Have no doubts about it. Tony Abbott is already in early election mode. On a visit to the Australian Maritime Security Operations Centre in Canberra this was his message.
“The only way to ensure that the boats stay stopped is to stick with a Coalition government.”
It adds weight to Labor’s charge that the only security he is worried about is his own job security. There’s nothing like the prospect of facing an imminent judgement of the voters to focus the thinking of his own restive backbench.
While he says he has every intention of serving a full term, he is well aware that he is on probation. June is the deadline worried MPs have given themselves for an assessment of Mr Abbott’s recovery strategy post-budget.
But already that strategy is unravelling as reality bites hard on his government’s economic credentials.
The Deloitte Access Economics Budget Monitor suggests the government’s economic management has been far from brilliant and instead of the often-promised return to surplus it predicts deficits will be bigger than forecast and will remain as far as the eye can see.
The Access analysis puts the Abbott government in the same league as the Rudd-Gillard governments when it comes to racking up historically huge quantities of red ink.
Financial year 2015-16 will see the sixth deficit of more than $40 billion in the past six years, with more to follow.
The government of “no broken promises and no excuses” has dug deep into its predecessors’ lexicon to come up with very familiar excuses for broken undertakings – falling revenues and overseas factors.
The Prime Minister’s only defence here is either amnesia or denial. He claims the Coalition never put a date on when it would return to surplus. A month before the election he was more bullish.
“We think there will be a surplus in every year of a Coalition government,” he said.
We are now being promised a budget that is “measured, responsible and fair”. The fairness will be delivered, we are led to believe, in a signature families package with low- and middle-income earners the bigger winners. But the funding is to come from savings held up in the Senate. They are being blocked precisely because they are unfair and therefore unpopular. How that works out on Budget night will be intriguing.
Any early rush to the polls is a big risk for Mr Abbott. He is the one who has everything to lose and the current polling suggests his credibility bank is empty.
Research carried out by the Liberals’ long-time pollster Mark Textor for the Business Council of Australia shows the election option is problematic. The Australian reports that the pollster found the public does not believe that Mr Abbott has any discernible strategy to manage the economic challenges.
It will take more than good luck to turn that around. Persistent, near-record levels of disapproval for the Prime Minister suggest voters have already given up on him.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno