Anthony Albanese sent a clear message this week – he intends to use John Howard’s 1996 model as the strategic guide for the election.
With this in mind, it was predictable that the opposition leader would accept the government’s three phases of tax cuts that benefit middle- and upper-income recipients, despite Labor giving them up for years because of equity.
Either way, Labor could not guarantee that they would be able to eliminate or limit them. They are already regulated, which would leave their fate in the hands of the Senate.
If the opposition promised to spend on the money it saved to throw them away, the cost would be reduced as a result.
It is also not surprising that Labor has moved away from its policy adopted in the two elections to limit the negative setting and reduce the capital gains tax rebate.
The Liberals in 1996 avoided their audacity in 1993, twisted into an insulting ball, and relied primarily on people waving against the Keating government.
Such tactics do not always work, and there is a strong argument that voters who want to change government want an attractive alternative.
But given the situation facing the Albanian, minimizing the goal – including limiting his scope of election promises – is a sensible path.
The battle of the pragmatists
This election will not be a contest where either side has a charismatic leader. Or where there is some compelling “vision” on offer, much like the protagonists will argue otherwise.
It will be a battle of pragmatists, two gray men who are nevertheless cautious advocates.
Scott Morrison desperately hopes that by election day – in May at the latest – we will obviously be on the path to some kind of normalcy that will allow him to say, “I have overcome the crisis.”
His opponent is counting on government mistakes remaining sharp enough in people’s minds to label the coalition, making Morrison the first Australian leader to fall victim to a pandemic.
Even more than usual, the 2022 campaign probably won’t tell us much about what the winner will do, say by 2024.
Each new term brings its own surprises as circumstances change and leaders do not reveal all of their intentions. Howard promised to “never” introduce a goods tax, and drafted a policy for him in his first term.
COVID highlights uncertainty. In the campaign, the focus will still be on the exit path. Albanese will have to be convincing of how he will cope with his challenge.
Whoever wins, voters are likely to buy a pig in the long run.
The task of taxation for Albanians
Albanese upset some of Monday’s leftists over Monday’s tax decisions, which they pondered for months and then rushed that morning after a sham meeting.
His argument is that any Labor policies are not useful unless they can gain power. As Gough Whitlam famously said when dealing with the recalcitrant state branch of the ALP, they are “impotent clean”.
At the meeting of the parliamentary groups, questions arose, but not opposition to tax decisions.
He will be worried about how they will get down to the left seats.
But even if the Greens were to leak, we can assume that most of these votes would return through preferences. Albanese’s job is to gather votes at the center.
Bill Shorten’s strategy, which presented an extensive, costly and politically risky program, gave the coalition the widest possible front on which to attack Labor.
Next year, the government will have to scratch much harder on its goals – even though the parties are infinitely creative in shaping fears.
Perhaps he will focus on Albanese himself, focusing on the profile of his left city center (only the left part is now quite diluted).
But the Liberals will not have the advantage of facing a naturally unpopular adversary, as they did with Shorten. Albanese are not attracted to the same level of active dislike.
The climate policy of the last election, which should have been strongly positive for Labor, has become a difficult point.
Albanese will not yet produce a revamped version, which will come after the Glasgow climate conference.
It will require skilled leadership, given internal party differences and separate requirements for coal seats and voters in city centers.
It will have to convince workers in the fossil fuel sector that Labor will provide them with appropriate structural adjustments once the economy switches to clean energy.
Morrison is still embroiled in climate problems as he tries to move to a solid net target by 2050 while facing resistance from citizens.
Whatever the outcome, it is likely to be uncomfortable. The climate issue is unclear to both sides.
Could state breakdowns play a role?
One unknown is the role Labor mayors could play before the election. Daniel Andrews, Annastacia Pałaszczuk and Mark McGowan have been attacked by the federal government – they can return service, directly or indirectly.
If they judge that Albanese has a fair chance, they may also calculate that they want to get some cookies for later.
For Morrison and Albanese, it is crucial how the economy strengthens over the next few months. It largely depends on NSW – Morrison’s home country and the city where he hoped to pick up seats.
This week, NSW Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian announced a new lock month. The latest numbers of COVID cases in Sydney are poor. Pessimists believe that the extension may not be enough to get the job done.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg indicated that Australia’s quarterly growth in September is likely to be negative and said the December quarter is in the air.
No wonder the federal government is throwing a bunch of money into NSW.
Two negative quarters would be the second recession – predicted, given the delay in statistics, just before the election.
For a government with economic governance at the center and a V-shaped recovery that could boast after the recent recession, this would be a physical blow.
Or would voters leave the coalition in such a time of uncertainty or be afraid of change, who guesses.
Another view is that a poor September quarter could mean that the December rebound is strong enough that the economy will not be in recession.
With a future and wealth, Albanese makes every effort to lighten his boat, even though some believers are horrified to see how precious the treasure goes overboard.
Michelle Grattan is a professor at the University of Canberra and chief political correspondent at The Conversation, where this article first appeared.