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Paul Bongiorno on what we’ll see as both leaders fight for their political future.

Scott Morrison prepares for the fight of his life

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As 2021 comes to an end, most of us are winding down. But in Canberra, the contest is just beginning. 

With an election on the horizon, both the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese have started pitching for votes. 

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno on what we’ll see as both leaders fight for their political future. 

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno.

Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

 

As 2021 comes to end, most of us are winding down - or trying to. But in Canberra, the contest is just beginning. 

 

With an election on the horizon, both the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor Leader Anthony Albanese have started pitching for votes. 

 

Today, Columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno on what we’ll see as both leaders fight for their political future. 

 

It’s Friday December 10.

 

[Theme Music Ends]  

 

RUBY:
OK, so you're ready and rolling Paul? I'm also rolling... So should we have our very last conversation of 2021? 

 

PAUL:
Oh yeah, that's right. Yes. God doesn't time fly when you're having fun? 

 

RUBY:
It does, and I'm sure in no time at all the federal election will be upon us. The date hasn’t been announced yet paul but it certainly feels like we are in full campaign mode - is that what it’s felt like to you this week? 

 

PAUL:
It certainly does, Ruby. And last Sunday, we saw the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, in full election mode at the Bathurst 1000 race

 

Archival tape:
Car starts

 

PAUL:
inspecting the v8 and making his pitch about what the new year would hold for voters.

 

Archival tape – Presenter:
“Unbelievable isn’t it.”

 

Archival tape – Scott Morrison:
“Well it's great, I think my fingernails are still, you can see the mark from last time. Thankfully we are in a different car this time mate. but it's a real thrill to be driving along here with you…”

 

PAUL:
I have to say he didn't look particularly comfortable strapped into a Mustang traveling at 200 kilometers an hour. 

 

Archival tape – Mark Skaife:
“You can’t see a thing and you are arriving at 220 kilometres an hour. Down the hill…whoah!”

 

Archival tape – Scott Morrison:
“Woah!”

 

PAUL:
He stumbled over his words but maximized the opportunity, saying he wasn't looking through the rear-view mirror.

 

Archival tape – Scott Morrison:
“We're not looking in the–...in the…in the rear-view…through the rear view mirror. We're looking through the front windscreen going into 2022. And I think that today is a great example of that. So I think that's great.”

 

PAUL:
So no doubt. Morrison is in full campaign mode. 

 

And meanwhile, back in western Sydney, Labor was finally unveiling a key election policy. 

 

After holding his fire for the past two years. Anthony Albanese released his party's climate targets and plan to get there. 

 

Archival tape – Anthony Albanese:
“ts ts ts Ready to go? Thanks very much for joining me.” 

 

RUBY:
Hmm. And this is something that a lot of people have been eagerly awaiting Paul, especially since the Coalition's targets seem to be pretty out of step with the science and even what some business groups are saying now. So what did Labor announce? 

 

PAUL:
Well, Labor has promised a 43 per cent emissions reduction by 2030. 

 

Archival tape – Anthony Albanese:
“Today, I announce Labor's plan to create jobs, cut power bills, boost renewables and reduce emissions.” 

 

PAUL:
Anthony Albanese acknowledged it was a modest policy and it is modest Ruby. 

 

Archival tape – Anthony Albanese:
“It's a modest policy. We don't pretend that it's a radical policy. It's a consistent policy.”

 

PAUL:
It's below the target of three state liberal governments who have all committed to 50 per cent by 2030 or higher. But it's higher than the forecast 35 percent that Scott Morrison projected at the Glasgow Climate Summit, he might be lucky enough to achieve. 

 

RUBY:
So how does Labor say that they will go about achieving this target, Paul? 

 

PAUL:
The plan essentially relies on a rollout of renewable energy to drive down emissions from the energy sector. It also involves imposing pollution limits on the 215 largest polluting businesses.

 

Archival tape – Anthony Albanese:
“It will unlock $52 billion of private sector investment in Australian industries. It will see electricity prices fall from the current level by $275 for households by 2025.” 

 

PAUL:
Albanese says the cost to the budget over the forward estimates is almost $700 million, but it will create 640000 new jobs, he says by 2030, with most of them in regional areas. 

