Malcolm Turnbull’s final pitch trades on economic uncertainty: stick with the Coalition and its plan for innovation and tax cuts. By Karen Middleton.

Malcolm Turnbull: ‘We need to make our own luck...’

Malcolm Turnbull.

As a federal election campaign nears its end, it generally becomes clearer which contender thinks he or she is going to win.

While the likely loser keeps fighting for every vote, the probable victor begins looking beyond, to the challenges ahead.

Liberal leader and incumbent prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is that guy in this election. 

Should he be returned, Turnbull has begun laying down markers for afterwards, insisting he will have a mandate to pass the May budget. 

He argues that given the election’s proximity to budget day this time around, there can be no mistaking the electorate’s view on his economic plan if he wins.

“We are living in a time of volatility, so our economy has to be as resilient and competitive as possible,” Malcolm Turnbull told The Saturday Paper. “That is why I have clearly set out an economic plan which is focused on innovation, technology, advanced manufacturing, and on supporting business and supporting investment and, of course, budget repair. So what we have done is create an economic plan that suits the tenor and the nature of the times in which we live. We’ve got to live within our means. We have always been a lucky country – but today more than ever we need to make our own luck.”

That plan includes small business tax cuts and further cuts to welfare eligibility, and expanding the definition of “small” business from one with a $2 million turnover to a $10 million turnover, and eventually more.

This week, Turnbull sought to harness Britain’s Brexit verdict, telling Australian voters both that everything will be fine and that, if they choose carelessly, it might not be.

He wants voters to feel uncertain enough to stick with the Coalition.

Turnbull also began addressing other issues he will face if today’s vote returns him to office. 

“Given that uncertainty, my strong sense is that what Australians are looking for most from this election is a step up in political culture – strong, decisive, resolute leadership, yet with a focus on what unites rather than divides,” he told the National Press Club on Thursday.

It was a message to his own colleagues as much as everyone else.

Win or lose – but especially if he wins – Turnbull faces troubled times on the issue of same-sex marriage, with some colleagues determined to oppose it in parliament, regardless of what the nation says through a plebiscite.

It is likely to be the issue that most symbolises the divide between the Liberal Party’s progressive and conservative sides.

Aware there’s a range of concerns within his constituency, Turnbull is also appealing to those who might think they can afford to give the government a kick.

“This is not the time for a protest vote,” he told The Saturday Paper. “Leave it to independents and preferences to decide, and Australians will find themselves this time next week with no clarity about their future. I say to Australians: If you only really know the leader of a minor party, but you don’t really know their candidates, and you don’t really know their policies, don’t vote for them.”

The Coalition’s superannuation policy has angered some traditional supporters and Turnbull may face a protest on that today and pressure later to amend it.

From July 1 next year, the reform plans to cap at $1.6 million the balance that can be transferred from low-taxed accumulation accounts into tax-free retirement accounts during the “retirement phase”. The cap would apply to existing funds and future transfers.

There would also be a $500,000 lifetime cap on non-concessional after-tax contributions, including all contributions made since July 1, 2007.

That is expected to also affect people using the “transition to retirement scheme” in which they transfer a portion of their salaries into superannuation accounts – therefore lowering their taxable income – and draw some of it back out as a low-taxed pension. The scheme is designed to encourage people to ease into retirement, but it’s being used as a means of tax minimisation. 

The longer-than-usual election campaign has had its pluses and minuses for Turnbull. He had to adjust his messages in the last weeks of the campaign to promise he would not sell off Medicare in the face of a no-holds-barred Labor advertising assault.

It’s been personally gruelling, too. The heavy campaign cold that descended about the time a campaign would normally be ending did not help.

Some of his colleagues complained privately he was putting in a lacklustre performance, prompting speculation from Labor that he was just “running down the clock” to polling day. 

“I’m consistent, committed, and I’m principled ... I love this country,” Turnbull told Radio 3AW late this week. The polls have swung more firmly his way in the past fortnight.

Although Turnbull insists voters already know him well, his elevation came late in the cycle, so he’s had to reintroduce himself – including making an online video about his relationship with his father, who brought him up – as Labor suggested he was “out of touch”.

The man he replaced as prime minister, Tony Abbott, has maintained a low profile other than bursts of criticism at the beginning and end. 

Abbott observed on Sky News this week that the Coalition had not campaigned hard enough on either economic management credentials or national security – areas in which it traditionally attracts public support.

As Turnbull announced his challenge in September last year, he declared the Coalition had lacked “economic leadership”.

Abbott was effectively suggesting this week that Turnbull had not provided as much as he might have.

Turnbull has resisted making national security an election issue, beyond emphasising the Coalition’s immigration policies.

The party is sticking to its existing border protection policies, including detaining asylum seekers offshore, refusing them access to Australia and offering proven refugees already onshore access to only temporary protection visas and not permanent residency.

But community unease about the humanitarian dimension – and Papua New Guinea’s court ruling forcing the closure of the Manus Island centre – means this issue, too, won’t go away.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 2, 2016 as "‘We need to make our own luck...’".

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Karen Middleton is The Saturday Paper’s chief political correspondent.