News Election 2019 Steady on! Victory is close, but not in the bag for Bill Shorten

Steady on! Victory is close, but not in the bag for Bill Shorten

Was the Labor Party's bid to match the PM's announcement a sign Bill Shorten has the jitters? Photo: AAP
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Kevin Rudd waited four days to match John Howard’s tax cuts on the eve of the 2007 election.

After 11 long years in opposition, Labor wasn’t prepared to risk it.

On Sunday, Bill Shorten took about two hours to match Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s new first-home buyers deposit guarantee scheme.

It’s a policy auction that tells you all you need to know about how close this election is and how jittery the Labor Party remains.

Like a nervous property bidder raising their hand with a final offer, Mr Morrison proved on Sunday that he hasn’t given up on this election.

He remains confident the policy will switch the debate to the economy and Labor’s negative gearing policy.

Scott Morrison embraced his family on stage at the Liberal campaign launch on Sunday. Photo: AAP

Mr Shorten responded by proving he’s ready, willing and able to shut down the PM’s last hope with a counter offer.

In the book Hardball: How Politics Is Played, Told by One Who Knows the Game, US political pundit Chris Matthews devotes an entire chapter to the concept.

It’s called ‘Leave No Shot Unanswered’.

When Mr Shorten addressed staff at the ALP’s HQ in Western Sydney on Friday his message was that an election victory was close but not assured.

If an election was held today, we would win it, he told the 150 assembled staff and volunteers. But he urged them to keep working hard because now was not the time for complacency.

It’s a reality lost on many Labor supporters, who still believe Labor will win in a landslide.

Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten kisses his wife Chloe at the ALP Final Week Rally in Melbourne on Sunday. Photo: AAP

Labor’s most senior lieutenants know better. It’s not what Newspoll says – and it’s not what the ALP’s internal polling says either.

And the belief that a thumping majority for Mr Shorten is in the bag is probably one of his biggest challenges.

Sunday night’s Newspoll confirmed Labor remains in front, 51 per cent to the Liberal’s 49 per cent on a two-party preferred basis.

The Coalition lifted its primary vote to 39 per cent but well below its 42 per cent primary vote at the 2016 election.

Mr Shorten is also closing the gap on Mr Morrison as preferred Prime Minister, with the Labor leader lifting three points to 38 per cent and Mr Morrison dropping to 45 per cent.

In the wake of the controversy over the Daily Telegraph‘s front-page story about Mr Shorten’s late mother Ann, his approval ratings are up and his disapproval ratings are down.

It’s true that the prospect of the Liberal Party forming a majority in its own right remains unlikely.

Even the best-case scenario that Liberals can privately offer is securing 75 or 76 seats in the 151-seat Parliament.

It’s likely to be substantially lower than that, closer to 69 seats with a handful of independents.

The arithmetic is simple. Labor needs 76 seats in the 151-seat Parliament to form government and 77 seats to provider a Speaker and retain a majority on the floor of Parliament.

Most within Labor believe Mr Shorten has around 77 or 78 seats locked in.

Last week, support for Labor started to lift and there’s hopes that could climb into the low 80s, but it’s not a landslide by any measure.

But over the weekend, nervous Labor frontbenchers were starting to talk about how they could “still form government” on 74 or 75 votes – with the support of the Greens or the cross bench – a grim prospect that nobody in Labor wants to repeat after Julia Gillard’s experience.

Several Liberal frontbenchers are also fighting to retain their seats with Peter Dutton and Attorney-General Christian Porter facing the very real threat of being tossed out of Parliament.

But the Liberals are preparing to dump an avalanche of negative advertisements before the election advertising blackout hits on Wednesday night.

That ban affects mainly TV and radio, so expect the bombardments on Facebook to continue all the way to polling day.

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