any debate, but inside the bubble there is a debate over the debate – a panel, Labor’s preference or just a moderator is the argument.

Whatever happens Mr Shorten says he’ll turn up and wonders why Mr Morrison – unlike him on Monday night – isn’t willing to go on the ABC’s Q&A show.

Mr Shorten has won the previous two debates, according to the studio audiences of swinging voters. But Mr Morrison – much like Paul Keating in 1996 – believes voters won’t be able to bring themselves to vote for Mr Shorten once the pencil hovers over the ballot paper in the booth.

“Wake up in two weeks’ time on Sunday, it is a choice whether you want to see Bill Shorten standing there as Prime Minister or me standing there as Prime Minister?” He says.

Mr Keating got an emphatic answer in that election defeat. Labor is bracing for the Liberals to unleash the mother of all scare campaigns in the days ahead. 

But whether the federal Liberals’ dirt unit has up its sleeve anything as lethal as the Michael Daley tape that crashed New South Wales Labor in the final weeks of the state campaign is unlikely.

This is Mr Shorten’s second campaign and he has already had a royal commission and a police investigation thrown at him by his opponents to little real effect.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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