We don’t have to credit Scott Morrison’s claim at Tuesday’s Coalition joint party room meeting that an election is the furthest thing from his mind, but we can take at face value his indication he wants to run full term.
Politics and the electoral implications of what he does are never out of Morrison’s thinking. But on the question of election timing, he didn’t have to be as categorical in his remarks, and what he said makes sense.
“I’m a full-termer, elections are too hard to win. I cherish every day - we’ll do it for the time we said we would,” he told his troops.
It’s always possible he flips his position (or is dissembling). But, as things stand, he probably means what he says because there are strong arguments for having the election when it’s due, in early 2022, rather than prematurely.
In recent weeks many in the media have been saying, publicly and privately, that we will likely have a late 2021 election.
But it’s clear from the polls and other evidence that the public don’t want to see too much political fractiousness now – and that might still be the position in a year’s time. One reason Labor is having so much trouble cutting through at the moment is that its attacks (inevitably) reintroduce partisanship.
Currently, it’s a period for incumbent leaders, even those under fire, as this week’s Essential poll again underlines. Despite Victoria’s slow emergence from lockdown, and the multiple problems of Dan Andrews’ government, 54% of Victorians approve of the job Andrews is doing as premier.
The Queensland election on October 31 will be a tangible test of the benefit of incumbency during COVID, but it’s accepted that the pandemic has put premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in a better position than she would have been in without it.
Even in ordinary times, people don’t like early elections. And, as Morrison says, he does “cherish every day” of power. An election late next year would mean most of 2021 would be in campaign mode, reducing what he could achieve.
Labor is apprehensive that the election might be held next year – in theory, a later date should advantage it. In practice, that wouldn’t necessarily be the case.
Elections are (with obvious qualifications) two-horse races and Labor faces an uphill task to present a convincing alternative whenever the poll is held.
Anthony Albanese is coming across as a trier, and his post budget pitch highlighting child care chose an issue of strong concern to many families. But colleagues continue to worry he and the opposition are not making an impact.
Switching leaders would be difficult and traumatic for Labor and not necessarily put it in a better position (and could burn a successor to no purpose).
Hard as it would be for Labor to accept, it may be a case of the COVID times simply not suiting it.
Having said that, we also know how quickly things can change in politics.
Morrison’s fate will rest on whether he has managed to get the country, and in particular its economy, convincingly on the road to “normality”. A 2022 election gives him more time to do that.
We don’t yet have any idea how 2021 will play out. It could be a rough year, easier to handle without the distraction of an election. And, who knows, by early 2022, we might even have people vaccinated.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra