The failings of the Coalition Government have finally dented its support among its core constituencies that are crucial to its re-election efforts, writes Andrew P Street.
SAY WHAT YOU WILL will about notoriously inactive Prime Minister Scott Morrison: when he does finally make a move, he has a magnificent instinct for turning a single problem into a majestically cascading series of catastrophes.
After sacrificing much of the last two years, the Australian people have been rewarded with a Federal Government presiding over COVID-19 cases and deaths the likes of which we’ve never seen. And despite being told that this was necessary for the economy, that’s also collapsed as customers stay home and workers drop like flies in essential industries, almost as though there’s some sort of link between the state of the economy and healthy people being able to work and spend.
Even the most Coalition-hopeful observer knows that Morrison’s going to lose seats in WA, Tasmania and probably South Australia, and at best break even in Victoria; meanwhile, the 2019 victories in Queensland means that there aren’t that many winnable seats that the LNP don’t already hold. If anything, they’re going to struggle to keep what they’ve got.
The only – the absolute only – possible hope that Morrison has to not be booted out on his arse is to make a clean sweep of NSW while minimising losses elsewhere. This requires the Government to hold onto every seat they have, successfully fight off the campaigns from climate-minded independents and pick up a bunch of marginal seats from Labor.
That was already a big ask before new Premier and pro-market "Slenderman" Dominic Perrottet unleashed his Morrison-endorsed plan to abandon most health restrictions and embrace living with the virus — a plan which turned out to be based on assuming everything would be fine and taking absolutely no steps to prepare for any other outcome.
That’s badly tarnished the Liberal brand, but the collapse of supply chains, the lack of testing facilities, the collapse of our hospital and ambulance systems and the complete lack of the rapid antigen tests Morrison keeps insisting is the responsibility of markets and individuals has absolutely demolished his standing with three cohorts without which the Coalition cannot possibly win.
The first cohort is simple: richies.
Obviously, the Liberals have historically been the party of the wealthy and poorer people who believe they’re a millionaire-in-waiting; a group which is happy to vote against their current best interests in the hope that one day they’ll be sitting on a big pile of negatively-geared investment properties and laughing at the unemployed.
Wealthy people are not used to be being inconvenienced or being forced to do things like what "the poors" are doing — like scrambling around supermarkets looking for food or queuing up for rapid antigen tests that don’t exist. It’s demeaning and insulting.
Another cohort is older people — specifically, the sort of retirees who could be tricked into thinking Bill Shorten was coming for their franking credits, whether or not they had any or even knew what they were.
Now they’re a demographic the Government has declared expendable, in both word and deed — effectively turning being over 60 in an “underlying condition” or a “comorbidity”, for example, or doing an absolute botch of protecting aged care workers.
Being given the choice between being looked after by a COVID-positive caregiver or no caregiver at all isn’t exactly endearing the Government to older voters, or winning the votes of their children who are terrified that the home they’ve put mum into will be the next virus hotspot.
And the third, bizarrely, is antivaxxers.
The Government has been very careful to allow certain elements in the Liberal and National parties bleat about fighting vaccination mandates and knowingly spread misinformation while casting doubt on the policies and procedures of their own government.
Sure, being mildly scolded lost Morrison Craig Kelly and put his parliamentary majority in jeopardy, but folks like George Christensen and Gerard Rennick have continued their spruik their Trumpian horseshit unrestricted, and SA Senator Alex Antic even pointlessly got himself put into hotel quarantine before Christmas when he refused to confirm to authorities at Adelaide Airport that he’d been vaccinated. Cool guy.
However, the complete dog’s breakfast of the handling of Novak Djokovic’s mysterious vax status and exemption to compete in the Australian Open made the Government look heavy-handed and punitive, particularly once his visa was finally rejected under the special powers of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.
Where once Morrison could have been confident that anti-vax voters would, at least, preference the Liberals over Labor even if they were voting for snakeoil-peddling hucksters like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP), declaring the unvaccinated a threat to public health is uncomfortably pro-science and a little too reality-friendly.
For a Party who can’t afford to lose a single Queensland seat, they’ve handed UAP and PHON a distinct advantage.
The old adage is that voters forget what politicians do, but not how they make them feel. And Morrison is making people feel scared, unsafe, forgotten, expendable, and angry.
If there’s a strategy here, what the hell is it?
Andrew P Street is an Adelaide-based, Sydney-built journalist, columnist, author, editor and broadcaster. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewPStreet.
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