 

Archival tape – Anthony Albanese:
“It's the right plan for Australia going forward. It's a plan that acknowledges what business wants. It's the plan that acknowledges that the world economy is demanding this.” 

 

PAUL:
And it's been welcomed as Albanese never tires of saying by the leading business and industry groups, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the National Farmers Federation. 

 

RUBY:
Right. So it sounds like there is quite a bit of support for the plan Paul and business is on board. But what about environmentalists and what about the Greens because surely they're going to be disappointed with this target with an emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030? 

 

PAUL:
Well, you're not wrong there, Ruby. The Greens are particularly unimpressed. 

 

Archival tape – Adam Bandt:
“The more that we learn about Labor's climate policy, the worse it becomes.” 

 

PAUL:
Their leader, Adam Bandt, condemned Labor's target, describing it as a recipe for climate collapse.

 

Archival tape – Adam Bandt:
“That's a recipe for climate collapse, and the Greens are going to have to push to fix that.” 

 

PAUL:
They're pushing for a 75 per cent cut by 2030, in line with what the Science and Climate Council is calling for. 

 

Now that's something Scott Morrison has jumped on, claiming that if Labor wins, they'll do a deal with the Greens to implement a higher target. 

 

Archival tape – Scott Morrison:
“I mean, for Labor to legislate if they were to form government, they would have to do that with the support of the Greens. So forty three per cent is just the opening bid from labor.”

 

PAUL:
He constructed a scenario where the Greens in the Senate would demand their target when Labor came to legislate. 

 

Archival tape – Scott Morrison:
“And you know what the Greens target is, it's 75 per cent. So vote Labor, you vote Greens and you vote for the Greens targets.” 

 

PAUL:
But Labor's essentially cut the Greens out, saying there's no way they'd ever do such a deal with the Greens again. 

 

Archival tape – Chris Bowen:
“I will say to the parliament, there is the target. We're not negotiating about it. We're not changing it. We're not amending it.” 

 

PAUL:
And the proposition was tersely rejected by Chris Bowen at the National Press Club. 

 

is that 43 per cent negotiable if it requires the support of the Greens, for example? 

 

Archival tape – Chris Bowen:
“No.” 

 

Very succinct, thank you. 

 

PAUL:
The Labor shadow minister went so far as to say that while legislation was preferred, the party would simply regulate it, as the government is doing with its weaker target. 

 

RUBY:
OK, so Labor has unveiled a climate policy that business is happy with, but climate scientists and the Greens say are goes nowhere near close enough to address global warming. So what is it that is driving labor to this position, Paul? Is this just about politics and about the upcoming election? 

 

PAUL:
Yep, that's it, Ruby, this is Labor's strategy.

Not adopting any radical positions, offering a more conservative, less scary platform…

…hoping to skate into government on the back of the scandals and disunity afflicting the Coalition. 

 

Albanese says he's sick of Labor losing elections. 

 

RUBY:
We'll be back after this. 

 

[Advertisement]

 

RUBY:
Paul, Labor leader Anthony Albanese has spent the last two years adopting a pretty small target approach, he hasn't put forward any particularly visionary or bold policy ideas, and we've seen that pattern repeat with this latest climate policy announcement. Can you tell me more about why it is that he's adopting this strategy and how he's hoping that this is going to play out for him? 

 

PAUL:
Well, Labor was caught out badly last time. It was lulled into a false sense of security by three years of leading in the opinion polls, only to be pipped at the post by a largely unknown new daggy dad Prime Minister.

 

Scott Morrison offered nothing much, except he wouldn't tax people to death and was able to paint Shorten's measures to pay for his policies as a massive and disruptive tax grab. 

 

Well, this term, Labor again has mainly led the coalition, but in Anthony Albanese, it doesn't have a charismatic, exciting personality leading it well, just as it didn't really with Bill Shorten. And in this sense, small target is Albanese's only real option, you know, picking a few key grounds like job security, climate, government integrity and women's status. This is seen as a safer route to victory. 

 

But most of all, it keeps the focus squarely on the government. Albanese is determined to keep Morrison accountable for the shambles the coalition has become. 

