The incredible shrinking country

Scott Morrison will effectively dump his commitment to establish an integrity commission, which he had promised to deliver before this election: “I am not going to introduce a kangaroo court. I am not going to introduce a policy that I don’t think is in the nation’s best interests …”

Anthony Albanese will not lift JobSeeker in his first budget, despite calls from welfare groups: “The truth is if we are fortunate enough to form government we will form at a time when debt is heading towards a trillion dollars, whereby you can’t repair all of the damage or do everything that you want to do immediately.”

Morrison will not seek to limit the felling of native forest: “Under our government, we will not support any shutdowns of native forestry.” Albanese will not change his support for the cruel infrastructure of offshore detention: “Of course not. It was established in 2013 when I was deputy prime minister.”

This is the drab first week of a campaign for the country’s future. It is a reminder of how little the political class believes it can do and still win. This belief is twofold: that they can’t do any more and also that they don’t have to.

Morrison’s candidate for Warringah apologises for describing transgender children as “surgically mutilated and sterilised”. The prime minister says “she’s standing up for things that she believes in, and I share her views on those topics”.

Later, he clarifies he “does not have any plans” to support another candidate’s bill to ban transwomen from playing sport, but not before he called her “outspoken and brave on these issues”.

Albanese campaigns in the Hunter with a former coalminer who has said people who do not “support coal” should “sit in the dark and freeze”. The Labor leader says not a single job will be lost to get to net zero. The candidate apologises. “Dan Repacholi, I have got to know him in recent times ...” Albanese says. “He is the sort of person I want to see in politics.”

The last election was a series of false lessons. It was an experiment without a control. The damage done by Bill Shorten’s loss continues to shape the present.

Scott Morrison learnt that you could win office without an agenda. He has not pursued one since. He won on fear and greed. He told voters that whatever they wanted was just and that the opposition would get in the way of it. His pitch this time is to the same base selfishness: “This election is about you – no one else.”

Labor’s lesson was that values were suspect. Vision was dangerous. However unfair the tax system might be, it cannot change. Every lurk and grift should be preserved for the benefit of the few who enjoy them. Very quickly, the party stopped talking about the future.

Neither lesson is right but neither leader is willing to test it. Morrison believes he doesn’t have to and Albanese believes he can’t. And so we have a campaign in which each day we are promised less, where with each press conference the vision for Australia becomes smaller. This is the issue with our politics, not who can recall the cash rate or how many people are loosely regarded to be employed.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 16, 2022 as "The incredible shrinking country".

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