Political observers hang out for when the prime minister will announce the election date, marking the start of the “campaign”.
This year, it hardly seems to matter, and not just because we know the election now must be on one of three dates – May 7, 14, or 21. It’s as much because the “campaign” is already with us – indeed, it has been for months.
Day in, day out, Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese are tramping around the country, making announcements of promises, big or small. Morrison has tossed out multi billions in recent weeks for defence, a dam, vaccine production and a good deal else.
It’s become a blur whether the commitments are fresh or re-burnished, the money new or from some existing pot. Long-term timetables further muddy things.
Promises for specific seats may be in a special category, but you have to wonder how much of this continuous campaigning voters are taking in.
They may be left with general impressions, but many people’s attention would be minimal, or delayed until closer to when they have to mark their ballots. Or at least until next week’s budget, when they will look for some cost of living relief.
Anyway, just for today let’s leave this cacophony of rhetoric from the leaders in their hi-vis uniforms, and jump ahead to what the political landscape might be like after May.
First, let’s assume a Labor win, with the new government having a majority.
Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said this week Labor would bring down a fresh budget before year’s end. From what we know of the economic and fiscal outlook to be outlined in Tuesday’s budget, the newly-minted treasurer would be working in a favourable setting.
How much of Josh Frydenberg’s budget an Albanese government might unpick will become clearer before the election, but there would also be surprises in the Chalmers one. Labor has said it would look at where there’s presently waste, allowing for funds to be reallocated, which would inevitably mean some losers.
Before that budget, PM Albanese would convene a jobs summit, including business, unions, all levels of government, and community representatives.
This would be broadly modelled on Bob Hawke’s economic summit of 1983; it is part of Albanese’s mantra that he would govern in the Hawke “consensus” style. The summit would be as important for its symbolism as its outcomes.
Summits need to be carefully handled. Hawke’s 1985 tax summit, promised before the 1984 election, ended in an imbroglio. Kevin Rudd’s 2008 “Australia 2020” summit over-promised and under-delivered.
Albanese has also flagged he wants to tackle reforming the federation, saying “we need a clearer delineation of who is responsible for what”. If he is really serious about such a “clearer delineation” – and he’s not provided details – achieving it would be a big task that has eluded governments before.
After Labor’s South Australian win, Albanese would have the advantage of Labor being in power in four of the five mainland states (with the possibility of its winning in NSW next year). Not that having federal and state governments of the same hue automatically guarantees smooth relations.
On the legislative front, the new Labor government would be putting into law its 2050 net zero target – as well as preparing for Australia to take a higher profile at the next UN climate change conference, in Egypt in November.
It would also be working on its model for a national integrity commission, to which it has firmly committed.
On the other side, the Liberals and Nationals would be shattered but not surprised by their loss, and mired in the usual recriminations that follow defeat. How quickly the new opposition was able to regroup could depend on the size of the Labor win (and hence the chance of making it a one term government).
The battle for Liberal leader would likely be a face off between Frydenberg and Peter Dutton, who are both showing their paces for the future as key frontline players in the struggle to keep the Morrison government in office.
The centrist Frydenberg would be favoured by the moderates in the Liberal party and (from this distance out) the frontrunner. Dutton would be the conservatives’ candidate.
As opposition leader, Frydenberg’s treasury background would give him an advantage in taking the economic debate up to Labor. Dutton would probably follow the Tony Abbott model, using bare knuckle tactics to try to tear down the Albanese government.
Flip the coin and assume the Coalition winning with a majority: the Morrison agenda is sketchy, a version of more of the same. Morrison would be unlikely to transform into the ambitious reformer, regardless of the wishes of some in the business community and in the Liberals’ base.
His approach would likely continue to be a managerial one. As one Liberal man says, “He’s not a policy guy. He’s not a conviction politician. His objective is remaining in power.”
Also, Morrison would have the constraints of his majority almost certainly being extremely narrow.
Not in the short term, but after a year or so, speculation would turn to the leadership. There would be pressure for a transition, a realisation the government could not go around again with Morrison.
After another election defeat, following (once again) high expectations of victory, Labor morale would be rock bottom. The new leader would face a massive job in rebuilding.
Those potentially with an eye to opposition leadership would include Jim Chalmers, Tanya Plibersek, Richard Marles, Chris Bowen, and Tony Burke. Possibly Bill Shorten.
Of this list, only Plibersek is from the left. The field would quickly whittle itself down, probably leaving only two – perhaps Chalmers versus Plibersek. Assuming a contest, the leader would be chosen by a combination of caucus and rank and file ballots on a 50-50 basis.
The third potential election outcome is a hung parliament. And that takes us into the realm of maximum uncertainty.
The present crossbenchers are coy about how they’d play the situation. There is general wariness on the crossbench about the sort of formal agreements we saw in the Gillard days.
Regardless of whether Morrison or Albanese ended up PM in the hung parliament, the crossbenchers – with most of the existing ones being likely returned and possibly at least one new face in their ranks – would be extracting action on issues they cared about.
A hung parliament can bring out the best or the worst features of the parliamentary system, or a combination of both.