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Does Scott Morrison want an early election?

Jun 12, 2020 • 14m 33s

As Scott Morrison looks at a bleak five years economically, some in his own party think he’s gearing up for an early election.

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Does Scott Morrison want an early election?

243 • Jun 12, 2020

Does Scott Morrison want an early election?

RUBY:

All right. Are you ready to go, Paul?

PAUL:

I'm as ready as I'll ever be.

**

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

Speaking to his party room this week, Scott Morrison said the next five years will define a new generation.

Looking at the economic realities of that period, some of his colleagues think he’s gearing up for an early election.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno, on what Morrison is balancing as he looks at his electoral fortunes.

**

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

This is a historic time that we find ourselves in. Australians have never known - indeed the vast majority of them I should say - the uncertainty they’re going through at the moment...

RUBY:

Paul, Parliament was back this week and that means there was a government party room meeting. So do we know what was said?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, when parliament sits, the party rooms meet at least once a week and the leaders take the opportunity to cheer up the troops, give their slant on what's happening.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

And that means that Australians are looking at our own country and saying thank goodness we’re here.

PAUL:

And as Scott Morrison did this week, urged unity of purpose because he's aware of rumblings in the ranks over the size of the spending. So it was a reality check from the PM.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

It means taking the principles that we hold dear, and applying them in a whole new way to these unprecedented challenges that we now face.

PAUL:

Morrison could only see dark clouds ahead for at least another five years.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

And there will be more difficult decisions ahead of us. There are more ahead of us than them, frankly, are behind us.

PAUL:

The silver lining of a world class response to containing the coronavirus pandemic was no reason to think, he said, the hard part was now behind them all.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

And that's going to feel uncomfortable at times, it's going to take us well outside our policy comfort zone.

PAUL:

What he was saying was that to restore the economy and rebuild jobs was not a short term programme. In fact, Ruby, he went as far as to say what the coalition does in the next five years will set up an entire new generation. Interesting. He said five years, too. He obviously thinks he's going to be in power for a while yet.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

At a time when uncertainty is so great. And as Australians look around the world, they can look to us and they can see hope.

RUBY:

And is Scott Morrison trying to get in front of something here or grappling with tensions?

PAUL:

Well, I could put it this way. Morison's on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, he acknowledges he'll have to keep spending. But as he told his more reluctant employees, he admits that's going to feel uncomfortable at times. Because here he's talking especially to people like backbencher Jason Falinski, who's called publicly to stop more spending.

Well Morrison urged his troops to stay disciplined and united behind him. But the other side of the dilemma is when to begin withdrawing the job keeper and beefed up job seeker unemployment payments. And I've got to say, there does seem to be more appetite for this. The previous Friday, Morrison guaranteed that both programmes would remain in place for their legislated six months. But on Monday, there was a spectacular carve out of JobKeeper.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Free childcare will end in a month, with the government saying it will revert to the old model...

PAUL:

The government subsidy for free childcare will end on July 13, and the 120,000 early educators currently on JobKeeper will be booted off the payments two months earlier than was promised.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Parts of the sector are utterly bewildered by today's announcement and the revelation that its workforce is losing access to the JobKeeper wage subsidy…

PAUL:

And it's far from clear that childcare centres will be able to retain all of their employees, even though the government is providing a 708 million dollar transition fund to gradually withdraw the wage subsidy.

RUBY:

Do we know why the government decided to do this to childcare?

PAUL:

Well, it says it was heavily lobbied by the largely private sector who simply found the subsidy meant they had to ration places and cut staff hours anyway. At first, it wasn't a huge problem. But now the demand for places is, according to the relevant minister, Dan Tehan, back up to 70 percent of what it was pre-pandemic.

Archival tape -- Tehan:

Our most recent survey shows that demand has hit 74 per cent across all parts of the sector, and services are keen to expand their offering to support more families.

PAUL:

Still, taking anything off people is extremely dangerous politically, and many parents won't be able to afford a return to the old fees. And that's because they've either lost their jobs or work hours.

RUBY:

And is anything else weighing on the government's decision making?

Well, there is one date, July the 4th, and we're not talking about American Independence Day. What we're talking about is the Eden-Monaro by-election.

So is it any wonder the childcare changes and other adjustments we might prefer to call them nasties have been timed to apply after the end of July. And make no mistake, even though the by election will not weaken the government's numbers on the floor of the House, there's a strong view that a liberal win will reinforce Scott Morrison's druthers to go to an election earlier than 2021, before those dark clouds he was talking about become a cloud burst of voter disillusionment and anger.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Paul, Parliament is back sitting this week. So what has the mood there been like?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, it must be said the Kumbaya Coronavirus togetherness is over. Anthony Albanese certainly took the gloves off with his first question of the new session.

