Scott Morrison’s unappealing ‘to do’ list

Scott Morrison Australian Prime Minister
Scott Morrison is Australia's 30th Prime Minister.

So Scott Morrison is now our 30th Prime Minister and what a long and unappetising “to do” list he faces.

First priority, of course, will be to heal the deep divisions within his own party which have been exposed by Peter Dutton’s move to replace Malcolm Turnbull in the top job.

If anything the closeness of the 45 to 40 vote in Scott Morrison’s favour only exposes those divisions further and it will be a herculean task to get those MP’s in his own party singing from the same song sheet.

Picking a ministry will be hard

Secondly, Mr Morrison is faced with the task of picking a Ministry from the ashes of a rash of resignations that is both capable of doing the various jobs but which also serves to unite the party as well.

In that vein perhaps he can take note of Malcolm Turnbull’s mistake in relegating Tony Abbott to a prime sniping position on the backbench and instead make use of Peter Dutton’s undoubted skills as a senior minister.

Better to have someone you have just beaten inside the tent than the alternative.

Labor will start favourites to win next election

Thirdly, there is the rather formidable task of beating Bill Shorten’s Labor at the next election – a massive task that will require some fresh policies that can be convincingly sold to a highly sceptical electorate.

Mr Shorten has made all of the right moves by remaining quiet on the sidelines, letting the Liberal Party self-destruct and no doubt storing away a host of nasty quotes from a variety of ministers to recycle in election advertisements.

The saying that Government’s lose elections rather than Opposition’s winning them has never been more true and the Scott Morrison government must now be at very long odds to win the next election.

Hopefully Mr Morrison can also persuade Malcolm Turnbull to hang around until the election to avoid losing a razor thin one seat majority and having to fight another by-election.

Running the economy must be priority

Finally, Scott Morrison must immediately concentrate on running the Australian economy – something he should be well aware of from his perspective as Treasurer.

This unseemly political fight has significantly damaged Australia in the eyes of the world, which can be seen by the downward move in the Australian dollar as it dawned that Malcolm Turnbull would be replaced.

Here in Australia it was not just frustrated voters that have been casting a jaundiced eye at the political brinksmanship and leadership votes and speculation that has dominated our national capital of Canberra over the past week.

Also very frustrated must be shareholders and company directors who watched a signature Turnbull Government policy of company tax cuts simply disappear without trace and in the process barely raise a ripple.

Admittedly, cutting the Australian tax rate for larger companies to 25 per cent from 30 per cent would not have had the same impact as the US company tax cuts, which took that rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent.

Senate was opposed to tax cuts

And even the most disappointed company tax cut fan would have to admit that the Turnbull Government tried everything in its attempt to get the company tax cuts through the Senate – even restricting the big banks from getting the cuts in order to persuade some crossbench Senators to change their vote.

However, it is beyond concerning that all of the hard work, political debate and capital that was used up in the company tax debate – not to mention the actual economic impact of the cuts – was dismissed in a moment as the focus switched instead to the battle for the Prime Ministership between Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton; a battle that was later expanded to include Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison.

Political stability a thing of the past

It is incredible to think that no Australian Prime Minister has sat through a full term since John Howard and also that the lessons of those quick changes – that they are electoral poison – still have not been learned by the politicians we elect to govern us.

Instead, as soon as the polls look bad and an election is looming on the horizon, the focus switches to survival for those in marginal seats, who are willing to roll the dice for a new leader rather than sit and wait helplessly for their electoral demise.

It doesn’t seem to matter which party is in power, the lessons of history are forgotten in an unedifying scramble for survival and a triumph of personality over policy.

Echoes of Rudd-Gillard-Rudd

This latest episode of change the leader bears a remarkable similarity to the final throw of the dice when the ALP unseated Julia Gillard for Kevin Rudd.

It wasn’t a question of whether they could win the next election, it was simply a struggle to keep as many seats in Labor hands as possible, given that Mr Rudd was even at that stage still much more popular in the electorate at large than he was amongst his own Labor colleagues.

In the end Rudd succeeded in avoiding the dreaded Labor wipeout – particularly in Queensland – but at a significant cost, with the opportunism of the move obvious to even the most casual observer.

Queensland again a focus for change

It is not exclusively a Labor problem though, with Queenland once again becoming the focus of the move against Malcolm Turnbull, give the extent of the July Labor sweep of four seats in the Super Saturday by-election.

Queensland was shaping up as a real danger state for the Liberals and Nationals given the seven per cent swing against it in the by-election for the Queensland seat of Longman.

However, it must only be in the rareified air of Canberra that people can surmise that a swing back to the LNP in Queensland due to having a local leader in Peter Dutton would not be accompanied by swings against Mr Dutton’s hardline conservative approach in other states such as NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

Perhaps that is why Dutton was finally defeated by Scott Morrison, with his less partisan political profile and arguably greater national appeal getting him across the line.

There are real world costs for the sort of instability that we have seen in the past week, which include:

  • A hit to Australia’s reputation internationally as a stable democracy and a good place to do business.
  • Discouragement and disillusion among an electorate who are now never sure who will be leading the Government they elect.
  • An inability for business and investors to plan ahead with any certainty.
  • A political reluctance to forge ahead with signature policy move such as company tax cuts.
  • A reluctance of quality potential leaders to put themselves forward for political office, given the triumph of pragmatism over policy.

The list could go on but for Scott Morrison, getting this Government to look unified, competent and electable before the next election is a superhuman task.

Legendary political status awaits if he can achieve it.

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