News National Choice words highlight Scott Morrison’s election date dilemma as he seeks greater approval

Choice words highlight Scott Morrison’s election date dilemma as he seeks greater approval

Scott Morrison's fortunes may have improved since the Wentworth by-election in October. Photo: Getty
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The Prime Minister Scott Morrison is seriously toying with the idea of holding the election at the latest possible moment – and some of his most trusted advisers are urging him to hold off till Saturday, May 25.

That is certainly the view of former prime minister John Howard and it is bolstered by the Newspoll results showing Mr Morrison is now in positive approval territory.

Not by much but a plus two is a long way from Shorten’s minus 14.

That means more people now approve of his performance than disapprove – unlike for the Labor leader.

The thinking is the more voters see of Mr Morrison in the role as the nation’s leader the more they, perhaps grudgingly, would prefer him to the Labor alternative.

Mr Morrison distilled this idea when he said the voters have a choice.

“If they vote Liberal, they get me. If they vote Labor, they get Bill Shorten.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Senate Estimates on Monday that the Coalition had decided “a long time ago to pursue the election slowly”.

The claim has resonances of a similarly unpopular Paul Keating, behind in the polls in 1993, telling the Liberals’ then front runner John Hewson that he wasn’t calling an election “because I want to do you slowly.”

May 25 is certainly not the Australian Electoral Commission’s preference.

It told Estimates last year that May 18 would be the safest, last date to have an election so it could finalise the senate vote before the constitutional deadline of July 1.

To meet that concern the government has allocated an extra $10 million for the AEC to hire more staff.

On Sunday the Prime Minister repeated what he told his party room the week before that the election would be in May and “there’s always been three dates, the 11th, 18th and the 25th and I made no secret about that”.

The latest batch of opinion polls confirms the three-year-old trend that the Coalition is staring down the barrel of defeat.

And that despite it presenting what the same polls have found was one of the most popular budgets in a decade.

Whatever it takes to avoid a complete wipeout is the guiding principle.

The cash cow of taxpayers’ money would dry up instantly the election is formally called. And make no mistake Mr Morrison and his mates have been milking it.

According to advertising tender documents, government spending this year is a phenomenal $136 million, or $1 million a day.

Mr Cormann says it is not all for promoting the government’s budget largesse in tax cuts, infrastructure, small business handouts and the like.

Labor’s Tanya Plibersek dismisses this as a “dodgy” use of taxpayers’ money by a “dodgy ad guy” in Mr Morrison.

One of the attractions of May 25 is it would avoid the Easter holidays. It could be announced immediately after Easter for the 33-day statutory campaign period.

One downside would be the shaky government – in deeper minority in the House of Representatives, having to face another scheduled sitting week of Parliament next week.

Labor is sure to hammer the Coalition for “running scared” and for egregiously abusing taxpayers’ money for its survival.

The last ones accused of such excessive behaviour were the Howard government in 2007 and the Rudd government in 2013.

Both failed to stave off landslide defeats.

Mr Morrison accuses Bill Shorten of being “impatient” because he is already measuring up the curtains” in The Lodge.

He may be thwarting an “arrogant” Mr Shorten but he also risks frustrating voters sick of the divisions and dysfunction offered by the past six years of the coalition.

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

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