Archival tape -- Speaker:

Questions without notice. The leader of the opposition.

Archival tape -- Anthony Albanese:

Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the prime minister...

PAUL:

He drew together the 60 billion dollar job keeper error...

Archival tape -- Anthony Albanese:

The government admitted it overestimated coverage of its job keeper scheme by three million workers, resulting in a 60 billion dollar blunder.

PAUL:

The 700 million dollars the government will have to pay back robo debt victims.

Archival tape -- Anthony Albanese:

The government announced 720 million dollars will be repaid to victims of the prime minister's illegal robo debt scheme.

PAUL:

and the fact we're now in the first recession…

Archival tape -- Anthony Albanese:

...in three decades.

PAUL:

And Morrison returned in kind. He accused Labour of taking joy in the fact Australia was in recession and of using it for their own political advantage.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

But only those opposite, Mr Speaker, would take joy in this fact and seek to use it for political purposes...

PAUL:

He even said the opposition was attempting to damage some of the relief programmes they had previously supported.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

...but just constant whining, Mr Speaker, undermining the government at every turn as the government has sought to provide the support that Australians need. Mr Speaker, what we have seen from this opposition, disappointingly, is seeking to even undermine measures that they support...

PAUL:

Labor believes and probably hopes that as the coalition struggles internally with the significant costs of the stimulus, its political management of the crisis will unravel. In fact, some Labour people tell me it's already beginning to unravel. And there is no doubt that the ideological straight jacket fiscal conservatives have imposed with their call for a speedy return to small government won't be fit for purpose for quite a while. In fact, it would be more likely to alienate millions who will be receiving less support as they struggle to find jobs, begin repaying postponed mortgages and see rents reimposed.

RUBY:

Do we know anything at this point about how voters have responded to the government's stimulus spending and to Morrison's leadership through the pandemic?

PAUL:

Well, the prime minister says Australia has done incredibly well in dealing with one of the biggest challenges this country has faced. And no fair minded person, like you or me, could disagree. But the latest Newspoll suggests that the near record approval levels Morrison has achieved over the past three months have not translated into the same strong support for the coalition. In fact, the 51 49 percent two-party-preferred support going the government's way is exactly where it was at the last election.

And I spoke to polling analyst Andrew Casares, and he says that Morrison's performance just hasn't shifted anyone's vote.

RUBY:

What does he mean by that?

PAUL:

Well, an overwhelming majority of voters from all parties approve of Morrison's handling of the health crisis. Indeed, it was surprisingly free of small government ideology. But that doesn't mean they are at this stage more inclined to vote liberal.

RUBY:

Paul, you mentioned the Eden Monaro by election. That's in a few weeks time. So where does that play into all of this?

PAUL:

Well, hardheads in the Liberal and Labour parties I've spoken to have no doubt the by-election has the ability to dramatically influence how politics will play out in the run up to the next general election. If the government defies 100 years of electoral history and wins a seat from the opposition in a by election, it'll be hard to hold Morrison back from wanting to go to an earlier general election.

Other prime ministers - Kevin Rudd immediately after he toppled Julia Gillard, or Malcolm Turnbull after his coup against Tony Abbott - missed their moment to capitalise on their popular support. Iit could embolden Morrison to try his hand at consolidating another three years before the recession saps voters' confidence and fuels anger against incumbents. So, Ruby, we could all be back at the polls sooner than we think.

RUBY:

How likely is that - an early election?

PAUL:

Well, I think, Ruby, a lot depends on how you define “early election”. And what I'm hearing from particularly government backbenchers, is that Morrison would be foolish to hang onto the very end because by his own analysis and the analysis of economists, things are actually not going to get better very quickly.

RUBY:

Paul, thank you so much for your time today.

PAUL:

Thank you, Ruby. Bye.

RUBY:

That was Paul Bongiorno. His column on Morrison’s week in politics runs in tomorrow’s edition of The Saturday Paper.

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**

RUBY:

Also in the news:

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded an end to further Black Lives Matter protests in Australia, saying action planned for coming days is "completely unacceptable".

Scott Morrison says demonstrators at future events should be charged, and has accused protesters of setting back efforts to lift coronavirus restrictions.

Meanwhile in the US, George Floyd’s brother has addressed the US Congress, urging them to pass reforms on police brutality.

Separately, President Donald Trump has signalled his administration's plans to tackle the issues of protests and police brutality are reaching "final edits" and they could be made public in the "coming days".

**

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.
Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Subscribe in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out.

I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

Speaking to his party room, Scott Morrison says the next five years will define a new generation. Looking at the economic realities, some in his own party think he’s gearing up for an early election.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app. I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

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243: Does Scott Morrison want an early election?