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PM Morrison is counting on voter amnesia

scott morrison
Scott Morrison fronts his first question time as PM on Monday. Photo: AAP
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Perhaps it’s from its own experience of dysfunction and division in government, but the Labor opposition nailed the huge problem Scott Morrison faces picking up the pieces of his government.

Bill Shorten put it this way in Parliament: “The Prime Minister has spent the past 16 days trying to hide from the previous five years.”

The new man at the helm is counting on voter amnesia. He insists “the curtain has come down on that Muppet Show”.

The last thing Scott Morrison wants to do is pull it back up again. It’s the reason he could not directly answer the opposition leader’s first question on why Malcolm Turnbull was replaced as prime minister.

Mr Morrison’s first shot was because the Liberal party room gave him the “privilege of serving as leader”. When pressed further, he said “it was to ensure that we can put the best foot forward at the next election to ensure we are connecting with Australians all around the country”.

If the latest Newspoll is any guide it will be a long, difficult haul. For the second poll running there is a 12-point gap in the two-party preferred, Labor’s way. We now have had in the past month four polls, beginning with Ipsos and then followed by Essential showing the government trailing Labor in double digits.

These results would be the harbinger of a Coalition rout at an election. And there’s no real comfort in the fact that Mr Morrison opened up a six-point lead over Mr Shorten as preferred prime minister.

Mr Turnbull’s last result on that metric was a 12-point lead. The party room ignored it and dumped him. And not without reason. It is not a voting intention predictor. Polling analyst Andrew Catsaras says the same people who gave Mr Morrison the lead as preferred PM also said, by a significant majority, they would not vote for his government.

The overt disunity of recent months and years – the “jealousy and ambition and animosity” that Mr Shorten identifies is a major factor. But the new prime minister seems to think appealing to his own strident conservatives is the way to win back mainstream Australia.

The National Energy Guarantee is a case in point. At the weekend Mr Morrison said it was dead. He has “a laser focus on bringing down electricity prices” and won’t be legislating emission-reduction targets.

The Prime Minister wants voters to forget that for the past three months he, Mr Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg all cited modelling to show the National Energy Guarantee would deliver a $550 saving for households. Failure to implement the guarantee would see bills going up by almost $300.

Mr Frydenberg, now the treasurer, says “there’s no one more disappointed than him” because “a lot of work” went into NEG.

Labor’s Mark Butler, backed by new research from the Australian National University, says investment in renewables and policy certainty to support them, would actually see prices drop more than from any other new energy source like so-called “high-intensity low-emissions coal”.

So the party that promised low electricity prices coming to government five years ago has presided over them exploding and yet expects voters to forget that. It is also asking them to accept its scarcely hidden hostility to renewables will defy market reality.

A sign the electorate is being played for mugs is the appointment of a former mining lawyer from Western Australia, Melissa Price as environment minister with the riding orders to be seen and not heard.

Mr Catsaras says a worrying aspect of the latest Newspoll for the Liberals is the strengthening of Labor’s primary vote. It suggests middle of the road voters – soft Liberal and Labor types – have deserted the Liberals with the departure of Mr Turnbull and gone to the ALP.

If the lessons of previous coups mean anything, voters don’t forget or forgive easily.