News National Scott Morrison will need a few more of his miracles

Scott Morrison will need a few more of his miracles

Tony Abbott loyalists are continuing to push their conservative agenda under the Morrison government.
Sure there's no Tony Abbott. But plenty of other risks loom for Scott Morrison. Photo: AAP
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Just as well Scott Morrison believes in miracles, because any close analysis of the key claims of his “better economic managers” campaign show them to be built on very shaky foundations.

The biggest and most eye-catching is the promise of a budget surplus next year – the first since the Howard years. There was an eerie similarity to similar promises made by Labor’s Wayne Swan as treasurer, only to see his credibility shattered when revenue collapsed and he did not deliver.

Mr Morrison’s promise is similarly based on strong returns to revenue continuing for the next four years. Respected economists like Ross Gittens consider Treasury’s assumptions to be heroic.

A hint of how heroic was the fact that the government borrowed another $150 million five days before the election, prompting economist Stephen Koukoulas to ask on Twitter: “Surplus, budget surplus, come out, come out wherever you are?”

The Reserve Bank is widely tipped to drop interest rates in the face of a slowing economy, with its projection on growth lower than last month’s Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook (PEFO).

Now that Labor has been defeated, the Liberals have no one else to blame for the dramatic falls in the housing market. These declines have been on the Coalition’s watch and show no signs of reversing.

The other challenge will be holding the government together in the face of a slim majority. While Tony Abbott is now out of the Parliament, his climate-change-denying allies are still there, with the Queenslanders emboldened by their success.

Urban Liberal moderates haven’t missed the climate/energy message from voters in the party’s heartland seats in Sydney and Melbourne. One source says they are not prepared this time to allow the likes of Queensland Nationals coal champion George Christensen to call all the shots.

This could spell trouble for Mr Morrison depending on how he chooses to exercise his undoubtedly enhanced authority. The fact is though, even strong leaders can be knocked off balance by maverick backbenchers threatening to cross the floor.

A reality check will be the delivery of lower electricity prices which has proved elusive in the past six years of incumbency.

In 1983, Bob Hawke got lucky when the drought broke. That agnostic PM wasn’t praying for rain, but Mr Morrison could sure use some help from above to solve the water crisis of the Murray Darling Basin before the sorely tested patience of farmers with the Nationals completely runs out.

The Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party that did so well in the New South Wales state election is planning to mount strong challenges in federal seats next time.

The Liberals are rightly savouring the tight election win but one of the key reasons for it won’t be there in 2021 – Bill Shorten.

It is clear Liberal National Party research last year found that there was only one national political leader more unpopular in Queensland than Mr Shorten and that was Malcolm Turnbull.

Now that Mr Shorten has gone as Labor leader, it could be a very different proposition next time.

The Coalition’s civil war in the past three years lulled Labor into a false sense of security as it kept adding new revenue measures to help pay for its ambitious spending on education, health, pensioners and young families.

The “Bill you can’t afford” resonated with too many interest groups, none more so than over 65s. Forget the distinction between “tax rises” and trimming “tax concessions”  – a skilled marketer like Mr Morrison hammered the theme that Mr Shorten was intent on “taking their money out of their pockets”.

The dividend imputation rebates were the most susceptible to such attacks, aided and abetted by Clive Palmer’s $60 million ad spend.

Labor is sure to have learned some bitter lessons from last Saturday. Mr Morrison, too, should learn from Paul Keating’s misreading of the “sweetest victory” of all in 1993.

The electorate rejected what it believed was massive new taxes, but it clearly also has concerns about climate change. Next month Mr Morrison will bring his tax cuts into the Parliament so they are in place for the July deadline.

That will be the easy part.

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

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