MC Mark Parton called the Canberra Liberals the streetfighters of this election, and the leader of the gang Senator Zed Seselja was quick to agree when rallying the party faithful at the official campaign launch at Ainslie Football Club on Sunday afternoon (28 April).
It’s not a bad analogy because the Liberals are out to mug Labor by reducing the campaign to some simple well-directed hits.
No need for nuance here – it’s all about the strong economy, lower taxes, reward for effort and keeping the borders secure.
And without too many real policy initiatives of their own beyond funding announcements, the Liberals are rightly focusing on Labor’s, and by following the tried and tested carbon tax formula, those policies are now all called taxes.
The proposed reform of negative gearing is a housing tax, the franking credits changes are a retirees tax, the emissions reduction policy is a climate tax on business – in fact, Labor is taxing you to death according to the Liberal campaign truck parked outside.
“Here in Canberra we are streetfighters, we fight for every vote, that’s what our candidates have been doing, so many of you have been doing, going to the doors, going to the shopping centres and making the case about what we’ve been able to achieve together, what we still can achieve, and about the massive risk Labor and Bill Shorten present to our economy – we can’t afford them,” Senator Seselja told the sea of blue-clad true believers.
And that is the key message – “Don’t risk it”.
MLA Parton talked up the Liberals’ ground game and disparaged Labor’s, as the other candidates – Robert Gunning (Senate), Ed Cocks (Bean), Mina Zaki (Canberra), and Leanne Castley (Fenner) – talked about their mostly positive experiences and the characters they had met on the campaign trail – the retiree, small businessman and the jilted Labor supporter.
They were all on message, and Senator Seselja, when talking of the Coalition’s achievements, wasn’t about to mention three Prime Ministers in six years, or his role in bringing down Malcolm Turnbull, or the energy and climate wars that have wracked the Government. Nor how the Coalition’s lower taxes will be paid for without cutting programs, or why wages are stagnant.
“We’ve created 1.2 million jobs, stopped the deaths at sea, balanced the budget, paying down Labor’s debt, all the while investing in the services and infrastructure that Australia expects while cutting taxes,” he said.
In the ACT, he claimed credit for the 3.5 per cent jobless rate, said the Coalition had doubled hospital funding, made huge investments in the national institutions (well, the War Memorial at least), and delivered on road funding – all of which Labor would dispute, particularly on a day it announced that it would duplicate the Barton Highway, trumping the Coalition by $100 million.
The Senator said he could help out Bill Shorten, who appeared to struggle with questions on the campaign trail recently. Although, none of the candidates were taking questions themselves on Sunday.
The ‘housing tax’ would whack renters $56 a week here in Canberra; homeowners would lose $65,000 on the value of their homes; the ‘retirees tax’ would hit almost a million Australians, on average more than $2000 per person; and there would be $34 billion in extra superannuation taxes, he said.
Whether those numbers are accurate or relevant who knows, but they and the overall $200 billion tax hit the Coalition is warning of aren’t really the point.
It’s all designed rather brutally, with ironically more than an echo of Paul Keating, to convert what Labor hopes are positive policies, including its climate action, into negative ones that are going to potentially leave voters out of pocket and damage the economy.
Then there are the boats – they’ll be back and people will be again dying at sea.
Saying Labor is coming for you and it will be open slather at our borders may be the politics of fear but when you are in a street fight, you use any weapon at hand.
It may not change the result here in the ACT though, beyond bolstering the Liberal base and firming up Senator Seselja’s position. The odds are it will still be three Labor seats plus a senator each.
But as the polls narrow nationally, hang on for a wild ride as a desperate Coalition goes negative. The blueprint at a local level was laid out on Sunday.