 

RUBY:
So I guess the big question then Paul for Labor is will this small target strategy work for Anthony Albanese? How is it looking at the moment?

 

PAUL:
The latest Newspoll is any guide, voters have a very negative perception of both the major party leaders on offer. But Morrison no longer has a clear edge on Albanese. 

 

In fact, since February, satisfaction with Morrison's performance has fallen off a cliff. He's plunged 40 points to a negative rating of eight. The Labor leader, on the other hand, had a negative rating of seven in February, which has barely changed to minus six.

 

Now when it comes to the party vote, Labor has led the government by six to eight points since mid-year. So Morrison is heading into the election year in a grim place. In fact, marginally grimmer than he did in 2019, before pulling off his miracle win. 

 

And I guess that's the point here, Ruby back in 2019. Things look strong for Bill Shorten and Labor, but we all know what happened. So while Morrison is ending the year on the ropes, there's still a way to go. And Albanese certainly isn't counting his chickens, 

 

RUBY:
Right, and so if Labor is able to neutralize the climate issue like it's clearly trying to, then what are the key election issues likely to be Paul? Can you describe the battleground to me what we're going to see for the next few months? 

 

PAUL:
Morrison wants to make the economy the key battleground, and on that score, next year is looking like we'll be in a strong recovery. 

 

Archival tape – Scott Morrison:
“going in to the post-COVID recovery phase, Mr Speaker, we must ensure we secure that economic recovery is the speaker and that's why we are the party, not just of lower taxes” 

 

PAUL:
Labor, too, believes the economy is key, but it's homing in on insecure work and stagnating wages. 

 

Archival tape – Anthony Albanese:
“We'll have secure work at the centre of our agenda, secure work, dealing with issues like casualisation, dealing with people who are in the gig economy.” 

 

PAUL:
The latest US research on key issues finds cost of living is far and away the biggest concern for voters. But the fate of the planet and integrity in government are also burning issues.

 

RUBY:
And it's been a huge year. Paul I'm pretty glad to see the end of 2021. It's been tough for a lot of people, but when it comes to federal politics, it seems like next year is going to be even more intense as we build up to the election. So how do you think our politicians are feeling? 

 

PAUL:
In a word, Ruby, nervous. 

 

The Labor backbench, I'd have to say, is more upbeat but very wary, given what happened last time. The government backbench, on the other hand, is a bit more downcast, with many doubting Morrison can perform another miracle - if for no other reason voters have had three years to get to know him. 

 

So when he comes back from holidays, Morrison knows he's in for the fight of his life. 

 

RUBY:
Hmm. Paul, as always, it's been a pleasure talking to you, today and throughout the entire year. I hope you have a lovely break. What have you got planned? 

 

PAUL:
Well, I'm hoping to have a restful time and a swim in the ocean up in Queensland, keeping my fingers crossed on that.

 

So you have a good break to Ruby and I look forward to catching up with you next year. Bye. 

 

RUBY:
Thanks, Paul. Bye. 

 

You can read Paul’s final column for the year in The Saturday Paper next week. 

 

For our final episode of 7am next Friday, we’ll have a special episode on the news that defined 2021.

 

[Advertisement]

 

RUBY:
Also in the news today,

 

The Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce has tested positive for Covid-19.

 

Barnaby Joyce, who is fully vaccinated, got tested for the virus after experiencing mild symptoms shortly after arriving in the United States.

 

The Nationals MP is isolating in his hotel room in Washington.
 

**
 

And The New Zealand government has announced a plan to ban young people from ever being able to purchase tobacco.

 

As part of the government's new Smokefree action plan, which intends to make the country free of smokers by 2025, people aged 14 and under will never be able to legally purchase tobacco.

 

In Parliament on Thursday the New Zealand Associate Health Minister said “we want to make sure young people never start smoking.”

 

** 

 

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Elle Marsh, Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, Anu Hasbold and Alex Gow.

 

Our senior producer is Ruby Schwartz and our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

 

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. 

 

I’m Ruby Jones, see ya next week.

[Theme Music Ends]

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper and a 30-year veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery.