Allow me to be the first political commentator this election season, as far as I’m aware, to invoke the immortal motto of one-time Bill Clinton acolyte James Carville, from Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign: This election is about the economy, stupid.
And, unusually, an election about the economy is bad news for the incumbent Coalition government.
While it will wheel out the same tired mantra about the Liberals being “better economic managers”, the past two years have left most of us scratching our heads, thinking that if this is good economic management, what exactly does the bad version look like?
When it comes to the economy, the Morrison government simply cannot run on its record. Nothing will change the fact it was the Morrison government that has plunged Australia into a debt far, far greater than anything Kevin Rudd or Gough Whitlam would ever have dared. Nothing will change the fact it was the Morrison government that cobbled together the farcical ‘national cabinet’ and egged on lunatic premiers as they destroyed jobs and businesses en masse.
Nothing will change the fact the Morrison government stood by as Australians were confronted with horrifying images of Centrelink queues stretching around the block.
And nothing will change the fact that, because of all the extra money sloshing around the economy from the Morrison government’s eye-watering spend-athon, rampant inflation will soon wash over Australia’s already brittle economy like a tidal wave to the extent it isn’t already.
The Coalition will, of course, insist that it was the state premiers, not the feds, that invoked lockdowns and kept them going for so long.
They will insist this was a ‘once-in-a-century pandemic’ that will have knocked our economy no matter what the government did. And of course, they will insist that Labor would have been worse.
There may be some truth to all these statements, but that’s not how politics works.
Nobody who knows the indignity of the dole queue, the anguish of a struggling small business or the dread of mortgage foreclosure will have much patience for lame excuses.
The thousands of Australians whose lives and livelihoods have been decimated by the past two years will be ready with baseball bats, and the mob who boast smugly about their ‘superior economic management’ will be an easy target.
If the Morrison government wants to win the economic debate in 2022, at the very least it has to project some humility, even contrition.
It has to stop banging on about the ‘great recovery’ and quit insulting our intelligence with mindless platitudes about the economy ‘roaring ahead’.
Then the Coalition needs to explain how it will make things better, how it will hoist Australia out of the cavernous economic hole that government policy has created.
And it absolutely must come up with a way to do it that doesn’t involve more ‘stimulus’ – or as the Liberal Party in its heyday would have called it, wasteful spending.
The Coalition must offer more than a glib ‘she’ll be right’ attitude when it comes to what will be a trillion dollar national debt. The government has justified the debt so far with the promise that we’ll simply ‘grow our way out of it’ – now it has to explain how.
The government must explain how it will protect the 653,600 jobs at risk as a result of its foolish commitment to ‘net zero’ – especially given that most of these jobs will be lost in seats that the Coalition simply cannot lose.
And it has to do better than empty promises of a ‘green jobs boom’ when, in reality, since 2010 five jobs in the manufacturing sector have been destroyed for every job in the ‘renewable’ sector created.
The Coalition also needs a real plan for red tape. Even prior to 2020, unnecessary regulation cost the economy $176 billion a year – God knows how much it is now given the coronavirus has imposed regulation of some kind on to almost every conceivable human activity.
And, above all else, the government must do everything in its power to make sure the economic war crimes of the coronavirus era are never, ever repeated.
Whether it’s taking recalcitrant states like Western Australia to the High Court over border closures or pulling federal funding from any state that so much as hints at another lockdown, the Morrison government must tell the Australian people that, under its watch, Australians will never suffer through anything like the years 2020 and 2021 again.
Perhaps the one advantage the Coalition has is that Labor’s economic pronouncements to date have been equally uninspiring and unimaginative as the government’s.
It is not too late for the Morrison government to reinvent itself and turn things around.
And it must.
Because Australians need and deserve a serious, reforming government – not a pack of amateurs perennially reaching for the national credit card.