Scott Morrison has brazenly repositioned himself and his campaign by matching the positive tone that has been working so well for Anthony Albanese and combining it with a bold new policy that galvanises the election contest.
The Prime Minister pledges to leave the pandemic in the past and lead the country to “better days” in what he promises will be a new era of opportunity.
Scott Morrison and his family at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on Sunday.Credit:James Brickwood
He even poaches the Labor leader’s campaign slogan by claiming that only a Liberal government can deliver “a better future” for the economy and for families.
The Morrison of the past five weeks, a man who spent most of his time sledging his opponent and arguing over past decisions, is replaced by someone who wants to talk about his optimism for the days ahead.
The obvious challenge for the government is that the hint of a positive agenda for the next term of Parliament has only been revealed in a campaign speech just six days before the votes are counted.
“We will apply the hard lessons we have learned from these difficult times so we can take Australia to the next level,” he says.
“That’s where I’m focused: on the future, on your future.”
The message is consciously reactive to the central accusation from Albanese that Morrison has no plan for the future and is asking voters to give the Liberals and Nationals a second decade in power after three terms in government.
“As you can see, I’ve got a big plan,” Morrison says. “I am seeking a second term because I am just warming up.”
There are two crucial concessions in Morrison’s new message. The first is the implicit acknowledgement that Labor has gained an edge with a more positive message, not only with the “better future” slogan but in the way Albanese speaks plainly to voters about positive change. One repeated Albanese phrase – “we can do better” – sums this up.
Morrison warns about a dangerous world, the invasion of Ukraine and the instability in the global economy but is putting more emphasis on plans for the future such as the better treatment of women and paying for essential services.
The positive message comes with the distinctive Morrison brand on matters of personal belief.
“We believe in the power of local communities in all their wonderful diversity and we understand how important faith and culture are to those local communities,” he says.
There is no doubt that some people of faith respond strongly to Morrison as a Christian with conservative social values.
Morrison still calls Albanese a “loose unit” but no longer complains that the Labor leader wants to increase wages – that attack line has not been heard since Thursday. Instead, he says he will deliver higher incomes – “more jobs, better wages and lower taxes.”
The second concession is the attempt at a more convincing pitch to younger Australians who feel shut out of the nation’s prosperity and are inclined to side with Labor or the Greens on issues such as climate change.
Scott Morrison greets former prime minister John Howard, with wife Janette, after his speech.Credit:James Brickwood
The housing policies in this campaign have mostly come from Labor up to this point. As well as supporting more social housing, Labor has the Help To Buy scheme in which the government takes equity in a first home alongside the owners to cut the size of their loan. The scheme is only open to 10,000 buyers each year and has to come with complicated rules because the government ends up with a stake in the property.
Morrison, finally, has an alternative idea for younger Australians. The big advantage is the simplicity: the super fund withdrawal is limited to $50,000 without caps on the value of the property. Yet the practical benefit is likely to be far less than it seems, simply because younger Australians have smaller super balances.
The implications for the super system are seismic. With a single policy, Morrison has unleashed a war over the objectives of the super system and the impact on retirement incomes.
And there are only six days for this far-reaching change to be put to a vote. So the problem is simple. There may be too little time for Morrison to execute such a big shift in his campaign with such a divisive policy at its heart.
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